Snowflakes and avalanches

To protect people from avalanches, researchers are taking a close look at snowflakes and the snowpack.

By Emily Sohn, 00:00 AM January 9, 2006

High on a mountainside, ski patroller Karl Birkeland dug a pit into a drift to check the snow's stability. He declared the slope safe for skiing. The danger of an avalanche appeared low.

 

It was 1985, and Birkeland was out with friends near the Snowbasin ski area in Utah. After he tested the drift, the skiers set off down the mountain. "I let my guard down and skied out of sight of the others," Birkeland says.

 

That was a big mistake. The snow started to break and slide, creating an avalanche t...

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