In glorious sunshine, it was on an avalanche basic course of the Mammut Alpine School. On a short Snowshoe Tour we learned the basics of avalanche science.
Meeting point was the train station in Andermatt. Shortly we managed the agreed time of 10:00 clock, because in this beautiful weather was Andermatt and its parking lots to bursting. Dominik, our trainer, spent the missing equipment: avalanche probe and shovel and a transceiver. The rest of the equipment, such as softshell jackets and touring pants, disappeared back into the boxes as we were all well enough equipped.
A short hike through Andermatt brought us to the start of the staked Schneeschutrails. There we strap on the snowshoes and complete the obligatory test of the avalanche transceivers. One by one, at a distance of about two meters, we passed Dominik's avalanche transceiver and hoped for the "beep". Good, all devices work.
Soon after, there was the first theory lesson. So it should go the whole course: a piece of running, and where appropriate in the field either a theory or practice unit. Especially the theoretical basics were thereby loosened a bit and served in bite-sized appetizers. The visual material snow and avalanches were around us: the various mini-avalanches or their legacies were very well suited to explain the emergence of different types of avalanches.
Personally, I was very impressed in the practical part how quickly and, above all, precise spills can be localized with an avalanche transceiver. In the practice area, the finding of decay works really well and fast, also the probing with the avalanche probe is well feasible in a non-panic mode. But in an emergency, this will certainly be more difficult or, above all, more exhausting. Our practice slope was just gently rising. In an emergency, on steep terrain and in shock, the learned will hopefully be available. In any case, I'll take note of Dominik's tip: practice makes perfect, and repetition is routine.
Very practical and obvious, I found the quick method of assessing the slope by means of the ski poles: just create an isosceles triangle (green) with the two sticks and the snow. Let down the downhill stick (black), so find the Lot, the point of contact of the pendulum with the snow now indicates whether the slope is smaller or greater than 30 °. If the plumb bob is exactly on the end of the cane print, then it is exactly 30 °, less 30 ° if within the impression, and more than 30 ° if outside the impression. With the help of the fist one can measure even more accurately. A fist print is about 3 °. Three fists inside means 30 ° minus 9 °, ie about 20 °. Three fists outwards: 30 ° plus 9 ° so 39 °. So this method covers exactly the area in which increased avalanche danger exists: starting at 30 ° slope, we start.
So we are already at the theory. The great made leaflet "Attention avalanche!", From Core training team "avalanche prevention snow sports" issued, brings the theoretical knowledge to assess the threat of avalanche. The most important factors on site for the single slope are: slope, exposure / orientation of the slope (sunny or shady), wind (the avalanche master builder) and air temperature, avalanche pattern (snow condition) and altitude. These and a few other factors, such as hillside growth (hilltop terrain), must be constantly assessed before and especially during the tour.
Much can already be taken into account when planning at the home desk. So we got a detailed explanation of the avalanche bulletin and how we can work with the information contained in the tour planning. Other important planning tools include: the topographical map for estimating the terrain and the slope, as well as a good weather forecast.
Finally, there was an impressive demonstration of an avalanche airbag. Who is traveling in avalanche-prone terrain, should really consider the purchase!
As always, "more knowledge" almost inevitably leads to increased risk-taking. That's how we humans are. Of course, non-knowledge is not good either. If you are in the snow in the mountains, you should familiarize yourself with the basics in an avalanche course.
For all theory and practice: the danger of an avalanche can not be reduced by an avalanche course, it is only an assessment and risk assessment possible. It is a play of probabilities: even with "green", ie low danger level, still 4% of all avalanche victims die. With 31% and 57%, however, it is much more likely to die in an avalanche in the moderate and significant risk level. (Source: SLF.ch)
In summary, the course was a complete success: Dominik has hit the right balance between ease and sincerity, tour, practice and theory, very well. (Small anecdote on the edge: he probably had the same idea as us - he is under www.aufundabt.ch available - which makes him even more likeable 😉
- Harvey, Rhyner, Swiss: Avalanche science: practical knowledge for beginners and professionals on hazards, risks and strategies* (2014)