Imagine a day of skiing or snowmobiling, where all is good and that last mountain must be conquered. Once on the slope, it may seem perfect, until the snow begins to give away and start to slide. Tumbling down a slope moving at 150 miles per hour, smashing into trees, becoming buried under 100,000 tons of snow, only to guess which way is up, how does one survive? Will the rescuers be able to find the buried victim?
For centuries, mountain dwellers and travelers have had to reckon with the deadly forces of snowy torrents descending with lightning speed down mountainsides. Researchers and experts are making progress in detection, prevention and safety measures, but avalanches still take their deadly toll throughout the world. Each year, avalanches claim more than 150 lives worldwide, a number that has been increasing over the past few decades (Cooper). Traditionally, the victims have included skiers and climbers. Today an increasing number are backcountry snowboarders and gasoline crazed snowmobilers (whyfiles.org).
An Avalanche is defined as a "rapidly descending large mass of snow, ice, soil, rock or mixtures of these materials, sliding or falling in response to the force of gravity." All that is necessary for an avalanche is a mass of snow and a slope for it to slide down. Avalanches occur regularly on mountains around the world, and are harmless, unless someone happens to be in the way. They tend to run down the same pathways every year, and danger zones are usually well-known (infoplease.com). Avalanches are born from a weakness in the snow. Snow is a shape-changer, depending on prevailing temperature and weather conditions. Snow begins life as a fluffy six-armed crystal flake, but while it...
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Fink, Micah. PBS: Savage Planet. "Extremes: Forecasting Avalanches." 10 March 2004. <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/savageplanet/04extremes/02avalforecast/indexmid.html>
Fredstor Jill A. and Fesler, Doug. Snow Sense. "A Guide to Evaluation Snow Avalanche Hazard." Alaska Mountain Safety Center, 1994.
McClung, David and Schaerer, Peter. The Avalanche Handbook. Douglas and McIntyre, Ltd. 1993.
National Snow and Ice Data Center. "Why Avalanche Awareness?" 12 March 2004. <http://nsidc.org/snow/avalanche/index.html>
National Weather Service, "The Handy Weather Answer Book," Visible Ink. Detroit 1997. 9 March 2004. < http://www.crh.noaa.gov/riw/avalanch1.htm>
TechLink, "Army Technology to be used for Better Avalanche Protection," 8 March 2004
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