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Mountain danger hazards

Dangers and risks in the mountains – objective and subjective dangers

Here I would like increase your awareness of the mountain dangers and hazards you can come across while freeriding/backcountry skiing and high-altitude ski touring. These hazards can be categorised in two groups, subjective danger/hazards and objective danger/hazards.

These danger/hazards can lead to major disasters and can also cost lives if ignored. In many cases this happens when, individuals, group or group leaders make wrong decisions. They can be over confident, lack personal awareness, lack knowledge or do not take these danger/hazards into consideration during the planning of the mountain activities. 

The right training and a heightened awareness of these danger/hazards can help minimise danger, and give a safer experience, which hopefully will be shared with others in the future.


Weather phenomena (sun, cold, heat, wet, fog, wind and snowstorms)
Rock and ice fall
Cornices breaks
Ice and snow avalanches
Glacier crevasses


Lack of experience (overconfidence, carelessness, lack of knowledge)
Inadequate physical condition or technical skills
Bad planning or route selection
Wrong choices of equipment or lack thereof
Mental misconduct
A negative group dynamic

As a skier you can dramatically reduce the subjective danger/hazards with the appropriate decision making, including behaviour, appropriate equipment choices for the activity one is doing, and the right pre-training. This is not the case with objective danger/hazards.

Considering the objective danger/hazards you can be more aware of one’s behaviour, actions, become more conscious and you can start to estimate and evaluate the environmental conditions to reduce the risks and dangers.

All dangers in the mountains are connected with your own actions and decisions, either consciously or subliminally made.

Here are just some examples of some of the objective hazards and how you can prevent situations arising while skiing on the mountain.

Intensive sun rays and the effect and their dangers

Warming up of the surrounding ground (dependent of the time of day to be taken into consideration) increases the avalanche danger

Dangers for us the human being

Sun burn
Damage to our eyes
Heat stroke
Snow blindness

Windchill effect

Wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by wind and cold. Therefore, the wind makes it feel much colder.  For example, if the temperature is -5°C and the wind is blowing at 30 km an hour, the wind chill is -20°C. At this wind chill temperature, exposed skin can freeze within 30 minutes.

Leadership strategy for preventing hypothermia

Observe the group continuously (watch out for signs of group members becoming cold during the day)
If possible, take breaks in a sheltered wind free places
Do a group check of clothing and equipment before start
Adapt tour to the weather conditions
Adopt the pace of the group so as not to overheat and develop unnecessary sweating

Fog and its dangers?

Orientation difficulties
Mental stress can increase
The group can get split up and lost if the distance is too great between individuals (when not roped upon high altitude tour)
Time requirement increases, darkness can set in
Rescue by helicopter is not possible or very hard

Planning a program over a few days when one is starting and considerations to be taken into account?

Day 1: Short easy tour test ability on slope, incorporating ski lift with up time and down time for recovery time (Equipment and clothing checks, introduction to tour basics – kick turns)

Day 2: If necessary, repeat day one with short sections off the slopes and appropriate gradients to group ability and conditions.

Day3: Medium distance tour flatter climb and incorporate appropriate intervals depending on group fitness levels.

Day 4 – 5: Dependent on ability and fitness levels, you can progress and increase the intensity for the group

So if you take all the above into consideration and you become more aware of the above subjective and objective danger/hazards, you can as a individual or group start to become more aware, learn and develop a more mountain awareness to make future mountain experiences safer.