Avalanches On The Loose

Early season avalanche fatalities and incidents expose the need for education, and a targeted Web site fills the gap.

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Before exploring mountainous backcountry this winter, avalanche expert Jim Frankenfield advises snow-goers to take the proper avalanche precautions. Several snow-slides have already nabbed or injured unsuspecting mountain travelers early this season. To help you avoid such tragedies, the Cyberspace Snow and Avalanche Center (CSAC) (www.csac.org) supplies avalanche know-how, up-to-date snow conditions, and a flurry of other winter information.

According to Frankenfield, director of CSAC, North America set a record for the 1999-2000 season, with 34 avalanche fatalities including a dozen in Canada. Among the victims were 17 skiers, six snowmobilers, three climbers, three snowboarders and six others including hikers, hunters, and snowshoers. The previous record, set in the 1998-1999 season, was 33.

In November, two backcountry skiers were swept away by an early-season slide at Mammoth Mountain, California, and an Anchorage climber was helicoptered to a hospital after being critically injured on Flattop Mountain in Alaska.

“All the people involved in these recent incidents were experienced,” said Frankenfield, “but they apparently misread the signs that pointed to potential danger, or just weren’t thinking ‘winter’ yet.”

Newcomers need to learn about avalanche safety, and experienced skiers and backcountry travelers need to refresh their avalanche awareness skills and to double-check local conditions before setting out, he added. The center also offers a special section dedicated to early winter hazards.

The site provides avalanche conditions for several states, including New Hampshire, Colorado, Utah, and Montana; Canada and other mountainous countries around the world are also represented. Visit CSAC at www.csac.org.

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