Mechanisms of slab avalanche release and impact in the Dyatlov Pass incident in 1959

We show how a combination of irregular topography, a cut made in the slope to install the tent and the subsequent deposition of snow induced by strong katabatic winds contributed after a suitable time to the slab release, which caused severe non-fatal injuries, in agreement with the autopsy results

Johan Gaume


Scholarcy summary


  • During the night of February 1, 1959, nine Russian hikers died under unexplained circumstances during a skiing expedition in the northern Ural Mountains.
  • Something unexpected happened after midnight that caused expedition members to cut the tent suddenly from the inside and escape towards a forest, more than 1 km downslope (Fig. 1b), without appropriate clothes, under extremely low temperatures, and in the presence of strong katabatic winds induced by the passing of an arctic cold front.
  • A Last picture of the Dyatlov group taken before sunset, while making a cut in the slope to install the tent.
  • C Configuration of the Dyatlov tent installed on a flat surface after making a cut in the slope below a small shoulder.
  • Snow deposition above the tent is due to wind transport of snow


  • Problem formulation for the analytical model of delayed avalanche release.
  • The choice of the parabolic slope approximation has been based on the following considerations.
  • It reflects a smooth uphill steepening of the slope.
  • It leads to a second-order Euler–Cauchy differential equation with a simple analytical solution.


  • Around 100 m above the tent, there is a shoulder which separates a rather flat plateau and a steeper slope below (Fig. 2a).
  • As we show below, this choice of location could have contributed to the accident: small scale topographic variability resulted in a locally steep weak snow layer while the larger shoulder contributed to significant wind-driven snow accumulation above the tent, eventually leading to an instability


  • Significant progress in snow and avalanche research over the past two decades has allowed better understanding of avalanche dynamics and of the processes related to snow-slab avalanche release.
  • These developments include a snow slab with a spatially variable thickness and its evolution due to sintering of the wind-transported snow, which affects the instability of a buried weak snow layer.
  • Our numerical simulation of the impact of a snow avalanche on a human body constrained by an obstacle combines advanced elastoplastic constitutive models with large-deformation dynamic numerical analysis (MPM) and biomechanical modeling of the human body
  • This opens new perspectives for research on the effects of snow avalanches on human health and safety

Need more features? Save interactive summary cards to your Scholarcy Library.