Avalanche Awareness

Contrary to popular thought, experienced backcountry enthusiasts are most often candidates to become avalanche victims at 75 percent, according to the National Snow and Ice Date Center.           

Program director for the Alaska Outdoor Education (AOE) department at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Deb Ajango, said, “You can get sucked in by peer pressure, panic responses that can cause you to make poor decisions.”

The AOE department has offered one and two credit courses in avalanche hazard evaluation. The two-credit class was last fall and will be offered again next fall. The one credit was offered through Alaska Mountain Safety Center, which does the avalanche safety school through AOE. “They know avalanches better than anyone else in the state. If students want to take credits through them and get credit from us, we can work that out.” said Ajango.

AOE offered avalanche and backcountry safety for snowmachiners, but that class didn't get enough interest, so they will try to do it again this spring.

Any course through AOE that goes into the backcountry includes avalanche rescue. All students and instructors have to carry beacons, shovels, probes and inclinometers (that measures the steepness) and all have to be trained in how to use them before they go out there.

Ajango, whose advanced education is in clinical psychology, does a lot of crisis management and response. She said it's good to break down what an accident looks like. “I look at how people make mistakes and instructor training. It's almost always a cumulation of small errors,” said Ajango.

Avalanches can be caused by a combination of weather, snowfall, temperature, wind direction, snowpack conditions, slope angle, slope orientation, terrain and vegetation. Portable shovels, a probe and avalanche beacon (transceivers) are a must when going into the backcountry. These tools can save your life or the lives of those who are with you.

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For more information, contact the Alaska Mountain Safety Center at 345-7736 or visit http://www.avalanches.org online for a nationwide listing on fatalities due to avalanches and trends in avalanches.