Mountain Town News: When snowflakes attack | ParkRecord.com

Mountain Town News: When snowflakes attack

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

INNSBRUCK, Austria — How long can you survive when buried under snow in an avalanche? The answer, according to several studies conducted by snow scientists, is that it depends. Shorter duration, obviously, is better—but not an assurance of survival. The first avalanche survival curve was assembled in Europe in 1992. More has been done in recent years, the latest study being reported last year at the International Snow Science Workshop in Innsbruck.

That newest study examined reports of avalanche burials compiled during seven winters in Austria and Switzerland. To qualify, both the head and chest of the victim had to be buried.

Survival was relatively high, 87 to 91 percent, if the person was unburied within 7 to 10 minutes.

Rates of survival dropped to 25 to 28 percent for longer periods, of about 35 minutes.

Stated another way in the report by Giacomo Strapazzon and others, the death rate was 18 times higher when the person was buried 36 to 60 minutes. Beyond an hour, a person is 29 times more likely to die than the person buried for 15 minutes or less.

Not all avalanche burials are equal, though. If the person ends up with a pocket of air, the odds improve. The more deeply a person is buried also matters, the report noted.

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An earlier study, released in conjunction with a snow science workshop in Banff in 2014, similarly defined 35 minutes as the outer limit of the curtain call. Beyond that, there's just little chance of survival.

A 2011 study led by Dr. Pascal Haegeli, now of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, dived deeper, but with a comparison of avalanches in Europe and North America over the course of six winters. Again, the victims had to have their heads and chests covered. But as in the other studies, the odds of survival are reasonably good if the person is uncovered quickly.

However, asphyxiation is only one way to die in an avalanche. Of the 143 deaths in Canada that were examined, nearly 19 percent were due to trauma.

How about the difference between mountain ranges? Haegeli and his colleagues compared three major ranges of Western Northern America (avalanche deaths occurring in the East are rare). 1) The coastal maritime ranges, such as where Mt. Bachelor and Whistler are found; 2) the transitional areas, Cariboos, Monashees, and Selkirks; and 3) the interior or continental Rocky Mountains.

Survival curves for the transitional and maritime snow climates had "considerably" lower survival in comparable periods of immersion, they found. Denser snow and hence avalanche debris could result in fewer oxygen pockets, they theorized. In addition, "denser debris would apply greater compressive forces, thus preventing chest movement."

But again, while quick extrication matters greatly, avalanches altogether are nasty things. Airbags and beacons definitely improve your odds, but they fall well short of guaranteeing survival.

For example, 33 percent of all Canadian avalanche fatalities suffered major trauma. Only half of the trauma-related deaths involved people who had been completely buried. In addition, 44 percent of those who had a trauma-related death had severe trauma, which likely resulted in death shortly after burial regardless of extrication time.

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Outdoor Retailer attendees advised to use voices, votes
DENVER, Colo. – Protect Our Winters, the climate advocacy group formed in 2007 by snowboarding pioneer Jeremy Jones, had a party in downtown Denver last week in conjunction with the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show.

There were tables of merchandise including a T-shirt with the message "Eat Fish Vote." Also a billed hat with the message "Eat Ride Vote." But a half-hour before Colorado's new governor, Jared Polis, was scheduled to speak, just a handful of people had gathered.

Then the room began filling. One individual fumed. He had no use for Polis, he said, because Polis, a Democrat, had opposed a proposal called Proposition 112 that would have sharply limited oil and gas in Colorado. Drilling companies charged it would have put the entire state off limits. That was precisely the intent of some supporters who want to see extraction of all hydrocarbons minimized. State voters, though, rejected the proposal in November.

But environmental advocates were more pleased by Polis's pledge to drive push Colorado toward 100 percent renewables by 2040. He's also advancing on transportation. His first executive order as governor pushed several levers intended to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

"Ultimately, elections matter," said Polis when he spoke to the crowd, which by then had swelled to 2,000. The announcement by Xcel Energy, Colorado's largest utility, to more rapidly embrace renewable energy was, he suggested, a result of his election.

Converting to cleaner energy, he said, has multiple benefits: reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but also improved air quality. "It's not just about winters. It's about smog and air quality. We care about both."

