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 hazards/dangers and objective danger/hazards.
These danger/hazards can lead to major disasters and can also cost lives if ignored. In many cases this happens, and 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.
- 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
- Weather phenomena (sun, cold, heat, wet, fog, wind and snowstorms)
- Rock and ice fall
- Cornices brakes
- Ice and snow avalanches
- Glacier crevasses
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
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 un necessary 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 out 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 hazards/dangers, 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.