Avalanches Are Scary

Posted by on Dec 16, 2009 in Ski | 4 Comments

Avalanches are scary.

There are obvious reasons why that is, but the photo below (taken 12/15), from the Utah Avalanche Center’s Brett Kobernik shows exactly why:


There are two very compelling and observable reasons why this slope was thought to be stable. Can you spot them? First is the large number of spooned tracks, and second is the massive artillery crater. And yet, the slope failed catastrophically. Luckily nobody was caught. If you look closely you can see skiers very near the crown of the avalanche – which makes it clear that anyone caught in this slide would have taken a nasty, probably fatal ride.

In his report, Brett Kobernik noted that Human Factors (which is a specific avalanche term) “played the MAJOR role in this avalanche. Acceptance, Commitment, Expert Halo, and Social Proof.” It appears that the party that triggered the failure knew that there was weak snow in that area, and wanted to get a closer look at it.

I find myself wondering how I would react in that situation.


  1. Chris
    December 16, 2009

    I was reading some new (to me) avy info today that directly pertains. It is possible for explosives to induce failure in the snowpack but not cause propagation to bring down the slope. In that case the slope needs even less to push it over the edge to cut out the slab.

    Sobering food for thought.

  2. slowerthensnot
    December 16, 2009

    Hummmm… scary i donno the shadows from the rocks above would give me pause uneven sunlight thaw….

    Just my .02 i try and avoid the white stuff now…

  3. Ed
    December 16, 2009

    Yep, scary that there were so many confidence inducing signs…”Hey man they blasted, there are tracks and everything, it’s good to go!”….literally.

    I’m real leery of back country stuff. I’d get powder dazed and blow it.


  4. SkiMoab
    January 1, 2010

    It looks like a fairly obvious failure point below that rockband right where the slide broke loose. Hopefully even with all the confidence-inducing factors, a level-headed, experienced skier would recognize this while making their decision whether or not to ski it. At least I’d hope I would. 🙂

Sign up for email updates and get STOKED!

A FREE manifesto for subscribers.