Thursday, July 28, 2011

US Skier/Snowboarder Avy Fatalities 1999/2000–2009/2010

The summer doldrums have settled in meteorologically and we're stuck in this persistent pattern of weak flow with some afternoon convection.  Being a snow guy, I've never had a great deal of interest in the nuances of convection, so my attention has turned back to issues related to the white stuff.

I was curious about skier and snowboarder avalanche fatalities, especially incidents in which lifts are used to access the backcountry.  The American Avalanche Association provides a summary of US avalanche accidents on their web site, which allows one to get at least a cursory look at the circumstances contributing to these accidents.

Skiers and snowboarders today often use terms like backcountry, frontcountry, slackcountry, and sidecountry.  Steve Romeo has some rational definitions of these terms, but for my interests, I simply broke things down based on whether or not the skier or snowboarder accessed the terrain with or without lift assist.  I consider any terrain outside of ski area boundaries as backcountry.  Mother Nature doesn't really care what you call it.  

Nationally, 72 avalanche fatalities from 1999/2000–2009/2010 involved backcountry travel with no lift assist, 38 involved backcountry travel with lift assist, 7 involved public skiers in open ski-area terrain, 4 involved public skiers in permanently or temporarily closed terrain inside ski-area boundaries, and 2 were ski patrollers conducting avalanche control operations.  

So, nationally, there are roughly 2 pure earn-your-turns backcountry avalanche fatalities for every fatality involving lift assist.

However in Utah during this period, there were 9 fatalities involving backcountry travel with no lift assist and 10 with lift assist.  Thus, we have a relatively high fraction of lift-assist backcountry fatalities compared to the nation as a whole.  I have some ideas why, but perhaps others would like to speculate...

1 comment:

  1. I would say either because there is a decent amount of backcountry that can be accessed by lifts in Utah, or perhaps backcountry skiers here are more well-prepared and take avalanches more seriously than elsewhere.