The avalanche bulletin features a forecast of the avalanche danger. However, the very nature of forecasting means that the predictions made may prove to be incorrect. While the SLF makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of the website content and information and the White Risk app, it cannot accept any liability for the correctness and completeness of this content and information.
Avalanche danger means mortal danger! Using the information provided by the SLF does not relieve users of their obligation to assess the avalanche situation for themselves on the ground and to act accordingly – see the disclaimer on www.slf.ch, www.whiterisk.ch and the White Risk app.
The avalanche bulletin only reports on conditions in outlying, unsecured terrain, i.e. away from the zones secured by mountain railways/cableways or safety services and away from secured ski runs and pistes.
The bulletin only uses general formulations. It cannot assess local conditions and certainly not individual slopes. The correlation that exists between the regional danger level, possible avalanche activity and the relevant consequences (and any action that needs to be taken) must be determined locally by individual users of the bulletin. In this context, snow sports enthusiasts and safety personnel will also need to rely on their own assessment procedures. Such procedures include local weather, snow and avalanche observations; snowpack analyses; examining maps; on-site slope assessment; and individual risk considerations. The safety services may also have access to the results of artificial triggerings of avalanches. All the available information should be taken into consideration before making a decision. Particular attention should be paid to information indicating unstable conditions.
As a rule, the avalanche bulletin indicates the areas (altitude zone and aspect) to which the forecast danger level applies. Any variances, typically concerning the altitude zone or aspect, have to be additionally determined by the user in the field. Remarks relating to conditions in the high Alpine regions, the Prealps and regions south of the main Alpine ridge demand special scrutiny because in most instances, compared to the data on intermediate and high altitudes in other regions, less information is available in these places. Especially careful consideration is also needed when the weather situation is changing rapidly, because the avalanche bulletin is not always able to describe emerging spatial and temporal variations in the avalanche danger adequately.
Reducing the risk with adjustments to behaviour
Avalanches frequently do not occur by chance, and winter sports enthusiasts away from secured ski runs are usually affected by these as a result of their own behaviour rather than providence. Most avalanche accidents are caused by slab avalanches that are triggered by the victims or members of their group. Every avalanche, even a minor snowslide, can be dangerous. Caution is needed not only in view of the danger of being buried but also because of the injuries avalanches can cause and the danger of being swept along and falling. Ultimately, individual behaviour is crucial to the risk. Defensive behaviour, tailored as closely as possible to the specific situation, reduces the risk. Away from secured ski runs and areas, the following points need to be borne in mind in the mountains in winter:
- Education and experience: Education and training in avalanche danger assessment, e.g. in the form of avalanche courses, offered by a very wide range of organisations for a variety of education levels. Apart from education, experience in assessing the avalanche danger is essential.
- Information on the current avalanche danger: Besides the most recent avalanche bulletin and the various supporting products offered by the SLF, which will serve as a basis, personal observations and sometimes also local information from for example mountain railway/cableway operators, mountaineering schools and refuge wardens can provide important information on the avalanche danger.
- Emergency equipment: An avalanche transceiver, a shovel and a probe are considered standard equipment, and an avalanche airbag is recommended. So that this equipment can be deployed in the midst of the stress of an accident, its appropriate use must be practised on a regular basis. Other important items of equipment are a mobile phone, a pocket first-aid kit and, depending on the situation, a helmet.