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Starting out; good avalanche education resources?

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 Lelo 20 Oct 2020

Can anyone recommend any really good resources for UK avalanche risk assesssment for easier routes? Being honest, I've read quite a bit about about what to research and look out for (e.g. SIAS website, winter skills books...), but I still feel a bit unsure about applying that to real situations.

Likely because I don't have much experience, it feels like a lot of the easier grade I/II routes I want to start with this winter will kind of almost automatically tick off a lot of the 'warning signs' like low angle slopes and potential cornices, and the slight pessimist in me imagines that it doesn't seem very unlikely that on the dates I plan my trips for there will be something like new snow build up or rising temps.

I think what I would find most useful would be more info on judging the line between non-perfect-but-acceptable-risk-conditions versus unacceptable risk, if such a thing exists outside of just experience (which I am keen for!).

Fwiw, if we get decent conditions, I do also intend to hire a guide for a day or so for all round expert knowledge, as I definitely learn much more memorably visually.

Cheers

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 A9 20 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

seen this one ?

https://www.smc.org.uk/publications/other/chance-in-a-million

a weekend with a local guide would be money well spent

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 nickcj 20 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

It's interesting the point you hit on about gaining experience. New research is now looking at how often we get away with it and don't realise, thus reinforcing a negative. I.e. oh it was fine last time...

Have you read 'staying alive in avalanche terrain' by Bruce Tremper? That's probably the go to textbook and has lots on decision making.

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 Ken Applegate 20 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

One good stepping stone to enhancing your avalanche knowledge is to join a Mountaineering Scotland Avalanche Awareness day: https://www.mountaineering.scot/safety-and-skills/courses-and-events/our-courses/avalanche-awareness

I would also read up on heuristic traps if you've not already done so, as I think that these are as important as understanding the science behind avalanches, selecting appropriate routes and what to do if the shit starts getting uncomfortably close to the fan.

http://www.sunrockice.com/docs/Heuristic%20traps%20IM%202004.pdf

Give me a shout if you fancy hiring a Winter Mountaineering & Climbing Instructor this coming winter: https://www.westcoast-mountainguides.co.uk.

Post edited at 16:09
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 Ronbo 20 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper is the best book on Avalanches that I have read.

The Avalanche handbook is a bit techy and geared more towards the alps.

Snow Sense is reasonable.

The ABCs of avalanche safety is a very good concise guide.

Personally I didn't find chance in a million particularly useful.

Some reading, lots of practical experience and a course is likely the best way to learn.  There is a limited amount an instructor can teach you in a day and they can only demonstrate the conditions on the day you are out.

I don't really believe digging avalanche pits is very useful beyond demonstrating the basic failure mechanisms.

If I'm on a slope and worried enough to dig a pit then I should not be on that slope!

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 Webster 20 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

it sounds like you have done a fair bit of reading already, so doing more reading probably isnt going to get you very far, and may even scare you into never going out at all! the best thing to do is go out with more experienced hill folk (doesnt have to be climbers) and have a look and a think constantly around you as you go, questioning your partners as well. see if you can spot terrain traps and convexities in the real world, and see if your eye can guage what a 30-40deg slope actually looks like.

yes easy gully lines from a climbing point of view are the most likely to avalanch the most often, but they are also the routes best suited to climbing when overall avalanch conditions are very low (old firm snow). its the climbers who are seeking out the harder, steeper snowed up rock routes and thin face ice lines, who are going out more often in conditions where approach aprons and headwalls will be loaded. 

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In reply to Lelo:

I know it's not UK specific but many of the principles are the same - 3x3 can still be applied;

https://www.slf.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/WSL/Publikationen/Sonderformate/pdf/20180914_Lawinenfolder_e_achtung_lawinen.pdf

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 rowanbrandreth 20 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper

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 colinakmc 21 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

I sympathise with your observation that the day you plan will be a day with a big new dump or rising temperatures....having missed many more good winter days than I’ve ever had, I’ve concluded that the way to do this is to plan for the right conditions arising in the place you want to climb, then just drop everything and go when the conditions come in. Not easy to balance up with real life, work, kids, etc.

The alternate viewpoint is that even after a huge dump there’s always somewhere to climb safely by applying your prior knowledge of wind direction, temps, precipitation, etc. but I’ve always had a bit of scepticism about that, I’m never convinced that the hill has read the SAIS avalanche forecast.

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 fenski 21 Oct 2020
In reply to featuresforfeet:

That's a nice summary document. Thanks

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 Offwidth 21 Oct 2020
 Rich W Parker 21 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

> I think what I would find most useful would be more info on judging the line between non-perfect-but-acceptable-risk-conditions versus unacceptable risk, if such a thing exists outside of just experience (which I am keen for!).

The holy grail! That judgement may only ever be educated guesswork due to the infinite variability of weather and terrain, even with the best knowldege available. We can never be fully sure of what's happening inside the snow pack but we can gain a very good understanding of terrain and how to use it to mitigate the risk. A lot of the time - I wouldn't say all - it's possible to find a Grade I or II route with a 'safe' approach, if you're prepared to travel and understand the relationship between terrain and avalanche problems.

A day with a BMG or Mountaineering Instructor will be money well spent. 

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 mattc 21 Oct 2020
In reply to Ken Applegate:

Hi Ken, 

Do you know if they teach the use of avalanche beacons and how to rescue someone that has been buried on the Mountaineering Scotland Avalanche Awareness day? 

thanks Matt

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 Ronbo 21 Oct 2020
In reply to mattc:

> Hi Ken, 

> Do you know if they teach the use of avalanche beacons and how to rescue someone that has been buried on the Mountaineering Scotland Avalanche Awareness day? 

