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Crossing Avalanche Paths: What To Consider

ACMG ski guide Neil Warren here with Splitboard HQ, let’s talk about what to consider when crossing avalanche paths in backcountry terrain. We find ourselves faced with the task of navigating through various terrains, each presenting its own set of challenges and risks. Let's delve into how we assess the landscape and make informed decisions along the way.

Interpreting the Avalanche Bulletin

Before venturing into the backcountry, it's crucial to consult the avalanche bulletin from Avalanche Canada to gauge the potential risks. Today, the bulletin warns of avalanches up to size 3.5, significantly influencing our approach to the terrain ahead in regard to our proximity to potential avalanche paths. In contrast, if the bulletin had reported size one avalanches throughout the week, our approach would likely be less cautious.

Reading the Landscape

By observing the surrounding trees, we can glean valuable insights into the likelihood of avalanches. In areas where it's white, white, white, as in there's no trees, that tells us there are avalanches there all the time. Whereas, young trees stripped of their uphill branches -flagging- indicate frequent avalanche paths. Older, untouched trees provide a safer route.

Calculating Risk Exposure

In the backcountry, risk assessment is a balancing act between probability and consequence. Crossing an avalanche path entails inherent dangers, but by minimizing exposure time, we can mitigate some of the risks involved. In this case, the consequence of being hit by a size 3.5 avalanche is not good, but we're about to zip across an avalanche path that’ll take about 30 to 45 seconds. So I feel that's a reasonable risk just with the reduced exposure time.

Planning Ahead

As splitboarders, we think not only about our immediate journey but also about our return route. Setting up an up track across the avalanche path ensures a smoother transition on the way back, minimizing the risk of getting stuck in hazardous terrain while in snowboard mode.

By understanding the terrain, assessing risks, and planning ahead, we can better navigate through the backcountry and make informed decisions when crossing avalanche paths.