After a few avalanches were reported this winter implicating cornice collapses, one of our members suggested we mention this separately as a significant alpine hazard — thanks, Nathalie!
Although cornice-fall may seem to be an obvious danger in mountain terrain, both winter and summer, bad accidents still happen occasionally, and experienced mountaineers seem to be as likely as greenhorns to be caught off-guard. For example the death of 5 people in B.C. late this winter apparently resulted from them all being on a cornice at once when it collapsed. They may even have been wary and thought they were well back from the edge, but the fracture line of a big cornice in deep snow may be surprisingly far over solid terrain.
We recommend an occasional review of the mechanics of cornice formation and collapse, some of the effects of a cornice fall, and precautions that just COULD save the day, and have posted a discussion of cornices in the Safety page of our website, accessed from the Resources menu on the home page.
Here are some pictures to show how terrain can fool you, especially in low visibility.. doesn’t this ridge look all nice and smooth?
If you step left of these rocks.. Not good!!
If you step to the right of these rocks.. Bad!!
Yes someone in our group had a close call, Very scary!!
Photos and comments: Nathalie Drotar