Why can't I outrun an avalanche?

Ask Dr. Flake

Avalanches play dirty, my friend, and they deserve all the explosives we can hurl at them. A typical slab slide can reach 20 miles per hour within three seconds of breaking loose from a slope. Three seconds after that, it can hit 80 miles per hour-a lot faster than most people can ski. According to Bruce Tremper, author of

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain

, "You'll need to be mighty cagey to get out of the way. People have been known to scoot off to the side in time, but to outrun one, you need to be a world-champion downhill racer." Which isn't to say Bode Miller can safely cavort in avalanche terrain, either. As Tony Daffern, author of

Avalanche Safety for Skiers and Climbers

, explains: "The problem with slab avalanches is that as soon as the snow breaks up and loses its internal cohesion, your skis sink deeper." Meaning you can go fast and still get sucked under. So remember, the best way to survive an avalanche is to outwit it by skiing a safer slope.

October 2005