Do not be scared!  You are most probably planning your stay at Ciasa Salares, or are enjoying it right now, and may well not want to be bombarded with frightening information about your safety… but this is important.

Whether you are an expert skier or just enjoy dancing down groomed pistes, and even if you are keen on snowshoes, it is important for you to be aware of the essential notions which may well keep you out of trouble in case of an avalanche.

Avalanches are sudden, but the warning signs are almost always numerous before they let loose.  Though they are very often attributed to natural causes, in 90% of cases, avalanches are triggered by the victim or someone in the victim’s party.  You’ll have to take special care at this time of the year: we’ve seen unusual warm temperatures in the months of November and December. The recent snowfalls may lead to spontaneous avalanches, so do venture out with care.

Storms, temperature variation, wind, slope steepness and orientation (the direction the slope  faces), terrain, vegetation, and general snowpack conditions are all factors that influence whether and how a slope may trigger an avalanche. Different combinations of these factors create low, moderate, considerable, and high avalanche hazards.

How to read an avalanche bulletin

There are five degrees of risk, 1 being the lowest (green) and 5 the highest (in red).

Areas are usually covered with these colours on a map to give a general idea of where you can go and where you should not. Do not just look at the images, though, but carefully read all the comments below. Expert and competent researchers compile these reports every few days in winter, and they prove their mettle.

You can find these reports online or at the various information centres. Do not, under any circumstances, underestimate these bulletins and always, always carry the necessary safety materials with you.

What are they?

The necessary gear is the same used for ski touring – covered in this newsletter in the past – and precisely: transceiver, shovel and probe.  IT IS VITAL THAT YOU KNOW HOW TO USE THEM, otherwise there is little point in carrying them around. It is equally essential that all members in your party have them.

If caught in an avalanche, try to get off the slab. Not easy, in most instances. Skiers and snowboarders can head straight downhill to gather speed then veer left or right out of the slide path. No escape? Reach for a tree. No tree? Swim hard. The human body is three times denser than avalanche debris and will sink quickly. As the slide slows, clear air space to breathe. Then punch a hand skyward.

Once the avalanche stops, it settles like concrete. Bodily movement is nearly impossible. Wait—and hope—for a rescue. Statistics show that 93 % of avalanche victims survive if dug out within 15 minutes. Then the survival rates drop fast. After 45 minutes, only 20 to 30 % of victims are alive. After two hours, very few people survive.

Feeling gloomy now? Don’t be. We all go to the mountains to have a good time, to relax, to enjoy the scenery, to explore unknown territories and make new tracks. You will, however, enjoy your time more, if you embrace all the things that the mountains have to offer, risks included. 

And when you come back from your outing, you can happily relax in your favourite hotel, enjoying exquisite food to please the senses and also feel a little spoilt.

And remember, whatever you do, love life.