I'm a woman

I'm a woman
Photos copyright Laurence Gouault
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Monday, 7 February 2011

Avalanche Non Awareness, by Stevie Haston

Hi Guys, I got some nasty mail and had a few angry conversations with a few guides and people who work in the snow industry about my Avalanche blog. So to spread a bit more light, and give those guys a few more spitting fits here’s some more. Avalanche Bleeper’s don’t stop you being in an avalanche, it’s simple. Not entering avalanche areas will stop you being in avalanches, duh! You can either choose to be extremely conservative about your acceptance of risk, or be at risk to a greater or lesser extent. The Swiss ski Guides a few years ago decided to become much more careful about what they skied, and in consequence have had fewer accidents. They did this by not skiing loaded slopes above 30 degrees, this is my basic interpretation, please confirm it or disagree. Depending where you live, or what language you speak, it might be hard to get the information. I like powder and slopes above 30 degrees, so for me this is no solution, I would have to stay at home.

I thought I’d share a few facts to help you stay at home or venture out. If you are buried under snow your chances of survival are a lot less after 10 mins, and drop off significantly there after. To be found in snow debris, is almost impossibility without a bleeper. To dig two meters and retrieve a body in 10mins in anything but powder snow is asking for too much from one person. Brain damage is very evident after 14 mins, if you live that long. So first you must ski to the approximate location, if this is in a couloir bear in mind it might be stripped down to bear ice or rocks. Then you must locate the unfortunate and dig a very big hole. The hole is by necessity bigger than you think and will take time, possibly way too long. Many fatalities in avalanches are from broken necks and other severe trauma, you don’t just gently die a peaceful death. I am a fit man who knows how to dig, having worked on many building sites in my time, so I decided to do an experiment. I went to an avalanche, there are lots here to choose from, and we have had so called Spring avalanches from November. I assumed I knew where my partner was and decided to dig a hole to a depth of two meters. It took me twenty mins by myself. This was in hard snow with a very good shovel, a shovel that a few years ago was known as a Pisteur shovel and you are unlikely to be carrying one like this. The avalanche I was in a few days ago was windblown powder, and powder at altitude, so you would expect the digging to have been easy, but you are wrong. I travelled about 300 meters in the avalanche and by the time I stopped the snow was compacted and very heavy, it would have been easier to dig than my experimental hole, but still very difficult.

So you must have time get to the area, find the person with a bleeper, have a good shovel and dig a big hole, the victim then might need first aid, or flying out for major hospitalization. So you need a phone and a wilderness first aid competence, you need to know where you are. Bleeper’s shovels and probes are required by law in Off Piste skiing, but phones etc are not, why? And where do these requirements and regulations stop, most off the people I have seen recently with guides are poor skiers with no knowledge of how to help themselves in the mountains. So if the guide is taken out what happens. Anyway a bit to think about for you all. We live in a society that doesn’t think, and tries to make risky things safe, so really it should ban you from slippery surfaces in showers or make you wear a harness. And isn’t smoking still legal? Or maybe none of us should be born because, assuredly we will die. Good luck.