Nearly 40% of the people caught in an avalanche last season had taken a traditional style formal Level 1 avalanche class. About 70% had intermediate or advanced avalanche education.

snow avalanche
A ski guide died here in a wet slab snow avalanche in dense trees.

Ethan Greene and Spencer Logan released a report on the avalanche education and backcountry experience of 126 people involved in 88 avalanches last season. They also studied the changes in accidents after the pandemic shut down resorts and backcountry use exploded. Which is widely expected to happen again this winter as resorts grapple with limited crowds.

The study is one of the first to consider not only the small pool of accidents that resulted in fatalities or injuries, but all incidents. Including avalanches where no one was caught or hurt. “The fatal accidents don’t tell the whole story,” Greene said. “We wanted to dig a little bit deeper to see if we could come up with something that could help us understand this better.”

In addition to determining avalanche education through direct interviews, Greene and Logan developed a system based on several research models to rank avalanche education experience using indirect evidence. Like reports from observers’ interviews and second-hand descriptions.

They found that most people involved in avalanches last season had intermediate or advanced levels of education. This mirrors previous research.

For their study, Green and Logan identified 126 people involved in 86 avalanches last season. Those 126 include:

And those travelers were pretty well educated. Nearly 40% of the people had taken a formal Level 1 avalanche class. About 70% had intermediate or advanced avalanche training.

Fatal avalanche, April 16, 2020

Greene and Logan grouped incidents by the months before the closure of ski resorts and the weeks afterward.. From late November to mid-February, they recorded 16 people involved in 11 avalanches with six burials and four deaths. In the roughly six weeks following the closure of resorts, the center recorded 10 people involved in nine avalanches that killed two people.

Following the shutdown of ski areas the proportion of incidents involving very experienced backcountry travelers — which Greene and Logan defined as “advanced” — climbed compared to the number of incidents involving beginners and intermediates, said Greene. “These are small numbers, but this would suggest that there were more people with avalanche education getting involved in accidents after the shutdown and any increase in accidents was not due to more beginners getting into trouble,” he said.

  • 88 people caught and carried in moving slides
  • 6 people killed
  • 8 people who triggered avalanches but were not caught
  • 30 people not touched by moving snow
  • 76 males and 13 females
  • 86 backcountry tourers
  • 13 motorized travelers

According to the study it might not be the newcomers behind any potential increases in avalanche accidents this season. Their research upends the assumption that beginners are more dangerous than more experienced travelers.

Halsted Morris, president of the American Avalanche Association, wants to see skiing and snowmobiling abilities more closely studied alongside avalanche education and experience.

“We get into this argument all the time around the idea that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and that is not entirely true, I believe,” said Morris, a longtime avalanche educator. “If that was true, we would not have so many experienced and skilled people getting in trouble. We would have people with no education getting into trouble.”

Comments are welcome below – no account necessary.

2 responses

  1. Craig Olsen says:

    I would be interested to know where the 126 people received their avalanche education. Can you please shed some light on that?

    • avalanche says:

      Good question, but it is probably not included in any published version of the study. You would have to check with the study authors at the Colorado Avalanche Center. Most formal courses seem to be part of AIARE but taught by various guides and schools.

Leave a Reply

We welcome comments, no login or approval is required and all fields are optional. You should see your comment immediately, if you do not the automatic spam filter may be holding it for approval. It should be approved or denied within 24 hours in most cases. While we have no approval process we will delete comments that violate our policy which can find via the link on the horizontal menu at the top of the page.


Please share!