Before the snow flies, spend some time on avalanche safety

  • Thursday, November 5, 2015 4:32pm
  • Opinion

With some snowfall finally sticking here on the central Kenai Peninsula, winter recreation enthusiasts no doubt are tuning up their snowmachines or waxing their skis in anticipation of more to come.

But before everyone goes tearing off into the backcountry, a word of caution: every year, recreationists are injured or killed in avalanches in Alaska. In recent years, avalanches have killed novice and experienced adventurers alike. Turnagain Pass is a popular destination for winter adventures, but has also seen its share of avalanche incidents. What’s more, even if you’re not headed for the backcountry, just driving through Turnagain Pass takes you through numerous avalanche zones.

To draw attention to the issue, Gov. Bill Walker has proclaimed November to be Avalanche Education Awareness Month. The proclamation notes that many Alaskans enjoy winter outdoor recreation and travel, but goes on to point out that “from seasoned outdoor enthusiasts to highway motorists, all Alaskans can benefit from the numerous educational programs for avalanche education, and should take advantage of information available through the United States Forest Service’s National Avalanche Center, the Alaska Avalanche Information Center, and other sources.”

That’s good advice, indeed. And now is the perfect time to heed it — while you’re waiting for snow, and before you head out on your next adventure.

The governor’s proclamation encourages “all Alaskans of all ages to safely enjoy outdoor winter recreation and travel by equipping themselves with avalanche education and preparation.”

Part of that preparation is to have appropriate avalanche rescue equipment — an avalanche probe, beacon, shovel, and more — at all times in avalanche-prone terrain. And we’d add that backcountry travelers should not only have those safety items with them, but should also know how to use them.

Online resources provide a good place to start. The Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation webpage at dnr.alaska.gov/parks/safety has avalanche safety tips. The Alaska Avalanche Information Center webpage at www.alaskasnow.org has educational materials, a list of courses available, and snowpack observations from around the state. The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center includes weather observations as well as a form to submit your own observations.

Experiencing the Alaska backcountry during the winter can be truly awesome, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll have a little more opportunity to enjoy the snow than we’ve had for the past couple of winters. Before you head out, invest some time in learning how to minimize the risks. Check the conditions before each trip. A little preparedness can ensure that your next adventure doesn’t end in tragedy.

More in Opinion

WH
Opinion: The buck stops at the top

Shared mistakes of Dunleavy and Biden.

A sign welcomes people to Kenai United Methodist Church on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
It’s time for a federal law against LGBTQ discrimination

When my wife and I decided to move to Alaska, we wondered if we would be welcome in our new neighborhood.

Terri Spigelmyer. (Photo provided)
Pay It Forward: Instilling volunteerism in the next generation

We hope to have instilled in our children empathy, cultural awareness, long-term planning and the selflessness of helping others

Hal Shepherd in an undated photo taken near Homer, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Hal Shepherd.)
Point of View: Election integrity or right-wing power grab?

Dr. King would be appalled at what is happening today

Nancy HIllstrand. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Trail Lakes is the sockeye salmon hero, not Tutka Bay

Tutka hatchery produces a pink salmon monoculture desecrating Kachemak Bay State Park and Critical Habitat Area as a feed lot

A map of Kachemak Bay State Park shows proposed land additions A, B and C in House Bill 52 and the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery. (Map courtesy of Alaska State Parks)
Opinion: Rep. Vance’s bill is anti-fishermen

House Bill 52 burdens 98.5% of Cook Inlet fishermen.

A sign designates a vote center during the recent municipal election. The center offered a spot for voters to drop off ballots or fill a ballot out in person. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The failure of mail-in voting

The argument that mail-in balloting increases voter participation never impressed me

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Break the cycle of failure, debt in 2022

Today, all Americans are coerced, embarrassed or otherwise influenced into one of two old political parties

Charlie Franz.
Point of View: Election integrity is not anti-democratic

The federalization of elections by the Freedom to Vote Act infringes on the constitutional right of states to regulate elections.

Most Read