Avalanches are serious business. Even a moderate one can knock down trees, destroy houses, and virtually clean out anything in its path. The misconception is that they only happen in the back country. However, last year an avalanche in France wiped out a moving chairlift with 41 people on it.
Here in New England, New Hampshire’s Presidential Range are the most avalanche-prone mountains east of the Rockies. The website for Mount Washington states, “Since 1954 there have been 10 avalanche fatalities and many other avalanche accidents in the Presidential Range. Historical data indicate that avalanche accidents have increased in the past decade, mirroring the national trend in recreation related avalanche accidents in the United States.”
When it comes to avalanche training and information, most of it can be very technical and sometimes hard to understand, but in the last few years, there has been a trend to focus more of the information toward the growing number of recreational and advanced skiers that are venturing off into the backcountry.
Henry Schniewind has been on the forefront of this movement since the late 1980s, after he graduated from Montana State University with a degree in Snow Science.
Armed with a passion for skiing and his degree, Schniewind moved to Val D'Isere, France, where we carved out a niche for himself by creating awareness for vacationers from around the world on the dangers of avalanches.
What started out as an afternoon presentation at a popular bar in Val D'Isere has grown into a full fledged company that does presentations around the Alps and the United Kingdom. What makes Schniewind's avalanche program so different is his focus on providing useable information for the everyday skier that saves lives from the Alps to New England.
His company motto is “Ride Hard, Ride Safe." On his website, where his main theme is “Safety is Freedom," skiers and riders can find information on weather, conditions around the Alps, access his blog and watch videos all designed to keep skiers and snowboarders on vacation safe.
Schniewind is originally from Newton, Mass. and has a teenager's race at Green Mountain Valley School and at Blue Hills. Once an employee of the former Ski Market retail chain, Schniewind has been recognized as a world-wide leader in avalanche safety. He has given over 750 talks and courses in the last 20 years, including presenting at international snow science conferences. He has published many papers and articles, and is motivated by the fact that that nine out of 10 victims of avalanches trigger the avalanche themselves and their injuries could have been avoided.
In the Alps each winter there are an average of 100 deaths per year. And when you add up that figure to the deaths in North America and beyond, it's clear that avalanches present real danger. Henry’s Avalanche Talks (HAT) is an easy-to-understand voice amongst the technical and often complicated snow science information that tends to be distributed by avalanche sites and experts.
Schniewind has been a long-time friend and ski partner of mine for over 30 years and I featured him on my long-running television series Wild World of Winter.
Hear the entire RadioBDC interview with Henry Schniewind on Edging the Xtreme with Dan Egan:
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