Avalanches can happen wherever there is snow lying on ground of sufficient angle. Accidents in recent years in most Scottish mountain areas, as well as the English Lakes, the Cheviots, the Pennines and Wales, demonstrate the truth of this in the UK context. The vastly increased popularity of winter climbing and hill walking, along with the growth of interest in ski touring and off piste skiing, means that greater numbers are at hazard. Sadly, each year adds to the list of injuries or fatalities. Many of these accidents would have been avoidable, given greater care or knowledge, or if the victims had even paused to consider that avalanche hazard might be present.
In making practical assessments of avalanche hazard, there is no substitute for the instinctive feeling for snow conditions which can be gained only by years of experience. However, no-one is born with such experience and the novice or the less frequent winter mountain user, may still enjoy a safe day out if some basic principles are learned and acted upon.
Avalanches can happen to you.
Having accepted this, you have greatly reduced your chance of ever being involved in an avalanche. Remember that experience in itself is no antidote to avalanches and that "the avalanche does not know you are an expert!"
What is an avalanche?
Snow is deposited in successive layers as the winter progresses. These layers may have dissimilar physical properties and an avalanche occurs when one layer slides on another (Surface Avalanche), or the whole snow cover slides on the ground (Full-Depth). An avalanche may be Dry or Wet, according to whether free water is present in the snow. It may be of Loose Snow, when the avalanche starts at a single point or a Slab Avalanche which occurs when an area of more cohesive snow separates from the surrounding snow and slides out. In practice, any snow slide big enough to carry a person down is important.