About this blog

Incoming BYTES
contains highly variable subject matter including commentary on the mundane, the extraordinary and even controversial issues. At Incoming BYTES
we want YOU to think...if you dare...


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snowmobile “HighMarking” Causes Fatal Avalanche-- Again

                                                   High-marking                         Photo courtesy of sierratradingpost.com

Want to see an avalanche? Caused by skiers, snowboarders or snow machines involved in the sport of "high marking",  an avalanche can be deadly.
Just as most people love the outdoors, snow machine operators especially  love pristine expanses of beautiful snow in the wilds.  If it happens to be on the side of a steep mountain slope, regardless how deep and unstable it may be, it attracts  attention and almost demands a challenge..  It is intoxicating entertainment "revving up" a snowmobile  to mount that challenge, in spite of it’s hidden dangers.  
The snowmobile sport called "High Marking", the challenging of steep snowy slopes,  has become a sport that repeatedly causes avalanches and fatalities. 
    Sadly, avalanche season is just starting,  yet another three  individuals operating snowmobiles in British Columbia, Canada  have been killed by an avalanche.  The snowmobile operators  were playing in  avalanche country near Golden, B.C.  on Feb. 18th, 2011,  and became fatalities in an avalanche caused by their playful activities.    A fourth individual survived and was hospitalized.

   * At Incoming BYTES  our hearts go out to the families of these sports enthusiasts in this time of tragedy.  With their loss, it is unlikely these families will ever see snowmobiling in the same light again. 

    In any tragic event,  "hind sight" is always perfect, but  in retrospect, this tragedy could have been avoided.   The fact of the matter is,  FAR  MORE ATTENTION   needs to be drawn to this  dangerous activity and the  problem of recurring fatalities it causes  in  the snowmobile community.   Snowmobile owners, snowmobile associations and clubs,  the dealers selling these powerful machines,  and  insurance companies, MUST become involved in publicizing the danger involved in "high-marking",  educating themselves and all individuals  that ride  trails in areas subject to avalanche.

     If snow happens to be on the side of a steep mountain slope, regardless how deep and unstable it may be, it attracts  attention.    It is fun to charge straight up the slope, pull a "U-turn", and come down. The steeper it is,  the more exciting it is.  The adrenalin rush kicks in.  Hopefully, the machine does not roll over, flip backwards,  become stuck, or stall out. The highest "mark" on the hill wins. 
     Is the snowmobiling public inadequately trained  to the dangers involved in challenging steep mountain-sides out in the back country, or do they simply not care, throwing caution to the wind?   That is a good question.
     Extreme sports participants usually recognize there are limits, and inherently dangerous conditions involved in their sports. Do they always keep them in mind?  Perhaps not.
     The sad fact is, participants  are most likely  simply  driven by the human urge for excitement, that  rush of adrenalin and the challenge  of "high marking" -- to a point where the risk involved is secondary.
Fatalities occur in avalanches every year. 
    Why is "high-marking so dangerous?  It is simple.  Heavy accumulations of snow on a slope are unstable at any time.  Why? Snow is subject to gravity.  Just like anything else, snow slides or rolls downhill because of gravity.  
When snow accumulates, it begins to crystallize under it's own weight.  It develops a crust on top, and sometimes packs,  but  inevitably crystallizes beneath the crust  becoming  "sugar snow" which has little structural strength, and when disturbed, it is completely unstable.   It can and will flow downhill much like water when disturbed.
    High-powered snow machines racing up heavily-laden snowy slopes  inevitably break the  snow crust, particularly if turning a sharp U-turn.  The cutting action of the machine's skis and tracks,  the weight of the operator and the weight of the machine itself  breaks  the  crust on the snow pack and  the displaced snow naturally begins to roll down hill.   Deep accumulations of snow,  depending upon conditions, can immediately collapse and develop into a  high-speed, deadly avalanche.

What is the ultimate solution to this problem? 

Legislation, banning the practice, is neither practical or enforceable.  Daredevils and adrenalin will continue the sport unobserved  with  legislation or not,   therefore it is probably a better idea to publicize the danger widely,  educate the snowmobiling public as much as possible, and  encourage  the sport be practiced only in avalanche-free areas under controlled snow conditions.
Snowmobile associations and clubs should  encourage responsible riding.  Snowmobile dealers should advertise the dangers involved in this practice in their showrooms.  
Common sense and education may not be able to stop the sport of  "high marking", but it might help reduce the  statistics of  unnecessary fatalities.
  Snowmobile  "high marking" can and will cause an avalanche when you least expect it.    If you are high-marking a slope, your life is in danger.  Be smart and live to ride another day.


  1. a top helium article i see in this piece..
    in the state of Utah where rescuers are called to retrieve the young and the foolish, at great cost to their own lives, several attempts have been made to charge the enormous fees involved in saving the daring snowbobile riders and skiers from the mountains.
    the premise behind instituting fees on each rescue is two-fold..high cost of equipment--insurance and medical resulting from emergency.
    and also the indirect emotional baggage surrounding the personal aspects of any effort to save lives.
    it is assumed that anyone who purchases snow equipment must realize that it is not to be used to injure nature or self. therefore if a person chooses to drive the machines beyond avalanche markers, set by brave teams of the park service in the states..then that driver must assume all costs ensued, dead-or-alive..
    no offense to grieving families...but the tax payers no longer wish to save the few who would place their pleasure above the safety of others.
    you-play-you-pay seems to work for some states.

  2. the winter of 1995 marked the deepest snow in Connecticut since the winter of 1934, but it has been superseded by the letter of 2011. During a January thaw in 1995 I was almost trapped in an avalanche while driving my car on a state highway.the stole that year exceeded 4 feet on the level at the time, it was sitting on a slope of less than 15° when it became suddenly mobile with the chunk is almost 250 m wide and about as many long broke loose and came cascading over the highway. It did catch a couple of cars that were in front of me injuring the occupants, fortunately no one was killed.

    This just goes to show that no place is immune to avalanches, and you don't have to be in British Columbia to be caught in one. The danger of avalanches can be virtually anywhere that snow accumulates even off the roof of your house if the conditions are right.

    Deep snow can become dangerous anywhere, and it is not limited to the mountains, all you need for the snow to become mobile is enough mass, and sugary snow.

  3. @Nadine, the "you play, you pay" might even help. It might not be such a bad idea to charge these individuals with rescue costs at times. Why should society pay for foolishness and even gross stupidity? Genuine accidents can happen, but this "Sport" is really asking for trouble. Did you see the first link? (avalanche). Even a skier can create "marks" that initiate an avalanche.

  4. John, thanks for pointing that out. An avalanche can occur almost anywhere, even a roof or a minor slope with enough heavy crystallized snow. You were fortunate to escape that occurrence. People simply must become more aware of that potential danger and avoid those areas.

  5. I've heard of avalanches, but was quite unaware of how close the danger is to human life especially when it is out of negligence and 'stupidity' as you put it. Mistakes made by one affects the lives of many and you are doing well, Raymond, in making us aware of the grave dangers involved with Highmarking.

  6. Actually, Mandy, I did not put a link in this article, but there was a video on U-Tube of some "contestants" high-marking that showed them really "over-hyped" and sounding wired or perhaps even "under the influence". Under those conditions,with the excitement, very foolish and stupid decisions are too easily made.
    Thank you for commenting.


Comments are always appreciated ! No SPAM allowed.