Avalanches are made of snow. If there is a lot of snow on the slope of a mountain, such an avalanche can slide down. Such large masses of snow move very quickly. They then take everything in their path with them. These can be people, animals, trees, or even houses. The word “avalanche” comes from a Latin word meaning “to slide” or “to slide”. Sometimes people say “snow slab” instead of an avalanche.
Snow is sometimes harder, sometimes looser. It doesn’t stick to some floors as well as others. Longer grass creates a slippery slope, while the forest holds the snow.
The steeper the slope, the more likely it is that an avalanche will occur. In addition, new, freshly fallen snow often ensures this. This cannot always connect well with the old snow and is therefore more likely to slip off. This can happen, especially if there is a lot of fresh snow in a short period of time. The wind can also cause enormous amounts of snow in certain places. Then avalanches are more likely to be released.
However, it is difficult to see from the outside whether an avalanche is imminent. Even experts have difficulty predicting this. There are many reasons that can lead to an avalanche. Sometimes it is enough for an animal or person to hike or ski there to trigger the avalanche.
How dangerous are avalanches for humans?
Those who are caught by an avalanche often die in the process. Even if you survive the fall, you end up lying under a lot of snow. This snow is so flattened that you can no longer shovel it away with your hands. Because your body is heavier than snow, you keep sinking.
If you’re trapped in snow, you can’t get fresh air. Sooner or later you suffocate. Or you die just because it’s so cold. Most of the victims are dead within half an hour. Around 100 people die from avalanches in the Alps every year.
What do you do against avalanches?
The people in the mountains try to prevent avalanches from occurring in the first place. It is important, for example, that there are a lot of forests. The trees often ensure that the snow does not slide off and become an avalanche. They are therefore natural avalanche protection. Such forests are therefore called “protective forests”. You must never clear them.
In some places, avalanche protection is also built. One then speaks of avalanche barriers. These include frames made of wood or steel that are built in the mountains. They look a bit like large fences and ensure that the snow has a better grip. So it doesn’t start to slide at all and there are no avalanches. Sometimes concrete walls are also built to deflect an avalanche away from individual houses or small villages. There are also areas where it is known that dangerous avalanches roll down there particularly frequently. It is best not to build any buildings, roads, or ski slopes there at all.
In addition, experts monitor the danger of avalanches in the mountains. They warn people who are out and about in the mountains if avalanches could occur in an area. Sometimes they also deliberately trigger avalanches themselves. This is done after a warning and at a time when you are sure no one is in the area. The avalanche is then triggered with explosives that are dropped from the helicopter. In this way, you can plan exactly when and where an avalanche will occur, so that nobody gets hurt. You can also dissolve dangerous accumulations of snow before they become even bigger and more dangerous and slide off.
Ski slopes and hiking trails are also secured in winter. Hikers and skiers are only allowed to use the trails and slopes once the experts have studied the situation in detail and cleared all dangerous accumulations of snow. They are also warned: signs tell them where they are not allowed to hike or ski. They also warn of how high the risk of triggering an avalanche is at the moment. An avalanche can be triggered by the weight of a single person. So you have to be very familiar with avalanches when you leave the controlled and protected slopes and paths. Otherwise, you put yourself and others at risk.
There are always people who do not have enough experience and underestimate this danger. Every year, numerous avalanches are triggered by careless winter sports enthusiasts. Therefore, most of the people who die in avalanches triggered the avalanche themselves.