Following the amazing snow storm that came through over the weekend, we are facing some serious avalanche risk in higher and steeper terrain at present, especially in Victoria. Please be very careful in the backcountry.

Please check below for details and updates on conditions.


What happened? According to the Mt Hotham ski patrol:

‘The high risk of avalanches in the backcountry (is) due to the large amount of snowfall, cold temperatures and strong winds that has occurred over the last few days’. (Strong winds can blow snow onto the sheltered side of slopes, loading them so they’re more likely to slide).

‘Mt Hotham Ski Patrol perform avalanche control work daily and noted in their snow report today the danger of sizeable wind slab avalanches at higher elevations’.

This situation has been aided by the fact that we had a sun and rain affected crust, which once loaded with lots of fresh snow, became an obvious ‘cleave point’ that would shed snow as avalanches, especially where you get a ‘trigger’ event like skiers crossing a slope.

‘Boom and bust’ snow cycles – where you get fresh snow on a sun or rain affected base – can often cause problems in the backcountry. There was an earlier cycle of slides in July this year after big snow falls.

Further background reading on the recent slides:

There is a story from The Age available here and one from Huffington Post here. There is a video featuring Bill Barker from Mt Hotham ski patrol available here.

Stay safe

Avalanches are strange things. We don’t get that many of them compared to many other ranges around the world, but they do happen on a regular basis. Its very rare for them to get a mention in mainstream press, as they generally occur outside resorts. Many backcountry users are increasing their skill level through taking avalanche courses nowdays and so we tend to take note of the situation, but keep on going out there. Once the media gets onto an issue, hype and a sense of drama can creep in, which probably makes it harder to assess the actual level of risk.

It’s worth remembering that many places, especially less steep areas, are safe. But this is definitely a time to be assessing risk carefully before going out onto any steeper open terrain. Avoid obvious ‘terrain traps’ like gullies beneath cornices and stay on lower angled slopes.

The best source of info is Mountain Safety Collective. MSC publishes region by region updates on conditions in the field.

On AUGUST 9, VicEmergency updated it’s advisory to state that ‘avalanche risk was rising because of warming weather’.

There is also a lot of information on an avalanche post on the Backcountry Forum (always a great place to get info on conditions in the backcountry). NB: this post contains details on other known or presumed slides at Eagles Ridge (Hotham), instability on Buller Summit, east face of Mt Loch and several in the Snowy Mountains Main Range.

You can check this post for a listing of businesses that offer avalanche training in Australia.

The image used above has come from the Mt Hotham website. Photographer unknown.