Avalanches have been chewing up and spitting out outdoor enthusiasts this winter at an alarming pace—31 people have already died, and we're not much more than halfway through the season. Unless people stay indoors (not likely) and off avy-prone slopes, it's safe to say we could break the record 35 avalanche deaths recorded in the winter of 2001-2002.
In Montana, civil engineer Ed Adams is using a $2 million "cold lab" at Montana State University in Bozeman to replicate all types of snow conditions, in hopes of one day learning how to predict exactly when and where slides will happen. Before the lab's creation, Adams simply holed up with all his measuring equipment in a shack on a snow slope and triggered an avalanche to crash on top of it. His new method maybe isn't as badass, but it should yield better data.
Until we reach that golden day when we can better understand and predict slides, death-by-avalanche will remain a constant danger for winter backcountry adventurers. Anyone who forgets that would do well to watch this helmet cam footage of experienced backcountry skier Chris Cardello getting buried in a massive slide near Haines, Alaska:
You can actually hear Cardello's panicked breathing and terrified murmurs while he's encased in that cold, blue coffin; it's almost enough to keep you from wanting to ski again (almost). Cardello was saved by his Black Diamond Avalung and a quick-thinking, well-trained rescue crew. Even with those advantages, most people caught in an avalanche won't be so lucky.
Image Credit: Pat Mulrooney (Andre Charland, skier)
Video via The Goat