We will tear the wool from your eyes in the name of better avalanche preparedness! There are some wild myths about avalanches out there, but there’s no need to believe in made-up stories on the internet. Let’s separate the facts from fiction.
1. Avalanches Are Caused by Sound
We’ve all seen it. The cartoon character shouts to hear an echo, when suddenly there’s a rumbling. The whole world is shaking, and the wall of snow is upon them!
Loud noises will not trigger an avalanche. At least not the ones made by humans. We’re just not loud enough. A stick of dynamite has the sonic power to set one off, but if you’re setting off TNT, the explosion is more likely to move snow than the sound. In fact, ski resorts will sometimes preemptively detonate slopes that threatens to become avalanches.
Luckily, most skiers rarely (if ever) carry sticks of explosives around.
In case you were getting too comfortable, do keep in mind that most avalanches are caused by the weight of a moving person… regardless of the amount of noise they’re making.
2. Avalanches Will Blow Over if You Keep Still
Our hero stands perfectly still as the avalanche of cotton candy snow fills in all around them. Sounds magical! Peaceful, even!
You wish. Avalanches are not made of loosely packed snow. If you stand in the way of an avalanche, it won’t be a pleasant snow bath. You will be pelted with heavy snow, rocks, fallen branches, and solid chunks of ice. It’s a classic dumb way to die.
3. There Is No Way to Predict One
“Well, if the forecasters can’t predict the weather, why should we trust what an avalanche map says?”
Avalanches can strike with no warning, but it’s not impossible to detect avalanche conditions. It is true that no one can predict exactly when an area of unstable snowpack will become an avalanche, but an expert can see which areas are dangerous. Avalanche risk areas will be marked in most places, so if you see a sign indicating a slope is dangerous, steer clear.
4. Avalanches Make a Roaring Sound
As soon as our hero hears his echo return from the mountain, an immense roar builds in the distance. It’s a bird, it’s a train… it’s an avalanche!
Not all avalanches will make a roaring sound. Some are quiet; they can move silently and may be hard to detect if you don’t notice the ground shaking. Sound is pretty relevant to your safety, though! Snow fiends may have heard to listen for a “whumpf” sound while walking or skiing, since that’s the sound of packed snow shifting or collapsing. Collapsing snow is the hallmark of an avalanche, so keep those ears open!
5. If You Try Hard Enough, You Can Outrun One
Our hero hears the freight train avalanche coming toward him and runs out of the path of danger, easily escaping danger while his doofus friend is surrounded by that cotton candy powder.
Avalanches are much faster than humans. You almost certainly can’t outrun an avalanche. They move at 60-80 mph, get larger as they travel, and are likely to overtake you regardless of your headstart or which direction you run. In your heavy outerwear and snow boots, you’re definitely slower than the snow.
6. If You Have Skied There Before, It Is a Safe Slope
“This slope is safe. I’ve skied this summit plenty of times before. I’ve never seen or even heard of an avalanche occurring here.”
There is no such thing as a permanently safe slope. Conditions change daily. A ski slope that hosted fifty skiers yesterday might be unstable today due to overnight snowfall. Always check park signage to learn about current dangers, and follow instructions. Don’t trust the past! Trust the advice of the people trying to keep you safe.
Get more avalanche safety and preparedness tips in our Avalanche Guide. Certain tools and techniques can help keep you safe if you’re caught in an avalanche. You can’t believe everything you read on the internet, but our advice is at least more credible than those cartoons you’ve been watching.