Recognizing an avalanche; knowing how could save your life

Mountain conditions are finally looking up!
Schweitzer Mountain Resort

SANDPOINT, Idaho — An avalanche can be difficult to spot, especially when you’re headed downhill. Whether you’re a novice shredder, or cruising a black diamond run, understanding how an avalanche happens can help save your life.

How does an avalanche form, and what triggers it? According to the Ski Patrol team at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, all it takes is a good round of some fresh snow to turn something so picturesque into a tragedy.

An avalanche can happen in a matter of seconds, and it can happen when you least expect it. What happened Tuesday at Silver Mountain Resort is a direct example of this.

At Schweitzer Mountain Resort, ski patrollers want you to be prepared. They want you to be educated, so you don’t accidentally end up in the danger zone.

“For everyday skiers and snowboarders, it becomes pretty easy to become complacent about what’s going to happen. You don’t have a lot of time to think before it is too late,” said Cassidy Higgins,
assistant director of snow safety at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

Keep your head on a swivel, as ski patroller Higgins said. It doesn’t take much for an avalanche to put your life on the line.

“With avalanches, we have all these different layers in the snow pack,” Higgins said.

When those layers stack just right, you have avalanche potential.

“When we have new snow, we had about four to six inches last night, it rained lightly before that and made a crust. And then a bunch of snow from yesterday underneath that,” Higgins said.

That combinations could lead to a formula for disaster.

“New snow here, and it hasn’t had time to bond to snow the snow below it. So that can tend to slide off this crust, and cause an avalanche,”
Higgins said.

As a safety measure, ski patrol tests weak parts of the mountains. Patrollers start poking and prodding for any hazard spots. If they find any, they’ll close it off. If they can, they’ll cause an
avalanche to get the snow to come down while no one is on the mountain.

“Slopes can and will avalanche. It’s not an exact science, everybody does the best to deal with it,” Higgins said.

They do this regularly and want you to know they do everything they can to make sure your time on the mountain is safe.

“Accidents happen in every realm, and we do a good job of controlling when they happen and making sure they happen when skiers aren’t on the slope,” Higgins said.

Most mountain resorts put up fencing, barriers, or cones when they believe an area is too dangerous to be skiing or snowboarding on at that time. They ask that you respect them. They are not trying to ruin your fun, they are just trying to keep you safe.

If you see something, say something. Schweitzer Mountain Resort has a ski patrol phone number you can call anytime at 208-263-9555, just ask for dispatch. If there is anything you believe is concerning, bring it to their attention and they will check it out.