AVALANCHES IN OZ
The 2022 winter was a sobering reminder that avalanches can and do happen in Australia.
(This piece is an extension of a story featured Wild #188, Winter 2023)
Image: Evidence of multiple early season avalanches on the Sentinel Ridge in late June, 2022. Image credit: Rohan Kennedy
Compared to many other mountainous regions of the world, the Australian Alps are relatively benign when it comes to avalanche activity. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no avalanche activity at all, nor that backcountry tourers shouldn’t be aware of the risks slides pose. Yes, in an Australian context, uncontrolled falls on icy slopes, getting lost, creek-crossing mishaps, whiteouts, and hypothermia all pose arguably greater risks, well, at least in terms of casualty numbers. But avalanches nonetheless should be factored into safe winter travel plans in the Aussie Alps, and sadly, too many Aussies are either unaware of the risks, or occasionally, wilfully underplay them.
In particular, last year, 2022, was a year that saw unusually high avalanche activity. Both NSW and Victoria saw glide release avalanches that stripped the snow right to the ground; both states also experienced the formation of a Persistent Weak Layer (PWL) that led to slab avalanches. We’ve put together a selection of images of some of the events, with goal of, firstly, helping to remind winter adventurers that avalanches can and do happen in Australia, and secondly, to encourage those heading backcountry to get knowledgeable, both in terms of a general understanding of avalanches, and by staying abreast of specific conditions by following Mountain Safety Collective’s regular conditions reports.
Avalanche debris off under the Sentinel Ridge, Kosciuszko NP, NSW. Date taken: June 28, 2022. Image credit: Rohan Kennedy
At the crown of one of the early season Sentinel Ridge slides, Kosciuszko NP, NSW. Date taken: July 6, 2022. Image credit: Rohan Kennedy
Crown of a fracture at Mt Hotham, Victoria at the Blow Hole, which lies between between Avalanche Gully and Australia Drift. Date taken: July 18, 2022. Image courtesy of Bill Barker
This avalanche on the Twin Humps above Leatherbarrel Creek (Kosciuszko NP, NSW) occurred just minutes before this image was taken. Date taken: July 19, 2022. Image credit: Aaron Dickfos
Avalanche debris at Mt Hotham, Victoria. Date taken: July 19, 2022. Image courtesy of Bill Barker
Slide on the Sentinel Ridge, Kosciuszko NP, NSW. Date taken: September 20, 2022. Image credit: Dylan Robinson
Slide down to the ground in spring conditions near the start of the Sentinel Ridge, Kosciuszko NP, NSW. Date taken: September 25, 2022. Image credit: Aaron Dickfos