Using physics to predict how fast and far snow slides will go
Roberto Schmidt/AFP photo
Olivia Buchanan loved to ski. She grew up in the high country of Colorado and, at age 23, was studying snow science at Montana State University in Bozeman, hoping to make a career in the mountains she adored. On January 6, 2015, however, the snow turned against her. In the backcountry terrain of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, Buchanan’s skis cut through the powder, freeing a slab of hard older snow beneath. An avalanche tumbled 700 feet down the mountain, carrying Buchanan to her death. It was Colorado’s second avalanche fatality in a week.
In the United States each year, between two dozen and three dozen people die in avalanche disasters, most of them recreational accidents like Buchanan’s. In other parts of the world — such as those picturesque villages nestled at the base of Europe’s towering Alps — people’s homes and businesses are also at risk.