Back­coun­try safety mea­sures

Alpine News - - News -

MORE back­coun­try en­thu­si­asts are en­ticed to ven­ture be­yond the bound­ary lines ev­ery year. But do you know what you are do­ing, and more im­por­tantly un­der­stand all the risks in­volved.

Big or even small snow­falls com­bined with bliz­zard con­di­tions means cor­nices and a huge weight of snow. If not care­ful, this could put you in dan­ger if you do not con­sider your op­tions and have knowl­edge.

Alpine News asked Dave Herring from Alpine Ac­cess Aus­tralia what he thought about con­di­tions in our win­ter.

Q. WHAT SHOULD BACK COUN­TRY SKIERS BE THINK­ING OF?

A. There is great back­coun­try tour­ing right through un­til be­yond Oc­to­ber and good weather win­dows are the best. Watch the weather to eval­u­ate whether the snow will be icy, slushy or some­where in be­tween. Snow can of­ten start off icy af­ter any overnight freeze, es­pe­cially in spring, then soft­ens to a beau­ti­ful ‘corn’ con­sis­tency, be­fore start­ing to freeze again in the late af­ter­noon. That mid­day pe­riod is the time to hit the best slopes and it is ad­vis­able to watch for thaw­ing creeks, holes in the snow­pack, and bushes/rocks start­ing to ap­pear.

Q. WHAT ARE THE MOST COM­MON FAULTS IN­EX­PE­RI­ENCED PEO­PLE CON­TINUE TO DO?

A. Peo­ple who are new at back­coun­try make quite a few rookie mis­takes: You should be flex­i­ble with your plan, and even if you have a lim­ited win­dow for your tour, be pre­pared to can­cel if the weather and con­di­tions are go­ing to com­pro­mise your safety, or at least have a plan B.

Think about and plan what you will do if some­thing goes wrong - if there is an in­jury, if un­ex­pected bad weather comes in. Peo­ple tend to un­der­es­ti­mate the chal­lenges and the con­se­quences.

You need to ease into back­coun­try tour­ing, go with a guide or other ex­pe­ri­enced per­son the first time, don’t go too far, try out your equip­ment and prac­tise your nav­i­ga­tion skills.

Q. IT IS EX­CIT­ING TO VEN­TURE OUT THERE, BUT IS IT FOR EV­ERY­ONE?

A. Not at all, a sur­pris­ing num­ber of peo­ple we take out for the first time will never go back. Peo­ple need to be pre­pared for the harsh­ness of the con­di­tions as not ev­ery day is the beau­ti­ful blue­bird day. The snow con­di­tions are of­ten vari­able, and it can be very phys­i­cally de­mand­ing.

Q. WHEN YOU TEACH YOUR COUR­SES, YOU WOULD SEE PLENTY OF PEO­PLE WITH VARY­ING KNOWL­EDGE?

A. Most peo­ple who do our avalanche safety train­ing have had a lit­tle bit of back­coun­try ex­pe­ri­ence and have some re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of what it’s like to go back­coun­try tour­ing. How­ever, they are uni­ver­sally amazed at how much they DON’T know about safety in the back­coun­try. With our back­coun­try skills tours, we try to en­sure that peo­ple re­alise what go­ing into the back­coun­try in­volves, and tai­lor the tour to their skill and fit­ness lev­els.

Q. WE DO HAVE SOME STEEP TER­RAIN IN AUS­TRALIA, HOW OF­TEN DO YOU SEE IT SLIDE?

A. We don’t see it slide of­ten in Aus­tralia, but there are some doc­u­mented cases of peo­ple get­ting caught in avalanches here. There were a few slides last sea­son in 2017. Apart from par­tic­u­larly steep slopes, our risks here tend to be cor­nices col­laps­ing due to the ef­fect of sun or rain, or new un­bonded snow slid­ing on an ice layer be­low from a pre­vi­ous melt freeze.

The risk is in­creased on slopes over 25 de­grees. Our Aus­tralian snow­pack does tend to be­come sta­ble a short time af­ter the storm. Spring is a nice sta­ble time for the snow­pack, the thing to watch out for is dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly warm or rainy pe­riod when the snow­pack starts to melt and be­comes sat­u­rated be­fore a ‘wet slide’ oc­curs. Once again, steeper gra­di­ents are where the risk in­creases.

PHOTO: Main Range Back­coun­try.

EX­PLORE: Tour­ing in the back­coun­try.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.