I strongly suggest that anyone really interested in safe winter travel disregard this article and instead first read either the book by Bruce Tremper that I assign to my avalanche course students:
... or his new book that is on a more introductory level:
If you do read this article, then here are some corrections for some of the most egregious aspects:
1. I count seven references each to beacons and probes, yet not a single reference to shovels. Maybe the implicit assumption is that each and every winter traveler will already have a shovel, but still, this has to be some kind of first for an article about avalanche safety to omit any reference to shovels.
2. “Let’s dispel a few myths. [...] Second, most avalanches do not kill by burying their victims. They are more likely to kill by sending an unsuspecting skier over a cliff or by smashing them into rocks or trees.”
- Exactly the other way around, i.e., the usual statistic is about 3/4 asphyxiation (via airway burial) versus 1/4 trauma. (Avalanche deaths for technical climbers can be more like around 1/3 trauma, but the only study I’ve ever seen for a majority of avalanche deaths via trauma is my own analysis of deaths on NH’s Mt Washington.)
3. “Slopes with angles between 25 and 40 degrees of steepness are the most prone to avalanches.”
This statement is very misleading, and the accompany diagram from some book is even worse, both for its portrayal of slopes between 40-45 degrees, and the misuse of the word “Moderate” in this context, since it is one of the descriptors on the five-point avalanche forecasting scale.
The statement is contradicted even by the accompanying diagram, as well as by the typical classification, as found in the older Tremper book:
“Slopes between 35 and 45 degrees cause the vast majority of avalanche fatalities [...]. Recent statistics from Canada and Switzerland indicate that half of human-triggered avalanches occur between 37 and 42 degrees [...].”
... by his newer more introductory book:
“In the steepness graph [...], the bull’s-eye steepness is 39 degrees; nearly three out of four avalanches occur in red-light starting zones (34 to 45 degrees), 10% occur in the yellow-light terrain on the gentle side of the curve (30-34 degrees), 13% on the steep end of the curve, and only 3% on slopes less than 30 degrees.”
4. “If you take an avalanche course you’ll be taught about digging a snow pit to assess for unstable layers.”
Teaching snowpit assessment skills is no longer part of the standard Level 1 three-day curriculum.
5. “In the Sierra we get a very heavy “marine” snowfall [...]”
Tahoe does have a maritime avalanche climate, but not the Eastern Sierra.
6. I’m not going to get into the snow science aspects of the article except to note that depth hoar often seems to be confused here with buried surface hoar.