In the time since I was first invited to write this article, several snowmobiling avalanche incidents have occurred, including the first U.S. avalanche fatality of the 1996-97 season, in Utah. Many of these incidents could be easily avoided with a bit of awareness and a few basic precautions. Therefore, in this article I will emphasize awareness and precaution, rather than delve into snow science and snow stability evaluation.
It Could Be You, or a Friend, or a Relative . . .
The first step to avoiding avalanches is to take them seriously. For some reason, too many people think that they are immune to avalanches. Or perhaps they know better, but the sledding is so good that they would rather not think about avalanche danger. And then there are those who think it isn't "cool" or "macho" to worry about avalanches. These attitudes are found in winter recreationists of all types, and they are certainly not unique to snowmobilers.
For snowmobilers, exposure to avalanche hazards has increased rapidly in recent years. High-power, lightweight machines with improved traction are enabling snowmobilers to get into terrain that was once inaccessible by snowmobile. Consequently, snowmobilers are having to re-think their attitudes toward avalanches and their knowledge of avalanche safety. A similar attitude adjustment and search for knowledge has taken place among many skiers, as venturing out of bounds has become more common, and among snowboarders, also, as their sport has grown. It's time for snowmobilers to do the same.
For those who think avalanches are not worth worrying about, here are some situations to ponder; All have occurred over the past year:
- losing your machine or other equipment in the backcountry, buried beneath a slide
- watching a friend in your group get buried and not being able to execute a...