Archives

Tagged ‘avalanche hazard‘

They Just Keep Dying: Why ‘Experienced’ Riders are Dying in Predictable Avalanche Accidents, and What We Can Do About It.

At about 10:15 in the morning on April 20th, 2013, five snowboarders and one skier met in the parking lot of the Loveland Pass ski area for a backcountry tour up the Sheep Creek drainage   They  were participants in the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Gathering, an event organized to promote backcountry snowboarding and avalanche safety. The participants discussed the plans for the day and began to skin up an old summer road towards low-angle terrain at the other end of the drainage.

Within minutes, having skinned only a few hundred yards, all six members of the party were buried by a slab avalanche measuring 800 x 600 feet, with an average depth of 5 feet, in some places 12 feet deep. One was buried to his neck and survived, trapped for four hours touching two of his buried friends but unable to move.  The other five perished, some buried 10-12 feet deep.

sheep creek avalanche

Sheep Creek Avalanche Site: The group entered the toe of the path from the right, within a few hundred yards of the parking lot. (Photo: CAIC)

Read on →

Choose Your Tools: Avalanche Hazard and Safety Gear

This is Part 2 of the ‘Choose Your Tools’ series on Gear Selection for Backcountry Skiing.
For Part 1: Introduction Click Here. Or check out the next in the series: The 7 Needs of Backcountry Travel

Backcountry skiing is an inherently hazardous activity.  Many factors, including exposure, weather, speed, and most of all, avalanche hazard combine to make backcountry skiing into what is called a “risk sport”.  Part of the appeal of backcountry skiing is the environment of consequence, which adds a degree of satisfaction to a day which ends uneventfully.  But some elements of backcountry skiing, like avalanche hazard in particular, contain chaotic and unpredictable hazards.

These hazards come into being from two intertwined hazards. First is the snowpack, which is a source of risk which is both variable/unpredictable, as well as one which doesn’t provide good feedback on the quality of our decision making.  On top of that, we humans are fallible and subject to heuristic traps, aka Human Factors.  This means that we are essentially never sure of our ability to make good decisions in avalanche terrain, and as a result, most skiers choose to carry with them tools and equipment which help to reduce the consequences of poor decision making.  These include, most commonly, the holy trinity of beacon, shovel, and probe.

The goal of this article is to discuss how terrain selection and avalanche hazard affect our decisions about which tools are appropriate to throw in our packs on different kinds of ski days. This discussion is followed by some example days and the tools which might be appropriate on those days.  As always when in avalanche terrain: it is important that you take this information for what it is–information and not definition.  Hands-on training with a professional is required and cannot be replaced by watching videos, reading books, or by articles on the web.  Your own experience and judgment are of paramount importance.

Read on →

Choose your Tools: Gear Selection for Backcountry Skiing

I am excited to announce this project, which will be ongoing over the course of the next few weeks, published in digestible parts. I hope to produce a resource that’s valuable to you, whether you’re new to ski-touring or a backcountry master. After this introduction, look forward to a series of posts which will appear in the blog feed, and which will also be linked to from the bottom of this page. Cheers! and happy skiing!

The purpose of this series of posts is to break down not just the gear required for different types of ski touring, but also the principles that govern gear choices for the backcountry and the result that these principles have on gear selections for different days out in the field. Plenty has been written about this subject, but there is a lot of misinformation, or at least, a lot of poorly organized and synthesized information out there.  I propose that a gear list of the sort that one finds on some full-page spread in Powder Magazine or on the TGR forums, while useful as a mental checklist, doesn’t contain much information that is transferable to different climates, snow packs, objectives, and styles of skiing.

Read on →