Yes, your voice is powerful but not that powerful. Hollywood is a fantasy world that some people take for truth about the real world. Only in the movies can an avalanche be triggered by the noise of someone yelling or screaming. It’s simply not enough force. Majority of avalanches are triggered by weight such as a skier or new snowfall. So in short, yodel all you want, the mountains won’t come crashing down.
2. You Can Out Ski Or Run An Avalanche
This is not very likely. You may be able to escape to the side, but please do not count on that. An avalanche can reach speeds of 60-120 kmh (60-80 mph). That’s like saying you can out run a car on the Autobahn. Even a snowmobile can’t go that fast. Also, taking shelter behind objects like a tree will probably not help much. The force and speeds are simply too great.
This one really makes us laugh. Honestly, it doesn’t matter which way is up. Snow is heavy and it will consolidate around you. You will not be able to dig yourself out, or even wiggle your fingers. It’s like concrete. And if it were so easy to dig out, then there would not be as many full burial deaths. Bruce Tremper in his book Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain sums it up nicely, “the vast majority of the time there are only two ways to get out of the snow, to be dug out --or to melt out.”
4. Stomp On The Snow to Test Its Stability
Oye. We have to roll our eyes at this one. If it were that easy, then all avalanche classes would teach such. Actually, we do wish it was that easy. More people would be alive today if so.
No, stomping on the snow is never a way to confirm whether or not the snow if safe to play on. One needs to gather more information to make an informed decision. While it’s not as easy as stomping on the snow, it’s also not extremely complex. Take one avalanche course and you will be able to make better and safer judgements for yourself, no stomping needed.
5. It Has Not Snowed In Awhile So There Is No Avalanche Danger
So far from the true. In some areas, avalanche risk is highest during or immediately after snowstorms but this does not mean this is the only time an avalanche can occur. Many variables factor into snowpack stability like how the different snow layers interact, the metamorphosis of snow crystals, temperature, weather, slope angle, the geology of the ground, and so much more. But again, thankfully there are snow scientists out there to analyze all this input and translate it into avalanche advisories.
Would you know what to do if something happened to your friend in the backcountry far away from help?
There’s a popular saying in the avalanche community, “if it’s enough to ride, it’s enough to slide.” Yes, even a shallow snowpack has the potential to slide. Some may not be enough to fully bury someone, but it could be enough to sweep them off a cliff face and fall hundreds of feet to their death. This happened to a man in Colorado many years ago. It could also be enough to hurt climbers from falling avalanche debris.
7. Only Skiers or Snowboarders Can Trigger An Avalanche
Youtube “avalanches” and you will see that this is not true. Many avalanche videos caught on GoPro are actually snowmobilers. Even snowshoers can cause avalanches. Basically, anyone applying weight to the snowpack creates the potential of triggering an avalanche.
8. If No Avalanche Advisory Exists For An Area, Then It Must Mean There Is No Avalanche Danger There
Unfortunately, many areas lack the resources to create and maintain an avalanche advisory center. The answer is no. Just because an advisory center does not exist for a given area does not mean it is avalanche safe. In fact, it may mean it’s more dangerous because there is a lack of information. If you are going to venture out into an area without such resources, then you must be ready to rely on your own decision making and assessment knowledge. And you must also be ready to fully take responsibility for the decisions you make. Taking a avalanche course will greatly help you with this.
Again, nope. The snow you would have in your hand is only the top layer. The snowpack itself consists of many layers all in various stages of metamorphosis, with various strengths, cohesion, etc. If that consolidated snow layer is sitting on a weaker layer then it could be enough to create an unstable snowpack. It's all rather complicated, and that's why the most common answer to questions involving the snowpack is "It depends." Basically, it comes down to a strong snow layer sitting on a weak snow layer within the snowpack. Again, an avalanche course is invaluable here.
10. Avalanches Strike Without Warning
In some cases this may be true, but generally, there are plenty of warning signs or patterns that tell us the snowpack is not stable and has the potential to slide. Avalanches may even be more predictable than other natural disasters like rockfall, earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruption.
In fact, this is exactly what avalanche centers around the world do. They look at the warning signs along with other data to determine snowpack stability. They then post their assessment for the public. If are going out to adventure in the snow, be sure to always look up the most current advisory. Here is our worldwide avalanche advisory database.
If you want to learn more about snow safety or wilderness medicine, see our online courses.