Avalanche Danger Levels in Zakopane and Tatra Mountains

Avalanche Danger Levels in Zakopane and Tatra Mountains

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Tatra National Park

With the climate change swinging weather conditions left and right, across the globe, it is more than ever important to be aware and prepared for any possible danger while spending the time outdoors. It is even more so in places like the Tatra Mountains during winter, where nature is less forgivable even without the recent increase in extreme weather events.

Tatra National Park rangers are working very hard to keep everyone as informed of dangers as possible, but that doesn’t mean that everybody should relax. It is the duty of every visitor at the park to take full responsibility for their own, and their companions’ safety.

The following information is the official one from Tatra National Park’s avalanche bulletin. If you have no experience with winter hiking, I highly suggest hiking only during avalanche danger level 1-3 and to avoid mountainous areas even on level 3. You can find avalanche bulletin by the entry to the most major hiking routes, or on official avalanche danger level in Tatra Mountains website.

Avalanche Safety Tips

A single hiker could add heavy additional load on bigger snowpacks. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

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Avalanche Danger Levels

1 – Low Danger Level

Snowpack

The snowpack is well bonded and stable in general.

Avalanche Triggering Probability

Triggering is generally possible from high additional loads** in selected spots on very steep slopes and in extreme terrain*. Only sluffs and small avalanches are likely to be released naturally.

Recommendation for Mountain Activity

Conditions are generally favorable for mountain activity. Special cautiousness must be kept in extreme terrain and on very steep slopes.

2 – Moderate Danger Level

Snowpack

The snowpack is only moderately well bonded on some steep slopes* (steeper than 30 degrees), otherwise well bonded in general.

Avalanche Triggering Probability

Triggering is possible from high additional loads**, especially on steep slopes. No natural releases of large avalanches*** are likely.

Recommendation for Mountain Activity

Partially unfavorable conditions. Mountain activity requires significant experience and excellent ability to evaluate avalanche danger on the spot. Steel slopes* should be avoided, especially those whose aspect and altitude are indicated in the current avalanche bulletin.

3 – Considerable Danger Level

Snowpack

The snowpack is moderately to poorly bonded on many steep slopes*.

Avalanche Triggering Probability

Triggering is likely even from additional load** predominantly on steep slopes*. In some cases a natural release of medium to large avalanches is possible***.

Recommendation for Mountain Activity

Predominantly unfavorable conditions. Activity in the mountains requires the ability to evaluate avalanche danger situation on the spot as well as the ability to select an adequate route on all steep* and moderately steep* slopes, especially those whose aspect and altitude is indicated in current avalanche bulletin.

4 – High Danger level

Snowpack

The snowpack is poorly bonded on most steep slopes*.

Avalanche Triggering Probability

Triggering is likely even from low additional loads** on many steep slopes. In some cases, numerous medium-sized and often large-sized*** natural avalanches can be expected.

Recommendation for Mountain Activity

Highly unfavorable conditions. Mountain activity required outstanding abilities of evaluation of avalanche danger situations. It is recommended to refrain from all activity in alpine terrain. One should stay within moderately steep slopes*, avalanches falling from steep slopes located above should also be taken into consideration.

5 – Very High Danger Level

Snowpack

The snowpack is poorly bonded and largely unstable in general.

Avalanche Triggering Probability

Numerous large-sized and often very large-sized*** natural avalanches can be expected, even in moderately steep terrain.

Recommendation for Mountain Activity

Extremely unfavorable conditions. Activity in mountainous terrain is mostly impossible. It is strongly recommended to refrain from entering the mountains and staying in areas without any avalanche danger.

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Explanations

*The avalanche-prone locations

They are described in greater detail below (altitude, slope aspect, type of terrain).

Moderately steep terrain – slopes shallower than 30 degrees.

Steep slope – slopes steeper than 30 degrees.

Very steep, extreme terrain – adverse slope angle (more than 40 degrees).

**Additional load

Low – individual skier/snowboarder, riding softly, not falling; snowshoer; a group with good spacing (minimum 15m).

High – two or more skiers/snowboarders riding dynamically etc; snowshoer group without good spacing (or without intervals); snowmachine; explosives; single hiker/climber, a snowmobile or a snow groomer.

Natural release – release of an avalanche without being triggered by a person, explosives, etc.

Aspect – direction into which a slope faces as indicated by compass direction of the fall line. e.g. a north slope faces to the north direction.

A ridgeline in Tatra Mountain, covered by snowpack. Photo by Alis Monte [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Connecting the Dots

***Classification of Avalanche Sizes

1 – Sluff – Snow Relocation with minimal danger of burying (danger of falling) – Relatively harmless to people – Avalanche length < 50m; Volume < 100m³

2 – Small – Stops at the end of the slope – Could bury, injure or kill – Avalanche length < 100m; Volume < 100m³

3 – Medium – Traverses flat parts (considerably below 30 degrees) over distances of less than 50m – Could bury or destroy a car, damage a truck, destroy small building or break a few trees – Avalanche length < 1000m; Volume < 10.000m³

4 – Large – Traverses flat parts (significantly less than 30 degrees) over 50m  and can reach valley ground – Could bury or destroy a large truck, several buildings or some area of forest – Avalanche length ~ 1-2km; Volume < 100.000m³

5 – Very large – Reaches valley ground, the largest avalanches known – Could gouge the landscape, catastrophic destruction possible – Avalanche length close to 3 km; Volume > 100.000m³

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