Lou Dawson of WildSnow.com just wrote a great piece on how small pieces of terrain can be mortally dangerous as well. Small avalanches can bury and kill a man just as easily as big avalanches. It’s key to always keep your guard up and this article gives us a few more pieces of information for our avalanche arsenal. Lou’s tips in the end of the article are top notch.
Large avalanches look scary. They should be. Monster slides cause certain injury or death if you’re caught.
Nonetheless, an alarming number of tragedies result from small avalanches on somewhat innocent looking slopes. This is especially true in mid-continental snowpacks such as Colorado where small hair-trigger slabs can liquify in an instant, knock you down, and bury you deep enough to require a lengthy dig-out extrication while you suffocate. But the warning about diminutive avalanche slopes applies to any snow climate — especially if terrain traps such as cliffs or gullies lurk below. Here is one experience of my own with the “little ones.”
We are lounging in Betty Bear hut (Colorado’s 10th Mountain Hut System). We look south at an inviting ski slope. A little thing of perhaps 300 vertical feet, steep enough to avalanche but not an obvious slide path: no obvious demarcation such as the classic swaths you see cut into mountainsides worldwide.
There are a few signs, however. First is the shape and exposure of the slope, a northerly facing convex bulge, devoid of trees, wind-loaded with a pregnant belly of snow. The conifers at the base of the slope are not obvious avalanche trees with heavily stripped branches and scarred bark, but to the trained eye they tell a story of vegetation abuse. What I see is enough — with years of experience (including plentiful mistakes) my avalanche eyes are tuned, and the slope looks like something to avoid. – Lou Dawson/WildSnow.com
Read the full article by Lou here: