Many Of This Season's Avalanche Deaths Result From Persistent Slab Avalanche Problem

Feb 16, 2021

Credit Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center

In the first week of February, avalanches in the United States killed at least 14 people. That's the highest number of deaths in a seven-day period for at least a century.

Experts say it's partly because more people are out in the backcountry.

"I think starting in March, with the closure of so many ski resorts, many people turned to ski touring in the backcountry in order to recreate outside in perhaps a safer way in the pandemic standpoint," said avalanche educator Jenna Malone. Malone works for the American Avalanche Institute.

Most of the deaths are a result of a persistent slab avalanche problem. That means there is weak snow in the snowpack, andthe normal signs and stability tests that people are trained to do to avoid avalanches aren't there, Malone said.

"People can be on low angle, seemingly benign terrain not to avalanche but if it's connected to a slope that is steep enough to avalanche with persistent slab they can trigger it from the bottom of the slope," she said

When the slab is triggered that means an avalanche is coming down the mountain. Malone said the only way to avoid these types of events is by not going out if the forecast says the avalanche problem is a persistent slab.