Wrapping up his 15-minute talk, he urged his listeners, who were mostly in their 20s, 30s and 40s, to use their voices and their votes.

"We need your vote at the table, your voice on local issues, your voices nationally," he said. "If you want to see the renewables' energy future, we need your voice and your activism."

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Still OK in Wyoming to ride over coyotes with snowsleds
JACKSON, Wyo. – Some people consider it good sport to get on snowmobiles and chase down coyotes, killing or maiming them by running over them. Apparently, this is common enough that some YouTube videos have been made.

A Wyoming state legislator from Teton County wanted to introduce a bill that would have outlawed the practice. But the ideas didn't make it into a committee hearing, so will not move forward this year, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

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Report parses grisly details of grizzly killing of guide
JACKSON, Wyo. – Grizzly bears attacking hunters who have killed elk has been rare. There was a case in 1995 near Radium Hot Springs, in British Columbia, and another case in Montana in 2001.

Last September it happened again in the Teton Wilderness west of Jackson Hole. A 37-year-old hunting guide had taken a client bow hunting in the area, which is thick with grizzly bears. The client, who was from Florida, shot an elk, and they returned the next day to dress out the carcass. When doing so, a grizzly sow and her almost mature cub attacked.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that an investigation by Wyoming wildlife officials has concluded that the outfitter was fatally wounded during the initial attack and likely died within minutes. This is despite his success in halting the mauling with a blast of bear spray. He then staggered 50 yards before succumbing to massive trauma and blood loss.

It was the first time in North America that a grizzly so doused with bear spray killed a person, according to bear conflict expert Steve Primm.

The details were gory and graphic, said the newspaper's Mike Krosmrl. The guide was dismembering the elk carcass, his Glock 10-millimeter handgun 5 to 10 yards away, when they heard the sound of rocks tumbling. Looking up, the client said, he saw two grizzlies running full speed directly toward them.

The client had removed his bear spray, but he had a gun. He didn't shoot, though, fearing he would hit his guide. Instead, he threw the gun toward the guide, but in doing so the gun became useless, as it lost its ammunition.

Having suffered only minor injuries in the attack, the client then fled to a place where he telephoned for help. He was later picked up by helicopter and, after getting into Jackson, the valley's lone town, he quickly flew from Wyoming to his home in Florida.

Grizzlies attack humans when they perceive the need to defend their food or cubs or personal space.

More rarely, they attack people with the intent of eating them. This was different.

"The evidence suggests that the desire of the bears to feed on the elk carcass was the motivating factor in the incident," the state report concluded.

Both the sow and the cub were tracked down and killed.

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Does climbing ice need to be suitable for lemonade?
OURAY, Colo. – The ice falls where climbers tested their chops and grit during the recent Ouray Ice Festival constituted a lot of water. But does the ice need to be potable water, suitable for chipping away into a glass of lemonade?

That's the question that was put before the city council in Ouray recently. The ice park uses up to 225,000 gallons of water a day to produce the frozen columns of ice, Peter Foster, vice president of Wright Water Works, told the city council. It currently comes from the city's potable water supplies, meaning it's been treated and is suitable for human consumption.

The Ouray County Plaindealer reported that the idea of alternatives to potable water was to be discussed at further meetings.

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A hard luck story, but housing rules prevail
ASPEN, Colo. – A man recovering from a double-lung transplant will have to vacate and sell his deed-restricted housing unit in Aspen, reports The Aspen Times.

The rules governing the housing program say that people are eligible for the housing only when living in Pitkin County a minimum nine months a year and working in Pitkin County.

Even in August 2017, the unit owner's lengthy absence had been noted. Later, he was granted continued absence until November 2018. He didn't make it. He wants more time.

"I ask for a continuation of my leave as I have every intention of returning to Aspen, which has been my home for 40 years," wrote the man, a victim of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. "I wish I could give you a firm timeline for my return, but given the complications I cannot at this time. My plan is to return to Colorado at lower elevations to see how my body will adjust to elevations gradually…"

No, the board ruled. He must sell, with a maximum cash-out of $192,814. The next owner will have to similarly adhere to the restrictions, including the minimized appreciation in price.

The Times reports a second individual has also been ordered to move on, as he also no longer works and lives in Pitkin County.