About The Snowy Torrents?
While avalanches are a natural phenomena, avalanche accidents are human phenomena. More than 90% of avalanche victims trigger their own avalanche (or companions trigger the fateful event). Since avalanche accidents are a human problem then, in theory, avalanche accidents should be preventable.
Accident investigations—whether accidents occurred on roads, in the air, on water, in the mountains, and at work or at play—focus on “cause.” Often the “cause” is found to be from actual (or perceived) erratic or unreliable actions by the doers. When an individual (or a group) is deemed as the reason, the accident cause gets labeled as “human error.”
“Snow is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing—it is a tiger in lamb’s clothing!”
— Mathias Zdarsky, the “father of alpine skiing”
The traditional approach to improving safety and preventing future accidents — whether at work, at home, or at play — is to tell people to become more knowledgeable and to be more careful. In an accident report a conclusion that tells what the individual (or others) should have done is a convincing way to describe the failure. (How many times have you heard or read a report and thought to yourself, “How can they be so dumb?” “What were they thinking!” Or “I’d never do that.”) But this method of describing what people should have done is remarkably ineffective in preventing accidents whether it involved avalanches and skiers or NASA and astronauts.
In recreation or at work, people do not go out intending to get hurt or killed, or to do harm to others. Accidents happen because people do not think they will have and accident. When considering who gets into trouble, accidents involve people with all levels of knowledge, skills and abilities. Sometimes even the very best and brightest are involved, and if an accident can happen to them, accidents can happen to all of us.
The Snowy Torrents™ website follows on the long-running series of books of avalanche case histories. In departing from the books, my attempt in writing these on-line reports is not only to identify “what” happened, but also to share “why” the accident happened, and specifically with an attempt to identify why it made sense for the person or group to do what they did. Only when we can identify and share the why-it-made-sense reasoning will there be a real opportunity to prevent future accidents.
Many times all the information necessary to make firm assessments was not available. So, sometimes I have resorted to reasonable postulations and inferences; at other times assessments involved some speculation, which I point out.
When it comes to avalanche accidents (as with many other types of accidents) there really are no new accidents, just recurring themes. Only the names of the victims change.
It is a lot less painful to learn from the mistakes of others. The Snowy Torrents™ website attempts to help this learning process. After having investigated hundreds of avalanche accidents, and having detailed knowledge of thousands of US avalanche accidents, I have not heard of an accident that would have precluded me from being there. As one who loves snow, it has been easy for me to see how even unusual or even seeming irrational actions can seem reasonable to the those who were on the mountain. When you can see yourself in the shoes of avalanche victims, the situation for what happened and why it happened becomes personal. Hopefully, that knowledge and personal connection can be that extra element to keep one out of future trouble.
Who am I?
Dale Atkins is an lawineologist* who has spent a lifetime working and playing in snow and around avalanches.
With more 30 years of experience working with avalanches Dale trains and works with avalanche professionals and mountain rescuers around the world. He has extensive avalanche knowledge and experience as a rescuer, forecaster, researcher, educator and technology developer while working in recreation, industry and government domains. Much of Dale’s research has been in the areas of avalanche accidents and human factors. He honed his skills while working 20 years with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Along the way Dale also included 20 years of professional ski patrolling, and he has more than 40 years of mountain rescue experience. Dale worked for 10 years with RECCO AB. He was also the vice president of the Avalanche Rescue Commission for the International Commission for Avalanche Rescue, and is a life-time professional member and past president of the American Avalanche Association.
*Lawineologist – is a self-ascribed word meaning an expert in the scientific study of avalanches (lawineology). Lawine is the German word for avalanche and is based off the Latin word labina. Lawineology and lawineologist are new words and certainly are not yet in the lexicon of everyday use, but they are words that I hope, some day, will be adopted by fellow avalanche professionals.