When white snow turns evil

Avalanche – three simple syllables that can kill and amount to a white elephant in the room for every skier or snowboarder that ventures off-piste.  

Australia and Australians need not think we are immune either, and yes, I have written about this before. In 2007 a 31-year-old Australian skier was killed in an avalanche while skiing at Gulmarg in India. In 2008 a 22-year-old Australian skier died from an avalanche caused by a collapsing cornice in the backcountry of New South Wales.

In 2009, a 60-year-old Australian heli-skier was killed and two other Australians buried in an avalanche in New Zealand. In February this year an Australian was killed in an avalanche while skiing in the backcountry in Colorado.

Personally, I thought I had more chance of being killed by a flying alien aircraft than being sucked under into a white room with no exit. That was until I took up skiing and saw first hand avalanche debris deep enough and big enough to kill an elephant in the backcountry of snow hills around the globe.

The New York Times published the most heart-wrenching and powerful interactive online story titled Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek that took the lives of fellow snow media comrades, an international competition judge and a resort marketer, devastating the world's ski industry community. The truth is if happens to experienced, trained and avalanche-savvy skiers and snowboarders who knew or should have known better, then it could happen to you.

I have had the not-so-pleasurable experience of watching a helicopter hover overhead, lest the fractured snow pack we were guided onto give way before we made it across to a safer zone in the remote alpine peaks of New Zealand. The chopper pilot kept a continual line of sight lest we go under. We didn't, though we were tempted to send the guide under afterwards when we reached a solid safe zone.

Don't think they just happen out of resort bounds either. Despite extensive work by ski patrollers to keep resorts safe, avalanches can, on rare occasions, strike within a resort too.

Mt Hutt in New Zealand experienced an avalanche that struck several skiers on their black diamond South Face terrain in 2010. Treble Cone, also in New Zealand, experienced an avalanche ironically set off by staff working to keep the mountain safe, that buried a number of resort skiers up to their waists. Thankfully all survived.

More recently Mt Hutt had a similar experience while shut, due to three-metre snowfalls from the storm of the decade that hit the South Island last week. While heli bombing the terrain to make it safe enough to open, an avalanche went awry and hit the resort's much needed triple chairlift, which is now out of action until further notice.

Tons of snow falling from the sky makes us skiers and snowboarders salivate and itch to get onto the first chair, but it can mean days of hard work by the ski patrol to ensure a resort remains safe. Those who prefer fresh powder to tracked slopes may think they know better and head to the backcountry, many even hiking up hills to get to steeper slopes. 

But if you haven't done an avalanche course, if you don't have a qualified mountain guide, if you can't read avalanche terrain, don't know how to use a transceiver or you don't know how to log on to the internet to find out the day's avalanche warning then you are just asking for trouble.

Combine the immortality of youth, the obsession with extreme skiing and snowboarding movies, the need to boast with GoPro footage shared on social media, fatter skis that make skiing powder a complete dream and the ease of access to the backcountry from resort boundaries and you have one of two things. The opportunity for the best day of your life or the last day of your life.

Go prepared, go (or don't go) informed and go with a sound skill set and you'll reduce your risks and the risks of those around you.

Have you experienced an avalanche? Have you been with people who have set one off or been impacted by others who have? What do you do to reduce your risks when skiing at home and abroad? Post a comment below.


Tag your instagram #misssnowitall and share the snow love. We'll publish our favourites each week right here and our guest judge will choose a winner that will go into the final gallery at the end of the season when you get to choose the winner.

Each week's winner receives a Skullcandy Hesh 2.0 set of headphones (RRP$99.95) in a variety of colours and goes into the finalists gallery at the end of the season for readers to vote on who wins. 

The final winner scores Skullcandy Mix Master Headphones (RRP$379.95) and an Epic Pass season pass valid at 18 mountains in the USA and Europe including Vail in Colorado, Heavenly in Lake Tahoe and Canyons in Utah, home to Skullcandy HQ (RRP US$689).

Check out the gallery at the top of this page for this week's top five finalists. You can also view all instagram entries here.


We asked veteran snow photographer, Chris Hocking (follow him on instagram @hockster111), regularly published in ski mags around the globe, to judge the five instagram finalists from this past week.

"@jasonjohn1 shows the anticipation of driving up a snow filled road to reach a ski field. You can almost feel the excitement. He wins this week."

Follow Snow It All on twitter @misssnowitall, instagram @misssnowitall, facebook facebook.com/misssnowitall and visit the wordpress blog miss-snowitall.com for more. 

Email me: rachael.oakesash@fairfaxmedia.com.au