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SnowFlurry 12 2016/17 | The old snow problem in tour planning: Stayin' alive.

"The main danger comes from an old snow problem that is difficult to assess, even for experts." (current avalanche situation report Tyrol)

by Lukas Ruetz 01/19/2017
It is early winter 2017 and the Eastern Alps are once again experiencing a pronounced old snow problem in some areas. You can't put enough energy into preventing old snow problems, as avalanche accidents show. So we are taking prophylactic measures.

Building analogies always helps in terms of understanding

With regard to avalanche risk management, almost everyone now assembles their own cobbler's work according to the snow pusher's assessment - but hardly anyone is a trained cobbler or carpenter. And in practice, nobody actually uses the instruction manual (which corresponds to risk reduction methods) for assembling Ikea furniture. This works well with drifting snow problems and wet snow problems (bedside cabinets), less well with new snow problems (dressers) and almost not at all with old snow problems (built-in kitchen appliances).

As mentioned above, we live in 2017 - so what is the most common or most widespread method of avalanche risk management? 3x3, stop or go, w3 - or do you just stay at home until the end of February and then only go on a tour in the morning? Maybe for training tours, avalanche courses or Alpine Club tours. For private ski tours, however, it is and remains amateurish handicraft work, i.e. the chaotic screwing together of supplied parts and some from your own construction kit, but without enclosed and therefore easily available assembly instructions. What you have learned properly or have seen somewhere and understood straight away or have been able to understand and apply (also known as "A one-day course with lots of solidly interpreted experience") or perhaps have been explained to you by your brother-in-law's friend, flows into avalanche management in the winter mountains.

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Auditory learning type or learning by listening

In the meantime, the old snow problem puts itself in its victims' shoes while listening to Bon Jovi:

... I'm wanted, dead or alive.

Wanted, dead or alive...

Why does it listen to music? It's simple: the alt-snow problem doesn't care what experience says - beep, beep, beep. The murdering Hulk side of the old snow problem only fears one thing: the avalanche situation report and those who are capable of implementing the information from it in the terrain.

And who fears the old snow problem to the necessary extent in reverse? That's right! Those who are capable of reading the situation report and implementing the information in it for tour planning - i.e. using the right tools and assembling the furniture according to the instructions.

Weak layers within the snowpack that are not caused by fresh snow and/or wind activity cannot be managed with experience. For the other avalanche problems, this works quite well for the most part. With the old snow problem, this only works with the situation report and, above all, a solid implementation of the information there, combined with defensive behavior.

The danger level plays (as so often!) - if you don't use any of the risk reduction methods mentioned above - only a subordinate role: It's about the distribution (area, altitude, exposure) and readiness to trigger. Whether the overall situation in conjunction with the other avalanche problems is more relevant to a Moderate (2) or a Severe (3) hazard level is of lesser relevance.

Learning types

Visual learning type: Learning by reading
In the last few days, the Tyrolean situation report has stated the following: "We advise great caution on steep shady slopes, where the problem is particularly pronounced." or "Sometimes remote triggering is possible, especially in shady terrain. For ski tours and off-piste skiing above the tree line, you still need good avalanche knowledge." and "The old snow problem becomes comparatively more prominent and lasts longer."

Motor learning type: learning by doing
Unfortunately, this only works with snow profiles when it comes to snow. Anyone who digs and feels the difference between a weak layer of old snow and a well-set layer of old snow with their own hands will understand why the sermons on defensive behavior in old snow problems never end.

Who is always better off in the end? We all know that in everyday life: the trained craftsman and the person who reads the instructions and sticks to them. Why don't we want to believe that when it comes to avalanches?

Note: Old snow problems require defensive behavior. We consistently avoid steep slopes in the exposures and altitudes that the avalanche situation report associates with the old snow problem.

By the way, those who read and understand the situation report listen to music from a different genre, from the Bee Gees:

And we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive

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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