Avalanche deaths a grim reminder of NW's backcountry danger
Last week fourteen people died in avalanches across the country. Making it the deadliest week for avalanches since one thousand nine hundred ten. That's a single slide. On stevens pass killed ninety six people. Hundreds of avalanches have come crashing down this month alone including one monday east snow. Kwami pass that killed. Washington state patrol veteran steve. Who'll so why has this year been so especially deadly scott. Shell is the executive director of the northwest avalanche center. Any joins us this morning for chat scott. Good morning angela. Thanks for having me so right off the bat. What's the avalanche danger. Been like around here so far this season you know. We serve a pretty large area. We cover the washington cascades. The olympic mountains and then also the mount hood area of northern oregon. There's a lot of different conditions that you can experience. So it to try to give you a one-size-fits-all answer here Would probably be a disservice. We really focus on equipping people with the forecast for them to head out. Avalanche danger can change very rapidly and it's important for people to have a good picture of the conditions they expect to encounter before they head out we. We are seeing more people venture into the back country because of the pandemic. But is there anything in particular. These less experienced back country hikers might be doing that increases the risk for them and others. It's it's really hard to tease out. How much of a role kovas playing. But i think there's no question that you can say that code is having some sort of an effect on our ability to to think clearly or maybe make sound decisions. I mean you can apply it to your own life and going to the grocery store and We're finally you get to see. Someone in person feels a little different than normal. And i think some of those differences are probably quite overt and some of them are probably pretty hard to put your finger on any key indicators. People need to be on the lookout for when they are in the back country for potential. Avalanche danger you know. There's there's a lot of new snow that's considered a red flag if there's You know a lot of new rain. That's another red flag wind. If it's very windy when you get there that should be a red flag. Probably the biggest Red flag of all is current or recent avalanche activity cracking. So if you're walking along the snow and cracks are shooting out from your snow shoes or your snowmobiler skis. that's an indicator that You've also got unstable snow and in that situation in that moment. I know it would be near impossible to go through the checklist of what do i do. What do i do but any advice to our listeners. As to what to do if you do find yourself suddenly in that position but if you find yourself in a position where you you think. There is unstable snow. You're seeing avalanche is the best thing you can do at that. Moment is to avoid avalanche train. What if i don't know the terrain. If if the if in the moment the snow starts to slide eighteen or are there any practical things i could think to do. In an instance that might help improve my chances of coming through it uninjured or alive honestly. Angela that's a. That's a hard question because there's not a really solid answer there because quite frankly there's not a lot that is left for you to do in that moment. Yeah once you find yourself in moving snow. The rest is kind of just up to where you happen to be in the in the on the slope and and lock. Have you been caught up in an avalanche yourself years ago. Yes i have experienced. What that's like i've never been buried but yeah experience being caught in an avalanche anything you recall doing in in that moment quite honestly. I don't think much of anything other than being kind of terrified Like i said there's not not a lot left You can do other than kind of hope for the best. I think it's it's natural that you're going to want to try to fight in swim and those sorts of things but but those don't really affect the outcome so you should get the forecast. You should get the gear and you should get the education before you head out into avalanche train in the mountains and you're still able to provide people with this type of information classes amid the pandemic. Yeah we have a We've launched a new website this year. There is a We've even created a new section on the website called backcountry basics so for those who are interested in getting into the back country. It's a great place to start. It helps answer some of those questions. And then we've we've moved all of our impersonal education to webinars. So there's there's a little bit of a silver lining in the cova. There is that It's a lot easier to get an avalanche awareness course now because you can do so from your own home and that is scott. Shell executive director of the northwest avalanche center.