I have just returned from the 2009 ISSW in Davos, filling my head with all sorts of theory and some excellent practical information on avalanche forecasting. This forum is held every year, bringing experts in the field of snow science together to talk about snow and avalanches and show the results of the experiments they have carried out. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet many of the people who have made it their life understanding the ways avalanche danger is created in the snow pack, and how we can better predict whether or not a slope is too risky to ski.
For me, a very interesting evolution is happening. We (at least for those of us in the field) are moving towards a system that is more practical, and less science and theory. When I first got into snow science and the study of avalanches, we learned all about snow crystals. Not that that is not important. But now our focus is on assessing the level of risk involved with skiing a certain slope. For me, it’s much more important to be able to assess that level of risk, and to be able to describe how I attained that assessment, than to know what type of crystals buried in the snow pack.
Werner Munter has given us some good tools over the years to help us determine that level of risk. His 3X3 Analysis, Reduction Method Synthesis, and now a Nivocheck for professionals, will hopefully help in halving the number avalanche fatalities each winter.