Three experienced skiers and one snowboarder have died at the Stevens Pass ski resort in Washington, USA on Sunday. The skiers were in a restricted back country area of the resort when the avalanche hit. All skiers were experts, and high avalanche warnings had been given for that area earlier that day. However there was a survivor – Elyse Saugstad, a professional skier, who survived due to having an air bag backpack. The snowboarder died in another incident where he was swept off a cliff.
Avalanches occur not due to loud noises, or shouting as you may have seen in films, but instability in snow conditions which leads snow to hurtle down the side of a mountain. The most common form of avalanche is called “dry slab” where the top heavy layer slides off the weaker bottom layer causing the snow to break away and cause an avalanche.
Whatever level of skiing ability you are, always take precautions and check the snow forecast for that day. It is better to be safe than sorry, and if in doubt, stick to main slopes. Backcountry skiing holds a lure for experienced and expert skiers, but many resorts advise you only to ski there at your own risk and therefore will not be liable for deaths and accidents.