An avalanche is a dramatic and rapid flow of snow down mountain slopes. Spotting the debris of a recent avalanche or identifying potential avalanche zones is a safe and fun activity from our planes, but on the ground, it poses significant risks to outdoor enthusiasts.
Each layer in a mountain’s snowpack tells a story of the winter’s weather conditions. The stability of these layers is influenced by the type of snow and the temperature changes it undergoes. The most critical layers are those where weak bonds form between different types of snow or within varied temperature gradients.
One of the most awe-inspiring yet educational aspects we frequently encounter during our flights is the aftermath of slab avalanches. These natural events are particularly fascinating from an aerial viewpoint. A slab avalanche occurs when a cohesive layer of snow, often formed over time by wind, rain, or rapid temperature changes, suddenly detaches from a weaker layer beneath. This process is akin to a pane of glass sliding off a slick surface – sudden and unexpected.
From the safety and comfort of our aircraft, passengers are granted a unique perspective on these powerful natural phenomena. We often see the clear delineation where the slab has broken away, leaving behind a sharp, exposed edge in the snowpack, much like a freshly cut piece of cake. The area where the snow has cascaded down the mountainside is typically marked by a chaotic and rough terrain, starkly contrasting with the untouched snow around it.
The sheer scale of these avalanches is most apparent from the air. What might seem like a small disturbance on the ground can, in reality, stretch for hundreds of meters, covering vast areas of the mountain landscape. The path carved by the descending snow can reveal the underlying terrain, such as rocks, trees, and sometimes even paths or roads previously hidden under the snow.
Additionally, the aftermath of a slab avalanche often includes a deposition zone at the bottom of the slope, where the snow comes to rest. This area can be significantly denser and more compact than the surrounding snow, indicating the immense force with which the snow traveled.
Witnessing these slab avalanches from above offers a spectacular view and provides valuable insights into the dynamics of mountain snowpacks and the immense power of natural forces. Our flights give us a rare opportunity to observe these phenomena, contributing to a deeper appreciation and respect for the mountain environments we love to explore.
While we marvel at these sights from the safety of our aircraft, understanding avalanches is crucial for those on the ground. Education about snow conditions and avalanche risks empowers adventurers to make safer choices while exploring British Columbia’s majestic mountains.
Gaining insight into avalanches and the various snow types is not just about safety; it’s about fostering a connection with the natural world. As we fly over these landscapes, we’re reminded of their beauty and the respect they command. Join us on this educational journey and see the incredible power of avalanches.