AVALANCHE (adopted from a French dialecticform,
avalance, descent), a mass of snow and ice mingled with earth and
stones, which rushes down a mountain side, carrying everything before it,
and producing a strong wind which uproots trees on each side of its
course. Where the supply of snow exceeds the loss by evaporation the
surplus descends the mountain sides, slowly in the form of glaciers, or
suddenly in ice-falls or in avalanches. A mass of snow may accumulate
upon a steep slope and become compacted into ice by pressure, or remain
loosely aggregated. When the foundation gives way, owing to the loosening
effect of spring rains or from any other cause, the whole mass slides
downward. A very small cause will sometimes set a mass of overloaded snow
in motion. Thunder or even a loud shout is said to produce this effect
when the mass is just poised, and Swiss guides often enjoin absolute
silence when crossing dangerous spots.
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