While avalanches are sudden, the warning signs are almost always numerous before they let loose.
Yet in 90 percent of avalanche incidents, the snow slides are triggered by the victim or someone in the victim's party. Avalanches kill more than 150 people worldwide each year. Most are snowmobilers, skiers, and snowboarders.
Many avalanches are small slides of dry powdery snow that move as a formless mass. These "sluffs" account for a tiny fraction of the death and destruction wrought by their bigger, more organized cousins.
Disastrous avalanches occur when massive slabs of snow break loose from a mountainside and shatter like broken glass as they race downhill. These moving masses can reach speeds of 80 miles (130 kilometers) per hour within about five seconds. Victims caught in these events seldom escape.
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