Snowy slopes and a sunny weather forecast entice you to the mountains. But the avalanche danger is currently critical – says avalanche forecaster Lukas Dürr. What winter sports enthusiasts need to consider now.
Lukas Dürr is an avalanche forecaster at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF. He is a product owner for the development of software for avalanche warning, a specialist speaker on avalanches in the Swiss mountain guide training aspirant courses and an SLF representative in the core training team “Avalanche Prevention Snow Sports”.
SRF News: How does the weather currently affect the risk of avalanches?
Lukas Dürr: At the moment we have a critical avalanche situation. This is mainly due to the snowfall of the last few days and especially last night. We received up to 80 centimeters of fresh snow, especially in eastern Switzerland. But it also snowed 30 to 50 centimeters in western Switzerland.
The snow layers have not yet been able to stabilize.
This fresh snow is still quite weakly compacted. These layers have not yet been able to settle and stabilize. A slab avalanche can therefore easily be triggered – even by a single snow athlete. This weight is already enough to set dozens of tons of snow in motion. You have to be aware of that.
What criteria is used to classify the avalanche danger?
The danger of avalanches depends very much on the weather conditions. There are various factors that contribute to an increase in the danger of avalanches. Fresh snow is a very important factor – if not the most important one. Another factor is the wind: we currently had strong northerly winds. This means that snow has been transported and relocated. This also means that the danger of avalanches remains increased.
Other factors for increased avalanche danger
There are other situations that can lead to an increased risk of avalanches, says Lukas Dürr. “For example when you have to deal with wet snow avalanches. Other factors may include transformation processes within the snowpack. So if the snow cover that is on the ground changes very unfavorably and forms a poor base. The snow cover can then take on a sugar-like structure.” Currently, however, the fresh snow and the wind are the most important factors.
Where is the danger of avalanches particularly high?
At the moment we have a critical situation throughout the Alpine region, especially for snow sports enthusiasts away from the pistes.
There is no need to worry about snow sports on the slopes. There are specialists who ensure avalanche safety on the slopes and take appropriate measures.
What should winter sports enthusiasts keep in mind when traveling off-piste?
Everyone away from the pistes is responsible for their own travel. You must now be careful in all areas of the Swiss Alps. Anyone who wants to be out on the slopes now has to have knowledge and experience.
You also have to be able to identify danger spots in the terrain. This requires know-how.
You have to choose the terrain that suits the conditions. At the moment you should avoid larger steep slopes if possible. You also have to be able to identify danger spots in the terrain. This requires know-how. At the moment, however, the situation is such that caution is advised, even with all the knowledge.
What are the rules of conduct?
When you get into an avalanche, it’s always very critical – that means you have to do everything you can to prevent yourself from getting into an avalanche in the first place. Similar principles apply as in road traffic: we wear our seatbelts as a precaution, without driving particularly fast. You should do the same thing in avalanche terrain: You equip yourself as a precaution – with an avalanche search device, probes and shovels and still try to reduce the risk of an avalanche being triggered by adopting appropriate behavior. In addition to the know-how, you should also keep yourself informed about the risks, which we update up to twice a day.
Will the avalanche danger ease in the near future?
On Saturday we still had a high risk of avalanches. On Sunday we will downgrade a bit because there will be no more fresh snow. As of Sunday, avalanche danger level 3 (significant) applies in most areas of the Swiss Alps. However, further easing of the avalanche danger is not yet in sight; it remains critical.
The interview was conducted by Viviane Stadelmann.