Avalanche science and prevention
Most avalanche accidents happen outside secured pistes. For those engaging in winter sports, slab avalanches are a particular hazard and preventive behaviour is required to reduce the avalanche risk to an acceptable level.
The long-term average death toll from avalanches each year in Switzerland is 25. Avalanches are always potentially life-threatening, so the primary aim should be to avoid getting caught in one if at all possible. The SLF recommends that backcountry tourers and freeriders always ascertain the current avalanche danger, carry the right equipment (avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe), study the terrain for warning signs of avalanches and adapt their behaviour to the conditions. If an avalanche accident occurs in spite of these precautions, it is important not to waste any time. People buried by an avalanche are most likely to be rescued alive within the first 15 minutes. However, companion rescue can only be successful if all group members have practised and mastered emergency rescue techniques. We recommend that people with no experience of assessing avalanche danger remain on secured ski runs or routes or join a group with a professional guide.
Our accident reports, which are part of the winter report published annually, contain a summary of selected avalanche accidents with a brief description of the event and rescue measures, information on the weather and avalanche situation at the time, and where relevant the legal consequences. The detailed descriptions allow readers to learn from the accidents. The accident statistics also provide useful information for accident prevention.
Although more and more people are venturing off-piste, the number of avalanche fatalities has actually diminished slightly during the last 20 years, not least because of continuous improvements in avalanche prevention. We raise awareness of avalanche danger and accident prevention through media work, guided tours at the SLF and social media, and in our avalanche bulletin we provide important information for planning backcountry and off-piste activities. In addition, we publish a wealth of avalanche-related knowledge in brochures, books and on our White Risk portal. However, we do not run avalanche courses for snow sports enthusiasts. These are available from mountaineering schools, mountain guides and the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC). As part of the Snow Sport Avalanche Accident Prevention core training team (KAT), we develop learning and teaching materials for use in such courses, in conjunction with the relevant associations and organisations.