03/02/2014 | by Sam McMahon
So you have all the gear, been taught how to use it and you’re finally in the mountains, yeah! It’s been snowing for days and you wake up to fresh bluebird conditions, fuck yeah! On your way to the lift you happen to notice the bulletin saying the avalanche risk category is a mere three out five, WOOOOYEAHBUDDY! That pretty much means it’s safe yeah?
In classic health and safety campaign style, WRONG; QI klaxon alert. Half of all avalanches deaths occur when the ‘Cat’ warning is three. A quick Google search will yield a detailed picture of what the European avalanche danger scale means but a glance it can be summed up as the following:
5 – Resort will be closed, stay in bed or get the Monopoly set out.
4 – Gnarly conditions, too scary to go off piste, anyone who does is stupid, or possibly French.
3 – Sketchy at best, the snow is only moderately or weakly stable. Avalanches can be triggered by light loads, like you. Or your fat friend above you. Give the steep stuff far away from help a miss today.
2 – Pretty good, but not fantastic. Slides can be triggered by large forces, like you landing a big drop into a steep slope.
1 – You’ll be about 99% safe today, but not 100%.
Always check the avalanche rating before you head out and give some thought to what it might mean for your plans. Time strengthens the snow pack, so you could just leave the scary ridge line hike to that back bowl you were going to hit up until a Cat. 2 day, who actually cares if you don’t get the first line down anyway?