Robert Bolognesi grew up in France where he studied geography and computing at Grenoble University before getting interested in avalanches. In 1991 joined the Swiss Federal Snow and Avalanche Research Institute (SLF) in Davos where he developed a model for avalanche prevention for his doctorate. The Davos institute then entrusted Bolognesi with the task of setting up a new center in the Swiss Valais. However the arrival of a new director at the SLF and a difference of opinion over the direction the new center should led Bolognesi to go it alone.
In 1999 he created a start-up, Meteorisk, to help organisations evaluate the natural risks they face amongst them avalanches. His approach is based on accumulated experience as well as scientific principals. Bolognesi recalls when he was at Grenoble; “we tried to apply our forecasting model on a slope but we were never as good as a member of the piste patrol who knew the zone like the back of his hand. He could show us a couloir and say, that’s going to slide, and he wouldn’t be wrong. Snow transport under the action of wind is difficult to model because terrain features change where snow will accumulate, there are no general rules that can replace experience.”
Meteorisk has trained members of the Valais piste patrol, worked on safety within ski domains and on risk assessment for activities such as ski mountaineering competitions. His books on snow and avalanches aimed at backcountry travellers have earned him international recognition. He has worked in Chili as a consultant and is employed by the Mont-Blanc tunnel on avalanche risk assessment.
Bolognesi publishes his own local weather and avalanche bulletin which can be accessed by telephone. “It is impossible to predict everything in this domain. I am simply trying to help people who are preparing a tour in the backcountry. There is no simple answer to a complicated problem. I can but only offer some elements to help understand the situation but I can’t say with 100% certainty if an avalanche will happen, my only wish is that everyone is able to select the safest route.”
Avalanche!: Understand and Reduce the Risks from Avalanches and Snow: Understanding, Testing and Interpreting Snow Conditions to Make Better Avalanche Predictions will be published by Cicerone Press in January 2007.