As we all know, backcountry is the new black. The ski and boarding magazines are full of stories about the western faces of the Main Range, Bogong and Feathertop. And while there are lots of new outdoor enthusiasts who are getting a good all round experience of conditions and terrain, as well as sound BC skills, we have probably all seen the 20 something (mostly male) boarders who are fresh out of the resort and ready to shred, but lacking in BC experience. This is all great. But what it does mean is that we are finding ever more good resort riders and skiers getting out into backcountry areas and big terrain, without having done any apprenticeship in the mountains. What this means is more rescues, injuries and other incidents.

As recently noted on Mountain Journal, there is now a site that reports on snow conditions for backcountry users in the Snowy Mountains, called Snow Safety Australia.

There is also a site that covers conditions right across the mainland Alps, called Snow Sense.

Snow Sense is the mastermind of Simon Murray. It seeks to cover weather as well as snow conditions across three key regions: the Kosciusko area, north east Victoria and the Central Victorian Alps. Regular updates are made, called in by ski patrollers, generally after the dawn patrol. It is a fantastic resource for all backcountry skiers, riders and snow shoers who like to get out into the higher country.

The site developers are calling for feedback from users of the site. There are feedback forms available here.

An example of the warning system.
An example of the warning system.

The site has run this winter and the people behind the project are currently seeking government funding so it can be run like one of the professional advice sites that are common overseas. It may be necessary at some point for the backcountry community to rally behind the project and lobby to get government funding. They welcome condition information being sent by suitably qualified people (eg AIARE level 2). Contact Snow Sense via the contacts page if you’re interested.

As Simon notes, poor weather is a more common problem than avalanches here in Australia. There are many more call outs for searches as a result of people becoming lost or hypothermic in bad conditions than from avalanche activity. So the site covers both weather and snow conditions, and hopes to expand even more in the coming year if resources allow. Simon sees it as a basic service: “we call the conditions for what we see, and hope that word gets out there” amongst the BC community so people can use it in their decision making, both before and during their BC travels.

Below is some background info provided by Snow Sense outlining the objectives of the project:

Because of the network that is supporting Snow Sense, there are multiple sources of information, which means more site-specific reporting.
Because of the network that is supporting Snow Sense, there are multiple sources of information, which means more site-specific reporting.

The site is an Alpine Travel Advisory, its aim is to issue information regarding alpine travel safety across all aspects of the prevailing conditions. This includes firstly the weather, by observation and predictions, and the effect the weather has on the snow pack. In Australia this ranges from ‘Bulletproof’ hard ice, through to loose snow and the associated avalanche danger. We also report on wet snow conditions and the potential for ‘wet slides’.

The Goal:
The rate of incidents in which individuals or entire parties being overwhelmed by the alpine conditions is increasing year on year. Not that conditions are necessarily worsening. Simply more people are heading ‘out’, and potentially, collectively less prepared. 

The basis of this site it to alert back country users to the prevailing dangers with the hope of curbing the rate of incidents. In short we aim to better inform back country community, through the sharing of basic information, to ULTIMATELY SAVE LIFE AND LIMB.

The winter of 2014 showed an alarming increase in incidents across the range. In the North East alone there 5 parties requiring rescues from remote areas by PSAR / ASAR alone. Unfortunately two people lost their lives in an avalanche event. For each rescue, teams of more than 30 people are assembled. All remote alpine rescues involve rescuers engaging in difficult and dangerous operations. As a testament to their training and ability they have a strong success rate. Yet in reality, the less ‘call-outs’ the better.

What we do: We deliver up to date advice specifically on snow conditions that anyone travelling into unpatrolled alpine environments should consider in regards to their travel safety. Wether you are on skis, snowboard, snowshoes or trusty ol walking boots, the advisory will deliver info on what snow conditions to expect, and any relevant safety precautions to consider when travelling in snow bound terrain. 

How we do it: SnowSense.org.au harnesses a network of specialists with vast experience in interpreting snow and weather conditions and potential hazards. The core network consists of Ski Patrol organisations from the relevant alpine areas, Meteorological sources and an ‘In the field’ network based on voluntary observations. It is admittedly an ambitious project. In our first season we will be conducting a series of surveys with the aim of measuring the degree of correlation between storm events and resulting snowpack across the range. No small task. This will ultimately help us better understand the degree of accuracy with which we are reporting. Our first season will be a trial run. Not to discount the information supplied, simply to say that until we have conducted a survey we have not enough evidence to say that an observation in any given location is consistent to a radius of 50m or 50km. 

Delivery: The advisory will be reviewed and updated daily and delivered via the web URL http://www.snowsense.org.au. We will also deliver the advisory on social media via users following each region (Vic Central / Vic North East / Snowy Mnts NSW) on Facebook or Instagram. Issuing specific alerts as they come to hand. 

The extras: SnowSense.org.au will also have a bunch of helpful information available handed on by experts in snow craft and survival from Police search and rescue, snowpack assessment tips particular to Australian conditions via ski patrollers and a lot of background on how to travel safely in the Australian Alps during winter. 

Next Steps: SnowSense.org.au is looking for contributions and feedback from organisations and participation to help automate the digital delivery of the information. We are also seeking funding for the project to help with development and delivery expenses. Sponsors to help maximise our exposure across the sites and platforms where our back country audience are ‘hanging out’ online, through sponsorship and digital display media.

You can find them on facebook here and Instagram here.