Tahoe chief’s corner: Avalanche safety of dire importance this winter | SierraSun.com

Tahoe chief’s corner: Avalanche safety of dire importance this winter

Mike Brown
Special to the Sun

Mike Brown

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — With all the recent snowfall we've been experiencing and more on the way, it's a good reminder to be aware of avalanche potential and educate ourselves on proactive steps to take before going outside to recreate – whether skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing or hiking.

Our Fire District personnel have been conducting avalanche training in collaboration with Mt. Rose Ski Patrol over the past few weeks focusing on transceiver and RECCO search, probe line organization, snow pit/snow pack information, and utilizing trained search dogs.

These protocols are geared toward performing a rescue after the event has occurred.

Remember to check Sierra Avalanche Center's recorded avalanche advisory each day at 530-587-3558, ext. 258, or visit sierraavalanchecenter.org to learn more details about avalanches and classes that are available.

Below are some other proactive steps you can take before going out:

Recognize red flags

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Such as recent avalanches (if there are new avalanches, more are possible).

Signs of unstable snow as you travel (cracking or collapsing snowpack, whumpfing sounds, hollow drum-like sounds on hard snow).

Heavy snowfall or rain in the past 24 hours (significant snowfall or rain can make the snowpack unstable; avalanches are often triggered the first clear day after a storm; because it is sunny doesn't mean it's safe).

Windblown snow (loads leeward slopes, even when it is not snowing out).

Significant warming or rapidly increasing temperatures (warm temps and gravity can cause the snow to creep downhill and become less stable).

Persistent weak layers (can be triggered weeks after a storm, they can be difficult to identify/check the Avalanche Advisory for your area).

Identify avalanche terrain

Slope angle (avalanches are possible on any slope steeper 30 degrees, and occur most frequently on slopes 35 – 50 degrees).

Terrain traps (anything that increases the consequences of being caught in a slide such as cliffs, trees and rocks).

Common trigger points (under certain conditions avalanches may be triggered from flatter areas in the runout zone or along ridge crests).

Aspect (which way does the slope face in relation to sun, wind?).

Safe travel protocol

Never expose more than one person to avalanche danger at a time (one on a slope at a time).

Stay alert to changing snow stability due to changes in aspect, elevation, or weather factors (heavy precipitation, wind or warming).

Communicate within your group, have options.

Be prepared to do a rescue.

Remember, the best tip is to "Know Before You Go" — the avalanche danger rating is only a starting point. You control your own risk by choosing where, when and how you travel.

"Chief's Corner" is a regular feature from North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Mike Brown, offering information, tips and education material on fire safety, emergency preparedness and other pertinent topics.