My son fessed up that he and a friend were caught in an avalanche in the Gore Range (Colorado) 2016. He and his friend were lucky they survived. What's a parent to do? This video reinforces my thoughts about skiing in avalanche terrain: the snow pack can be extremely variable and it is very difficult to assess stability. You can't perform enough pits to truly make a judgement call about stability with certainty. The margin of error is too large and that could mean losing your life! Backcountry skiers (alpine and telemark) should have a 360 degree vision of run-out zones and terrain traps even if you are on low-angled slopes.
- XCD Guide
- Posts: 596
- Joined: Fri Feb 19, 2016 9:06 pm
- Location: Oakland County, MI
- Occupation: Construction Manager
As you are a skier, and a parent what you say matters. It is just they are entering their prime. I would try a prayer also, but that is just me. Good luck, I just got back from the opening of trout season. I have friends with kids in their thirties, they laughed at my concerns and told me you never get done being concerned about what your kids are doing that probably isn't good, or should be doing that they aren't.
Thanks for your wise comments on parenting. My son didn't tell me because he didn't want me to "worry." Truth be told I think he didn't tell me because he thought I would berate him because he was 46 years old when he was caught in the avalanche! The terrain is obviously potentially very risky and the continental snowpack is known for persistent weak layers. Maybe when he is 70 he will chill? I introduced him to the sport and encouraged his backcountry adventures. Adventure and risk taking probably runs in the family? With age and experience, I have become a more conservative backcountry skier: I ski on low-angles terrain of less than 30 degrees and focus on XCD downhill/traditional telemark which can be a challenge on less steep slopes. No big mountain skiing for me.
- XCD KNIGHT
- Posts: 1239
- Joined: Wed Feb 11, 2015 11:25 am
- Location: New Hampshire
- Ski style: Bumps, trees, and steeps and long woodsy XC tours
- Favorite Skis: DH: Voile Objective and V6, Altai KOMs, Atomic Vantage 85, XC: Gamme 54, Classy Woodies
- Favorite boots: T4, Alaska
- Occupation: Retro Rager-grouch
Your post is dead-on, I agree completely.
My avalanche instructor who has been doing this professionally for over 40 years is not big on pits or snowgrain analysis. Pits only indicate what's happening at the sight of the pit, more largely on the angle of the slope at that altitude and exposure. They are not a complete waste but not perfect indicators of safety. Snowgrain analysis takes a lifetime of professional skill. A great line from him- "If you're in the BC and come across weekend warriors analyzing snow crystals... do a 180 and go in the other direction!"
His entire premise for his course was for the recreational skier (which is anyone not professionally employed as a PRO guide/avalanche forecaster) to know how to analyze terrain AND apply the professional avalanche forecast. No pretending to be a forecaster yourself. Assessment, Recognition, Avoidance. And, as you correctly said, enjoy your time on low-angle terrain and but be mindful for what's above and around you! Terrain traps, even small ones, are way under-appreciated for their danger.
Woof- what a topic. It happens so quick.
Appreciate your thoughtful, astute comment. I think the extent of blunt force injuries in avalanches are often over-looked. It seems like the big fear is not being able to breathe; when in fact, traumatic fractures and head injury may be the cause of death. Plus, even if your partners can dig you out, if you have severe injuries you are going to have to get help immediately via a cell phone or PLB which may or may not save your life. Given the lack of cell phone reception in the backcountry, having a PLB (personal locator beacon) with you at all times is a good idea. In the video, my son's friend grabbed a tree, but the most likely scenario is that hitting a tree would cause severe injury. Snowpits give a false sense of security and provide limited data for one place, at one time on one small area of the slope. They do not tell you anything about the variability or weak anchors on the slope. I think a probe pole can give you more info because you can check out multiple places, but I wouldn't put my life on the line with data from a probe either.
This was the first year that before I even started skiing I knew I wasn't going to ski steep terrain until spring because of deep instabilities in the snow pac being reported. Early this season there was a slide that broke loose on the ground, it had a 15 foot crown, that would be hard to find in a pit.
Sometimes you have to accept that you won't be skiing the best terrain if you aren't willing to take the risk. I've gotten better at this as I got older.
Nothing like a reality check (avalanches on slopes you had been on) to remind us of our mortality and the need to be aware and cautious. Your route finding skills are probably very keen at this point in time. You mentioned propagating fractures and wind loaded slab releases. It is really scary to think that you could propagate a fracture all the way up a slope from the bottom and be wiped out that way (watch out XCD skiers). Or, you could be on a ridge that rips out because of a propagating fracture. I am not sure if my son has really had a wake-up call. Hopefully at his age and having that experience of being in an avalanche will be enough?