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PowderPeople | CĂ©lia Lucas, Avalanche Warden at the SLF

PowderGuide in conversation with CĂ©lia Lucas

by Christiane Eggert • 12/17/2019
CĂ©lia Lucas, 29, has been an avalanche forecaster at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF in Davos since last winter. In this interview, she tells us how she ended up in Switzerland from Luxembourg, about her day-to-day work at the SLF and how her profession also accompanies her on private ski tours.

Complete the following sentences:

..I had my first contact with snow: From birth, we were always on ski vacations in Lenzerheide in winter. My first time on cross-country skis was when I was 3 years old.

..after work, my favorite thing to do: night ski tours

..my favorite sport is: skiing in winter, in summer I like to go biking

..for me, skiing means: freedom and peace and quiet

..the essentials on a ski tour: good company and safety equipment

..after a ski tour, there's nothing better than: a warm shower

..I can do without: cities

..I secretly dream of: a dog

..I prefer to spend my vacations in: the mountains

..this food makes me weak: chocolate

..this music is my favorite: oldies

..I'm afraid of: climbing, I'm a real scaredy-cat

..in 10 years I'll: still be an avalanche forecaster

PG: Thank you for your time, CĂ©lia. Let's talk about your job first. How did you get the job as an avalanche forecaster?

I studied geology and geophysics at the ETH in Zurich and did part of my dissertation at the SLF. Among other things, I worked there on a project involving radar and sliding snow avalanches. So I had already spent a few winters in Davos. However, after three years I dropped out of my dissertation and went into the private sector. I worked for a year in an engineering office in Valais, where I supervised several avalanche projects. Then I saw the position at the SLF and simply applied for it. I didn't really expect it to work out, but I got the job and am now very happy to be part of the team.

PG: You grew up in Luxembourg. How did you end up in Switzerland?

After graduating from high school, it was clear that I would go abroad to study. As my sister had already studied in Switzerland and I've always been drawn to the mountains anyway, it made sense to go to Switzerland. I've now lived here for 10 years.

PG: What other tasks do you have besides publishing avalanche bulletins? How would you describe your day-to-day work?

In winter, we have a rota in which we are assigned to publish the bulletin. That actually fills you up completely in winter. We have 9 days of "duty" in a row, 3 of which are as a "starter", i.e. as a kind of sidekick to the main person in charge. Then you are responsible for 3 days yourself and for 3 days you are a "reserve" and support your colleagues. The 3 days of main responsibility mean being on call around the clock.

We also look after our measurement and monitoring network. There are around 200 people in Switzerland who observe and transmit measurement data for us. For example, we organize courses and training for our observers. Or recruit new observers when someone leaves. We currently have new recording software and are training our people throughout Switzerland.

PG: What kind of people are the observers?

A very colorful mix. It's often mountain guides, cable car employees, but also farmers or "Grandma Erna" who observe and report the situation for us. In addition to their subjective assessment, the observers also report the measurement data "from their" station or create snow profiles. A measuring station can be a small measuring field in the garden, for example. The challenge is that a report has to be made every day at 7 a.m. in winter. That's why many observers have a stand-in.

PG: Do the reports from man and machine differ?

Humans and machines only sometimes report the same data. In most cases, however, there is a reasonably consistent picture. Both are equally important for the illustration of the bulletin, and the feedback and observations from the field are incorporated into the verification of the bulletin. It is therefore quite possible that the danger level will be corrected in the next bulletin based on feedback from the field. However, we don't tend to make snap decisions based on a report.

PG: The avalanche warning service tends to be male-dominated. How did you find your way into the team as a woman? Do you have to prove yourself as a woman first?

We are 2 women and 6 men in the team. I've been with the team for a year now and have never had the feeling that I had to prove myself. We complement each other wonderfully.

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PG: How did you experience your first winter as an avalanche warden in Davos?

This past winter was special through and through. Of course, because I learned a lot and was in the training phase, but also because there was an avalanche level 5. There was one the year before, but otherwise it's very rare - the last time was 1999. It was exciting, especially in terms of communication. There were a lot of media inquiries and dealing with them all was a challenge.

PG: Let's talk a bit more about you personally. Do you spend a lot of time in the mountains yourself?

Yes, I'm out in the mountains whenever possible.

PG: Where can you be found? In the ski area or on a ski tour?

I prefer to be on a ski tour and enjoy the peace and quiet. That's also how I choose my tours, preferably where not everyone is running up. A good descent and few people on the tour are more important to me than a prominent summit.

PG: What are your "tools" for the snow? What equipment do you always have with you?

Safety equipment and my fat down jacket, of course. I'm a real "Gfrörli".

PG: Does your job make you more of a defensive skier?

I'm often asked that. I ask myself that sometimes, but I would say that my work influences my behavior somewhat, but I honestly don't know exactly in which direction yet. On the one hand, you have a better understanding of the snowpack because of all the information, but on the other hand, you are also confronted with all the accidents and avalanches every day

PG: How do you behave in a group when touring? Are you always expected to be a "professional"?

With people who have known me for a long time, it doesn't matter. When "strangers" are in the group, I realize that I am expected to have the appropriate knowledge. I find that a bit tricky and also annoying, because ultimately everyone should be able and willing to take responsibility themselves on tour among friends and acquaintances.

PG: Have you ever been in an avalanche yourself?

Unfortunately, no. So I've never triggered an avalanche myself, nor been in an avalanche situation. I've also never had to provide assistance. I hope it stays that way.

PG: You're in close contact with Mrs. Holle. What are your predictions for this winter?

Well, I'd like to have a winter as good as last year. Last year, there was a lot of precipitation in the south first and then only in the north. This year has started again with precipitation in the south. So now I just have to change direction to the north and then I'm optimistic about frequent "PowderAlert" (laughs).

PG: CĂ©lia, thank you very much for talking to us.

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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