Avalanche season is traditionally defined as being from December to April. In so much that the winter months accumulate larger snow packs and early spring can bring rapidly changing temperatures, there is a “season” for major avalanche events. When you see news reports and dramatic videos of these types of events, it’s almost always during the winter or early spring months.
These major avalanche events can be lethal, but not primarily because of poor trip planning or ignoring the mountain’s warning signs. Instead, these catastrophes can kill people and damage buildings a mile or so from the base of the mountain in a once-in-a-lifetime event.
The Other Side of Avalanche Season
And yet. As part of our borrowed ethos, Mountains Speak, The Wise Shall Listen, we don’t really like to think of there being an avalanche season. While more avalanches do tend to occur between December and April, an avalanche may happen in any calendar month given sufficient elevation, snowpack, and temperature swings to trigger one. Moreover, it’s the smaller avalanches that occur during the summer and fall months that can be unexpected even to more seasoned mountaineers and, ultimately, just as deadly.
Indeed, from snow camping to mountain access that’s limited to the summer months, a lot of people find summer is their favorite season for backpacking, climbing, and mountaineering. As you prepare for this year’s big trip, don’t forget about basic avalanche safety and smart decision-making. Better to have a mild disappointment this year than sacrifice years of enjoyment in a tragic mistake.
Institutional Avalanche Safety is Year-Round
Even in areas where the snowpack completely disappears in the summer, civil authorities continue to train for avalanche safety. Search and rescue teams train for basic maneuvers and more complex ones. Geologists, environmentalists, and public safety officials survey mountains for any remaining snowpack, as well as changing terrain and mountain counters. Avalanche rescue dogs that can sniff out humans buried beneath the snow train year-round to hone their senses. New land-use policies are considered and enacted. New signage is ordered and installed.
Outdoor enthusiasts must also do their individual part in properly preparing for their adventures, whether during the summer or winter months. Part of this may be avalanche safety education. Part of this may be investing in new mountaineering and safety supplies. Part of this may be altering your trip planning destination or dates to minimize the chances that the risk of an avalanche will put a crimp in your ability to explore a mountain.