Can an Avalanche Be 100% Prevented?
That has a yes and no answer. Yes, we can prevent loss of life…… by causing an avalanche. How? I am sure that most of us have either seen in real life, movies, tv or something similar, when the ski patrol begins shooting off rockets into the mountain sides to cause an avalanche, allowing it to slide harmlessly down the mountain. It’s a safety measure for skiers, animals, small towns, or anyone living below. Using this technique is a sure fire way to prevent skiers from the possibility of loss of life.
The Dragon on the Move
Bringing down the Dragon
On the other hand, there are types of avalanches that no one can prevent or even predict. They are as natural as rain falling on your rooftop. Since that is true, we need to take measures to somehow, protect those in the avalanche slide area.
Deep snowfall areas are where the “white dragons” are common. This unpredictable “creature” can suddenly come shooting down a valley that during the spring, summer and autumn, is absolutely beautiful, tempting you to build a home there.
But, because of the potential avalanche problems, housing authorities will not allow homes or towns to be built, with good reason. A few safety measures the authorities have put in place on our nations highways and roads are different types of “overhanging shelters” and/or tunnels to assure our safe passage along these “danger zones” with a potential avalanche slide problem. 🙂
With these many safeguards in place, you may wonder how in the world could someone be caught off guard by an avalanche? Mostly it is by those who choose to ignore the warning road and skiing signs about avalanche dangers.
Inside an avalanche snowshed tunnel
What About The Mount Rainier Climbers?
Many a daring skier will be drawn into the pristine powder snow, wanting to challenge nature by being the first to cut through this powdery wonderland. But some who try, can end up losing their lives. 🙁
Way back in 1931 a research commission was set up by a group of Swiss researchers at the 8,835 foot level in the area of Weissfluhjoch, just above the little township of Davos, Switzerland.
After a successful beginning in 1931, the year 1942 saw the development of the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. Many other observatories were set up to monitor avalanche research at the same time. These experts would scan areas for changing weather conditions that could cause sudden storms to crop up within minutes. With many observatories monitoring weather conditions, a warning system was now in place for all who were on the mountains.
A world wide monitoring system is now in place in many countries.
BEWARE ! Clear one minute, snowstorm the next !
Even with all this sophisticated equipment (much updated since 1942) a sudden storm can show up, dump snow into an area where it normally would not be, thereby creating the perfect setting for an avalanche. These are areas formerly known as “safe zones” from avalanches.
Moving the Dragon !
Now, here is a little bit of an interesting tid-bit. According to these same experts who study avalanches, the human voice or the sound of airplanes DO NOT provoke avalanches! Many, in times past, thought that the human voice (such as a woman’s scream) or perhaps a rifle shot, would cause the snow to come crashing down.
Causes for avalanches?
Going back a number of years when people began to build in areas that were prone to avalanches, they would set up a type of “road block” to the sliding snow. Early on, they would plant trees of a great variety. The townsfolk would be more than willing to maintain the natural snow deterrent. They are called ” ban forests.” These natural barriers (or “bans” of protection) were required to be very dense and include tall trees, small shrubs, low growing trees along with a variety of bushes. This type of barrier is considered to be the most effective.
More modern techniques have been made of metal barriers that are firmly set into the ground with concrete anchors during the spring and summer months. These “breakaway zones” are the first in the line of defense, after which comes the natural barrier of trees. The metal barriers can be up to 12 feet high. However, because of the tremendous expense, this type of deterrent, though very effective, are a small township’s last consideration.
The “V” Mounds
On the other hand, local authorities can use dirt. They build huge berms of dirt with plenty of rocks within, piling this at the foot of the slopes. This type of berm works quite effectively. Others have built mounds of dirt into the shape of a giant ” V ” with the point facing uphill. That makes for a good way to split the avalanche into two sections, thereby, going on either side of townships.
These V mounds can be 6 feet thick or more, with each leg of the V being up to 3 or 4 hundred feet in length!
Swim With The Snow
But what about rescue operations? Regardless if we are experienced in skiing or not, any of us can be caught in an unexpected avalanche. We should never ignore the warning signs posted in avalanche prone areas.
If you do find yourself caught in a sudden avalanche, do not panic. What is needed is to move as if you are swimming in water. Use the same type of strokes and try and keep your head above the surface. If you do find yourself buried, your swimming strokes have more than likely, kept you near the surface, making it more easier for rescuers to find you.
A Few More Things You Should Know
When you find your forward movements slowing with the sliding snow, cover your nose and mouth with one hand while the other is pointing upwards. Perhaps your hand may be above the snow surface where it can be seen by rescuers. Keeping your nose and mouth covered assures that you will be able to breath and at the same time, have warmed air going into your lungs.
Another word of advice is to try and fill your lungs with air. In this way, you will make yourself as “large” as possible, assuring breathing space and chest movement as you breath. Remember, snow packs together after a rather short time period, making it difficult to get air into your lungs.
Balloons To The Rescue!
Many now carry electronic devices that send out signals so they can be located. This aids in a speedy rescue. There is also, a rather new device on the market for safety in avalanche prone areas. It is a type of balloon that is inflated if you are caught in sliding snow. It acts much like a flotation device in a swimming pool or ocean. It will automatically carry you to the top of the snow, allowing the “victim” to dig themselves out.
ABS “balloon” rescue bag.
Saint Bernard’s And Their Barrel Of Brandy
For many centuries though , the faithful rescue dog has the top place of honor for rescues. The Saint Bernard was considered to be the most sturdy of them all. It has the strength and stamina, along with being able to withstand the freezing winds, and being able to move through the deep snow.
These amazing dogs can find their way around in blizzard conditions, when men could not tell which way to go. These faithful “keepers of men” are hypersensitive to sounds, scents, and movement of humans buried in the snow. They have quite literally, saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. However, as popular as the belief is, the Saint Bernard DID NOT carry a keg of brandy under their collar when they are working on a rescue mission. Many a picture portrays them as such. Sorry, but it just was not so. 🙁
How most people visualize the Saint Bernard rescue dog
Today, the Saint Bernard is still the champion of rescuing buried people. However, they are now being aided by German Shepherd rescue dogs, along with many other types of specially trained dogs. These trained dogs are amazing while performing their rescue skills. Thanks to them, people are still being rescued from the snow that slides. These “White Dragons of Death”.
Even though the we have seen the ‘thing that flies without wings, hits without hands, and sees without eyes’, it still commands our deep respect and awe as we enjoy the natural beauty of creation.
Beware! The White Dragon !
Continue with Mount Rainier Climbers Conclusion
Go back to part 1
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