Splitboarder and Avalanche Researcher

Splitboarder & avalanche researcher

WORDS: CRISTINA PÉREZ PHOTO: LISA KREITMEIER

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Cristina Perez is a 29 year-old splitboarder and scientist. She has a degree in Physics from the University of Barcelona. She is currently studying avalanches and their seismic and infrasonic signals at the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos, Switzerland, as part of her PhD.

 

cristina splitboarder

Cristina started snowboarding with her father 18 years ago in the Pyrenees. She has travelled around to ride different mountains, mostly in the Pyrenees but also in the Alps and the Argentinean Andes. She started studying physics because of her interest on maths, physics and science in general. While studying at the university in Barcelona, she started to spend the winters at Val d’Aran, Pyrenees, combining her studies with a job as snowboard instructor. Living on the mountains, she realized she wanted to keep working deeper in something related with snow, snowboarding or avalanches. That’s when she met her now thesis supervisor, who gave her the opportunity of doing a PhD with the University of Barcelona, studying avalanches at the Vallée de la Sionne test site in Switzerland. This site was built by the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF (Davos, Switzerland) for the study of the dynamics of avalanches. She has been doing part of the research for her thesis at the SLF institute over the past winters, comparing avalanche data, learning more about them, collaborating on winter avalanche experiments of avalanches, and also splitboarding in her spare time on the great mountains around Davos.

Cristina is setting up the skins to head to the avalanche deposit.

It is always an amazing experience come to work at the SLF institute, meet with the people and live on the mountains of Davos.

Cristina Perez Splitboard avalanchas
Good powder in Davos

 

The pictures show Cristina collaborating on an experiment, digging in the snow to do a full depth profile of the avalanche. The experiment is mostly focused on measuring the different snow layers, to see which layers are released and which are entrained. She also takes measurements of granulometry: the size, distribution and temperature of granules in the deposit of the avalanche.

When we ask Cristina what role has splitboarding played as a means to do her field work, she recons, that splitboarding most of the time implies being exposed to avalanche dangers. This adds to her motivation on avalanche research, as it has become a major activity during her time off; Ski touring is deeply enrooted in Switzerland’s DNA. On the other hand, her splitboard is a means of transport during the experiments she has taken part of both in the Pyrenees and Davos. In the Pyrenees,Cristina has collaborated in experiments with the Val d’Aran Avalanche Forecast Centre, installing seismic stations before artificially triggering an avalanche as part of her research for her PhD, analysing seismic signal data generated by avalanches.

I use my splitboard to access to the spots on the mountain where I install the sensors, and to access to the avalanche deposit. Using my splitboard to work is the ultimate luxury.

Cristina Perez Guillén-Splitboard-avalanchas
Doing an avalanche deposit profile for an experiment in Flüelapass (Davos) with Martina Saettele.

Avalanche Research Institutions in Spain

Spain is not exactly a country where snow and winter sports are given priority, although there are many mountains up to 3.400m (11.000ft) within the Iberian Peninsula. However, Cristina remarks that there are some groups and institutions involved and committed to the study of avalanches in Spain. The main issue though, is the lack of funding, even more over the past years due to the economy crisis.

For instance, The Snow Avalanche group of the University of Barcelona has been studying avalanches since 1994 in the Pyrenees and other experimental sites located in Norway and Switzerland, in collaboration with international institutes. Along these years, the research made by the group has come up with major conclusions in the detection, characterization and dynamic of snow avalanches.

There are also different Institutes Centre de Lauegi d’Aran; IGC (Institut Cartográfic I Geológic de Catalunya) or ACNA (Associació per al coneximent de la neu y allaus) studying avalanches, providing available information about the snowpack and weather conditions, avalanche danger bulletins, mountain terrain conditions, avalanche cartography etc. These institutions also organize meetings, conferences and training courses, very useful for professionals and mountain users in general.

WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF

The WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF belongs to the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape (WSL). WSL employs approximately 500 people and is part of the ETH Domain, which comprises the two Federal Institutes of Technology ETH Zurich and EPFL and the four research institutes PSI, WSL, Empa and Eawag.

The WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF is located in Davos and employs 130 highly qualified researchers and technical staff from around the world. It engages in research, scientific services, teaching and public relations. The research focuses on snow, its interaction with the atmosphere, the formation, movement and impact of snow avalanches and other mass movements, avalanche mitigation in view of integrated risk management, permafrost and mountain ecosystems. In close connection with its research activities, the SLF also offers a range of services.

These include consulting on avalanche accidents and avalanche protection measures, and the development of warning systems for natural hazards in the Alps. The best-known service is the avalanche bulletin for the Swiss Alps, which is published twice daily in wintertime. SLF employees also teach at ETH Zurich and EPFL, and various universities in Switzerland and abroad, and provide basic and further training for safety personnel. The SLF is also eager to share its knowledge with the general public. Its outreach activities focus on raising the public awareness of avalanches, but also include publishing articles, offering guided tours of the institute, and explaining research findings on radio and television.

Avalanchas03
Martina Saettele and myself measuring the height of an avalanche deposit in Sertig (Davos).

The WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research focuses on snow, its interaction with the atmosphere, the formation, movement and impact of snow avalanches and other mass movements, avalanche mitigation in view of integrated risk management, permafrost and mountain ecosystems.

 

General facts

  • – Headquarters in Davos Dorf (GR) with laboratories, workshops, avalanche warning centre, teaching facilities and a public exhibition.
  • – Part of the WSL, the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, and thus part of the ETH Domain since 1989. (The ETH Domain belongs to the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research EAER).
  • – Its 130 employees are predominantly scientists and engineers, technical staff (electronic and mechanical engineers, computer scientists) and administrators.
  • – Funding: about 50% contributed by the federal government through the WSL and the ETH domain, and the rest project-specific third party funding.

Services and products
The SLF offers a broad array of services and products for specialists in industry, business and local authorities, but also for schoolchildren, students and the general public. In particular, of course, it serves all those who engage in winter sports. The extensive knowledge of the SLF is made available for practical use in attractive books and CDs, software packages, expert opinions and information sheets. Conferences and courses provide an opportunity for individuals to extend and share their knowledge with others in the field. Those who wish to learn more about the SLF and its various activities are welcome to take a guided tour of the institute or visit the interactive exhibition installed in its lobby.

By issuing avalanche warnings for the Swiss Alps, the SLF discharges an important national duty. During the winter it assesses the avalanche danger and publishes two reports every day. Further information is available via the main menu under avalanche bulletins.

Examples of applications and products

  • – Avalanche bulletin.
  • – Snow maps and measured data.
  • – White Risk Platform: Web-based, interactive avalanche prevention platform www.whiterisk.ch
  • – *White Risk App: (avalanche bulletin, snow and weather data, background information, tools).
  • – RAMMS (modelling system for natural hazards).
  • – Snowpack (modelling system for the snowpack).
  • – Guidelines and instruments for professional safety managers.

*White Risk is an application available for download (at a reasonable price 29 swiss francs per year), which allows you to plan your tour, to have updated information on snow and weather conditions, to calculate the duration and altitude of the tour. Once on it, you can check your location online (GPS), calculate the remaining time, alternative routes, to check critical points. It is available in French German and Italian.


Elena G. de Murillo