Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain





I started in on my annual reading of Bruce Tremper's Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain which, for my money, is the best practical guide for avalanche safety. The classic is Daffern (see sidebar), but I always felt there was too much detail about things I didn't really care about (different types of snow crystals) and not enough about stuff I did care about (what different types of crystals mean to me as a skier). And the Snowsense book has lots of fans too, but I always found it just a bit short.

Tremper's book, on the other hand, finally made me understand the importance of temperature gradients, of katabatic cooling at night, of using a compass-type clinometer instead of a card-type clinometer when you're actually skiing (as opposed to doing a snow survey). He also just has great advice about the mindset that keeps you alive in the backcountry. It's thanks to Tremper that I prefer second tracks to first tracks. You still get great snow, but your chances of returning alive increase dramatically. Not that I want to see those strong young kids who pass me on the uphills go to their snowy graves, but if they're headed out for first tracks anyway, I may has well be behind them.

Anyway, if you aren't already an avalanche expert and you don't own this book, you should. And read it. Every year.

By the way, just to be clear about where I'm coming from. I am NOT an avalanche expert. I've spent a fair bit of time in the backcountry in steep mountains in winter weather, but not like a full-time guide or avalanche forecaster. I've taken your basic Avy 1 type of course (I took mine when I was living in Switzerland, but it's roughly like the US Avy 1