Last modified: 2004-07-17 by ivan sache
Keywords: avalanche | hazard |
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The word avalanche comes from Savoyard lavantse, itself coming from lower Latin labina, landslide.
Avalanches kill every year more people in France, mostly in the Alps. Avalanches are probably more frequent than in the past due to global warming and increased weather instability, but the main reason of the increase in the number of victims is the generalization of off-piste skiing and snowshoe hiking. Individual behaviour involving more risk taking and pressure put on the mountain guides and skiing instructors to go beyond the limits have been identified as the cause of most accidents.
The risk of avalanche is assessed on a five-level scale by specialists in nivology (the science of snow) and mountain climatology. Flags are used on the ski slopes, and especially on their limits with the off-piste slopes. It is more a precaution and information measure than an operational action, since nets and barriers placed along the slopes in extremely risky situations are often cut or destroyed by well-organized kooks (iron fences have been for instance cut with wirecutters or even a blowtorch by frenetic skiers). Those flags are also necessary to the ski resorts and insurance companies to disclaim reponsibility when an accident occurs.
The avalanche flags are regulated by AFNOR standard X P S52-104, Pistes
de ski - information sur les risques d'avalanche - drapeaux d'avalanche
(Ski slopes - information on avalanche risks - avalanche flags). AFNOR
is the Association Française de Normalisation, the French Industrial
Standard Authority, comparable to the British BSI and American ANSI.
This AFNOR standard is labelled "experimental", which means that it has not been officially adopted, but has been tested in real conditions since its release in December 2000.
The text of the standard can be bought from AFNOR. There
is a summary of the standard on the website of the Azur Assurances
The flags shown on that website have a dark shade of yellow. The real flags have probably such a dark shade, which is more visible in snowy and foggy weather conditions and less subject to fading by sun. The source website shows the checkered flag with 5 rows and 8 columns of coloured squares. It is possible that the yellow shade and the proportion of the flag are specified in the AFNOR standard.
Ivan Sache, 25 December 2003
by Ivan Sache
A plain yellow flag means that the risk of avalanche is low (levels 1-2).
by Ivan Sache
A black and yellow chequered flag means that the risk of avalanche is high (levels 3-4).
by Ivan Sache
A plain black flag means that the risk of avalanche is very high (level 5).