> thanks Matt


I wouldn't have thought so.  A days course has to focus on the basics and there is a lot to cover.

Not least because you shouldn't be on terrain where you might be avalanched if you are walking or climbing.  If you are skiing you are on more avalanche prone slopes more often so it is more worthwhile wearing a transceiver.

I have considered wearing a transceiver on the Ben on some of the approaches but really there is little point unless others are also wearing them and generally climbers and walkers do not carry them in the UK.  Things are different in NZ where carrying a transceiver is more common whilst climbing.  MR teams carry transceivers and this might help find your body but most avalanche victims die in 15 minutes if they are not rescued.  I do have a recco reflector which I always have on me on anything with any risk of burial from an avalanche.  Recco kit is really good I used the kit at the skiing world cup a few years ago and it works very effectively, but I don't think there are many search kits in the UK.

A reasonable mitigation when approaching a route (which is often the highest risk area while climbing) is to tie into one end of the rope and drag it; if you are avalanched and buried then it is unlikely that the entire 60m length of the rope will also be buried so it should be possible to find you quite quickly.

Post edited at 21:57
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 Amroly-Poly 21 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

https://www.no-thrills.com/avalanche-safety 

this is the best resource I have used in the subject (also the cheapest)

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 waitout 22 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

A course mate. Avalanche stuff updates frequently. Do the books too, but you won't regret a dime on a course with an instructor, standing there in front of the subject matter. There's nuances and anomalies that the good books will cover, but being in a course environment is infinitely more applicable with things like pits and winds.

I don't know if you've been around avalanches much, but the actualities of judging and responding are best tried out in simulation than before your life and others are subject to them. On some courses you do a mock run finding and digging out a sack of snow whilst you're timed. Makes you think.

Overall it's money well spent, aside the safety stuff. You get less of the guesswork about where and when to go climbing, making the call earlier. Doesn't mean you're the oracle, but less gasoline used over a winter.

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 Lelo 26 Oct 2020

Many thanks for the advice and suggestions above

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 Ken Applegate 26 Oct 2020
In reply to mattc:

My assumption would be that the main bulk of the day will very much be focusing on prevention rather than cure. However, given that they loan the kit out for the day, I would have thought that they would touch on it so that you at least have a basic understanding of how the kit works and what to do in the event of needing to perform a search.

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 Frank R. 26 Oct 2020
In reply to Ronbo:

> A reasonable mitigation when approaching a route (which is often the highest risk area while climbing) is to tie into one end of the rope and drag it

That sounds just as "effective" as avalanche cords - that is not at all. Was there ever a documented case of successful rescue only by avy cord? Don't think so. The Avalanche Review even mentions several cases where the cord only worsened the situation by tightly winding around the victim's body.

"Being wrapped up by an avalanche cord certainly can cause problems. A bunch of years ago a ski patrol friend was buried while wearing his cord. He and his cord both ended up completely buried. Though buried less than a foot down, he could not self-extricate because his cord had spooled around him, binding his arms and hands to his body." 

"In their 1986 book, The Avalanche Book, Knox Williams and Betsy Armstrong cite an early 1970s study where avalanche cords were tested on sandbag dummies. The dummies were placed onto steep slopes where explosives were used to trigger avalanches. Trials showed a portion of the cord remained on the surface only 40% of the time. The other 60% of the time the cord was completely buried along with the dummy. I was told years ago that in most of those buried cases the cords were spooled around the dummies."

[TAR 27.3, page 26 - https://www.americanavalancheassociation.org/s/TAR2703_LoRes.pdf ]

Even if you got lucky and some part of the rope remained on the surface, you could be just anywhere up to 60m from it. At least avy cord had distance and direction markers. Second, the cord used was much thinner, so the rescuers could (theoretically) tug & cut through the debris with it until above the victim. Who knows if that would even work with your typical thicker dynamic rope?

Post edited at 13:06
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 StuDoig 26 Oct 2020
In reply to Lelo:

A few good resources out there that have already been mentioned Mike and Allen's avalanche book is also a great read.  If you can find an instructor who has gone down the AAA (American Avalanche Association) instructor route then it's something I'd definitely recommend.  North American and Europe are way ahead of us in terms of avalanche education and training, and so long as the instructor can adapt for the UK the material is excellent (basically the same as the Bruce Tremper books already recommended).  A large focus on decision making in avalanche terrain which I've found missing in some other training (too much focus often on digging pits and analysing snow pack and not enough on equipping you make decisions).

I've had excellent training with the Avalanche Geeks (http://avalanchegeeks.com/) - can heartily recommend!

Some great online case studies as well - this one is really good:

https://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/index.html#/?part=tunnel-creek

For a lighter moment have a look at these vids.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqWNYiuZS28&feature=youtu.be

SAIS have loads of great stuff on their website in the Be Avalanche Aware section (an adaption of the 3x3 system mentioned above by another poster).

I'll take a slightly different line to some other posters and say I do think it's worth carrying a transceiver, probe and shove if conditions dictate.  Touring is becoming more and more popular in the UK so odds of someone having one nearby are growing every season, and the idea that it's not worth carrying one because no-one else is becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.  That's a personal opinion though, I'm sure others will have other views.  I own a set anyway for skiing etc so not an "extra" purchase - certainly not cheap so can see what the value for money gets questioned sometimes!  Keep an open mind as you learn and make you're own call on the value.

Cheers,

Stu

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