Management of avalanches

Rows of avalance defences across a stretch of snowy hills
Snow fence at Chüenihorn, Switzerland. Credit: Mr. Stefan Margreth

The areas in which avalanches occur may also be used for human activities, such as skiing. Villages and towns are also often located in the valleys. It is important for the people, economy, and the environment that avalanches are managed.

There are several ways in which avalanches can be managed.

Predicting an avalanche

People try to predict when avalanches are going to occur. The Alps has an 'avalanche season' between January and March when most avalanches happen. Where avalanches are going to occur is hard to predict. Historical data, weather information and information about the actual snow on the mountainside is collected together to try and forecast the likelihood of an avalanche.

Deliberately causing an avalanche

Avalanches can be started deliberately in order to prevent the snow building up. This is one of the most important ways of preventing avalanches.

Communicating the risk of an avalanche

Signs of the risk of avalanches can be displayed in villages and also by the ski lifts. In the Alps the risk is assessed on a five-point scale. Areas can be sealed off which are considered too dangerous to ski on. Early warning systems are also used.

Land-use zoning

A sign listing the various warnings of avalanche points to moderate
Avalanche hazard sign

Land can be grouped into red, yellow and green areas. The red areas are considered too dangerous to be built on. The orange areas can be built on with restrictions, such as reinforcing buildings. Roads and railways can be protected by tunnels over them in the areas where an avalanche path is likely to travel.

Snow fences and barriers

These can be used to divert and break up the path of the avalanche.

Reforestation

Trees can be planted, increasing stability of the slope and helping to reduce the damage further down the valley.

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