Technological tools help snow scientists understand avalanches

In the past five years, avalanches have killed an average of 25 people every winter — typically backcountry skiers, snowmobilers and snowboarders recreating in mountainous terrain.

Most recently, a Washington man was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling outside Cooke City on Dec. 31 — Montana’s first avalanche fatality of the season.

These deaths occur despite education courses, avalanche forecasts warning recreationists of the danger, as well as advanced tools to help avert burial by slides, such as inflatable backpacks and personal electronic beacons that can aid in locating a victim buried under the snow.

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U.S. Geological Survey scientists prepare to fly a drone for avalanche studies in Glacier National Park in 2019. Drone technology has steadily improved, aiding snow scientists.

USGS image

Just like recreationists, in the past two decades snow scientists have been developing and utilizing new technological tools to better understand avalanches. One example is the use of drones. In steep terrain, inaccessible or too dangerous to send a scientist in to investigate, a drone can map

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