[ a v a l a n c h e s : p r e p a r a t i o n ]
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Avalanche breakers are huge mounds of rock and dirt at the bottoms of slopes. These piles can turn aside an avalanche and keep it from rushing into villages and homes in the valley. Other types of breakers are V-shaped walls of dirt, six feet thick and sixteen feet high. The point of the V faces uphill, so it can split an avalanche in two and force snow to either side. The legs of the V are made 300 to 400 feet long, and can protect entire towns.
Another type of dirt wall is a single barrier placed at a slight angle to an avalanche path. This can also deflect snow aside from inhabited areas. People who live on mountain slopes must build their houses close against the base of a mountain. To avoid avalanches, they fill their backyards with dirt up to roof-level. This way, snow rushing downhill can pass right over the buildings.
Other structures are built with one wall shaped like the prow of a ship. This prow faces uphill, so that during an avalanche, it splits the snow. A church in Davos, Switzerland was rebuilt in this fashion after being destroyed by an avalanche. When another snow slide struck a few years later, the wedge-shaped barrier helped save the building. Today, many of these barriers are made of reinforced concrete instead of dirt, and are used mainly to protect cable car pylons and electric and telephone line towers.
Mountain roads and railroad tracks are protected by galleries, which are structures made of wood, steel, and concrete. Resembling a covered tunnel, the galleries shield the tracks that pass through underneath.
Today, skiers and hikers are in the most danger from avalanches. It is best to wait while slopes are being tested for safety. Try not to ignore posted warnings and venture on safe trails. Even the most professional of skiers can be buried in snow. On April 12, 1964, a group of Olympic skiers who were making a film at Saint Moritz in the Swiss Alps ignored warnings and went down a dangerous slope. Two young champions, Barbi Henniberger from Germany and Buddy Werner from the United States, were lost in an avalanche.
Unfortunately, 90% of all avalanches are caused by skiers or hikers. New sports like snowboarding are also luring the adventurous away from marked trails, where the danger lies. Here is some advice for skiers and hikers from experts:
Having a good knowledge of avalanches, weather, and snow conditions is the best way to prepare for dealing with a snow slide. Knowing the basics behind how, why, and what happens during an avalanche may someday mean the difference in life or death.
- Know what kinds of weather and snow conditions are likely to cause avalanches.
- Read and obey all signs!
- If you have to cross a slope that appears unsafe, close your jackets tightly and put on hats and mittens.
- All equipment should be loose and easily thrown away if necessary, not only so it won’t drag you down, but also because loose articles provide clues to the location of a buried person.
- If you have a knapsack, carry it in your hands and clutch it in front of your face to get some breathing space under the snow. Or it can be tossed away as a clue to rescuers.
- Take ski pole straps off the wrists.
- Runaway straps on skis should be loosened
- Skis and poles can twist limbs.
- Some skiers tie a 30 yard-long red cord around their waists. If caught in an avalanche, a part of this cord will stay on the surface as a signal to rescuers if buried.
- Some skiers carry beacons like battery-operated transmitters and receivers.
- Experienced cross-country skiers, hikers, and rangers carry portable shovels to dig themselves out of snow.
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