Avalanche risk management

Category: knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe

States: Austria and Switzerland

This tradition is part of the winter heritage of Alpine regions. It comprises various techniques developed to ensure human safety in regions at high altitude through ever more advanced knowledge and understanding of snow cover and of the “vagaries of the mountains”. It refers to the links established by Alpine populations with their environment and to the association of ancient know-how with cutting-edge science. The combination of tradition and technical sophistication make this a highly original nomination.

Mitarbeitende des SLF untersuchen mittels Laserscanning die Schneeverteilung im Gelände © Daniel Martinek
SLF staff inspect a site’s snow cover using a laser scanner © Daniel Martinek

Avalanche risk management is carried out by mountain guides and ski lift operators, assisted in their work by specialist researchers. It comprises a broad range of intangible and scientific know-how and expertise, such as surveys of precipitation (wind, rain, mild spells), snow cover and types of snowflake, as well as prevention measures for winter sports enthusiasts. A far cry from the chocolate-box images of St. Bernards with a keg of whiskey around their necks, this demanding work, often done by those with a passion for the mountains – although they may be treacherous – is carried out as much on the ground as behind the scenes. On the one hand, it involves minimising risks by developing natural and artificial protective measures. On the other, it involves raising awareness among skiers and hikers by providing accurate and constantly updated information on the dangers. Finally, on the ground, in addition to surveying conditions, the activity also involves various protection and management measures, such as avalanche triggering. This ability to evaluate the risks is based on informal and scientific knowledge passed down over several centuries. While the activity is becoming increasingly professionalised, it still requires a personal and intimate knowledge of an immediate environment – e.g. a valley or resort – and entails a high level of interpersonal contact and communication, particularly with lay people who are interested in the subject.

On 29 November 2018, the 13th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Port Louis (Republic of Mauritius) inscribed avalanche risk management on its representative list.

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The tradition in detail on the list of Switzerland’s living traditions

Associated traditions

In parallel to the preparation of the nomination file for UNESCO, the corresponding files and entries on the list of Switzerland’s living traditions are also adapted as part of the regular update of the inventory. This work is done in collaboration with the stakeholders concerned.

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Last modification 29.01.2024

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