May 2015

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I. Instability and Risk Taking

Prior to having my two wonderful children, my wife and I enjoyed skiing all over the country. Whether the mountains in Vermont, Colorado or Utah, we enjoyed the sport, the beautiful scenery, great comaradarie and the adrenaline rush at the drop in. Sorry to say that having young children has definitely curtailed not only our ski vacations but also our risk taking. But, I will never forget waking up in the morning, looking out the window at the blue sky and the fresh powder covering the mountainside. If you have been in the mountains skiing you know that each morning the ski patrol fires shots from artillary guns into the mountains to check for unstable snow and potential avalanche conditions. It is a precaution to help ensure the safety of those on the mountain. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate the lengths the ski patrol went to keep people safe. But, the news from Mount Everest brought that risk home.

e919289c-6e15-4006-8561-679949a0c216 If you haven’t heard, dozens of people were climbing Mount Everest in April when a deadly earthquake in Nepal triggered an avalanche. At least 18 people died and dozens more were injured. While this horrific tragedy couldn’t have been prevented, the risk management team at the mountain was able to prepare climbers for the potential of an avalanche prior to it happening. Because of that preparation and training, one could assume that the loss of life was minimized. Climbing a mountain of that size is obviously very risky, but the legwork by the mountain patrol and the climbers beforehand help prepare them for the potential of unforeseen circumstances.

Avalanches don’t occur because of the artillery guns shooting into the mountains or the earthquake in Nepal. Avalanches occur because of the unstable snow conditions on the mountain. You never know what can cause the avalanche to start, any number of catalysts can start one, but they only occur in areas where the snow fell in a certain way. On any mountain slope, the snow piles up over time and is supported by what is called the snow-pack. This pack keeps the snow from tumbling down the mountain. Conditions become unstable when the snow-pack starts to weaken. Then because of overloading, temperature or vibration the avalanche begins.