Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A White and Black Christmas

So it was a very white Christmas in the Dolomites this year for me. I went snowshoeing in the San Pellegrino and Valles areas pictured above. The views were spectacular. The new shoes worked wonderfully.

Down in the valley, it rained for 27 hours straight from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day. The rain was obviously snow up at these higher altitudes and lay over a few other meters of recent snow. Usually, this kind of combination makes for lots of lovely powder but can be dangerous. The new layers only lightly adhere to the lower layers. Snow generally needs a few days to settle and become more solid, and especially safely join with the older snow.

So why am I talking about this? Because the Arpav bulletin warned a level 4 (on a scale of 5) for avalanche risks after Christmas. Yet 2 alpine enthusiasts launched out on snowshoes to check the conditions of an iced-over waterfall. They ventured into a particularly dangerous area at Sass Pordoi and went missing. The Protezione Civile sent 4 volunteers to look for the missing people, Fabio Baron e Diego Andreatta. Drammatically and sadly all 6 were killed from the avalanche danger in the area. Ervin Riz, Luca Prinoth, Diego Perathoner and Alex Dentone were the alpine emergency volunteers who lost their lives trying to help others.

Obviously this loss has angered many who blame the stupidity of the alpinists who first went missing with the Arpav published warnings. Some say that the volunteers should not go out to help when there is a level 4 danger. The volunteers do not want to make that kind of judgement call when their job is to help people in need. It is a painful situation, especially for the community of Val di Fassa and Canazei, where the volunteers lived and worked.

The mountains I chose to visit were on a high plain and had hills, not mountain walls, that flanked the snowshoe path. The avalanche risk is not high in that situation.

The mountains have claimed many lives and particularly those of emergency service people. There was a helicopter crash earlier this year that I wrote about here.

The beautiful snow white, turned black with grief just after Christmas.

We all need to be responsible as we go out in the snow.


  1. Hi Irene,
    We work for the Forest Service, as you may know, our volunteer rescue groups are concerned about climbers bringing avalanche "finder" devices because they are afraid that people will become even more irresponsible. People die on Mt. Hood every year. It's sad but a real problem when folks get lost in horrid weather that endangers the rescue teams. Three people died last month. They were experienced climbers but young and not very wise as to how the weather can change at this time of year on the mountain.

  2. I think it is mostly the large numbers of people who decide to do these kind of mountain activities, which are not simply on the groomed ski slopes. The "finder" devices are necessary and should not make people take their journeys lightly.

    After reading more, some experts say that a 2nd avalanche should not have fallen from the same spot as the first. It was a fluke that became tragic for the rescue group. They assumed that the snow was safe at that point for them to proceed because the loose parts had already fallen.

    And yes, the weather is incredibly important to understand thoroughly.