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First time visit to a resort. "Let's hit the backcountry!"

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

Saturday at Wolf Creek, I ride a chair with a pair of guys from Boulder who came down for the storm cycle.  Its been puking snow all day and not forecasted to stop for the whole weekend.

 

Avalanche risk forecast as "Considerable."  Listening to weatherband for a few minutes on our way to Wolf, there is a special CAIC warning about the new snowfall overloading slopes, substantial wind loading, etc.

 

So anyways, back to guys from Boulder on Alberta chairlift.

 

They are giddy, best conditions for them all year. They have never skied Wolf Creek, never made it this far South in Colorado, terrain is better than they expected, snow is great. Having a good day.

 

So then, this conversation ensues:

 

Dude: So, if we ski off the back of Knife Ridge, where do that get us?

 

Me: Uhh, It gets you about 7 miles from any road up the East Fork of the San Juan River in 6 feet of snow, and the whole traverse out would be under slide paths.

 

Dude: Oh, so we can't get back to lifts?

 

Me: Uh, no.

 

Dude: So where are some sick sidecountry lines to hit this weekend?

 

Me: Ok, look. You've told me you've never skied here and don't know the local geography, and have no idea what terrain you are skiing into, where it leads, or how to get out. I doubt you've checked the avalanche forecast, because its a High risk day (turns out that it was actually considerable, but I think the point still stands- they didn't correct me, so I'm pretty sure they hadn't checked, if they even knew about it). I don't see that you have any gear, but that is kind of beside the point. I want you to have a great weekend, but I can't in good conscience talk to you about backcountry lines.

 

Dude: Well, what about that expansion area where they want to put the tram? Where is that?

 

Me: Come on man, I'm not talking about this with you. You want great snow today? Here's where you can find it inbounds (proceed to share where I've been skiing all day).

 

Dude: Yeah, but we just really wanted to get something out of bounds where we could ski back to the lift.

 

Me: I'm done here.

________________________________________________________________

 

 

Is it just me, or is this completely and totally insane behavior? I doubt they had any avalanche training (I sure hope they didn't, as if they did, it doesn't seem like it stuck), and I doubt they had avy gear, but even if they had both, is it really considered normal behavior to go skiing someplace for the first time, in the middle of a storm cycle, on a day with very real avalanche risk, when you have no clue where you actually are?

 

I've seen a few threads on here where first time vistors to an area are asking about backcountry lines. Maybe, maybe this is something I would consider in Late spring conditions with a homogenous corn snowpack, with an exact plan of where I was skiing and what my exit is.

 

But, the chairlift conversation on Saturday leads me to thinking I just talked to a pair of future victims, and am really hoping I don't have to read a terrible news article in the upcoming days.  

post #2 of 13
Thread Starter 

On another note, I've ridden chairs with a lot of folks who apparently saw Wolf Creek's video on their expansion plans, and are now terribly interested in skiing the "tram area."  I get the feeling that almost everybody asking had no idea that that terrain was there, and now desperately want to ski it. I also get the feeling that it would chew up and spit out most of the people asking.

 

I really hope Wolf Ski patrol is keeping an eye on that gate, and possibly doing some "goodwill" avy bombing over there.

post #3 of 13

Perhaps they were looking for a private place to have some quick sex?

post #4 of 13

They're nuts, but backcountry skiing is the fastest growing segment of the sport, so all the cool kids are doing it.  

 

I've only skied WC a handful of times - just driven down for a day or two during big dumps.  Always had a blast off of Alberta and never felt like it got skied off enough to even consider leaving the area boundaries.  Of course, I'm about as gnar as a baby carrot.

post #5 of 13

What percentage of bc skiers do you think are totally unprepared like that?  I have a friend, granted he's an idiot, who rides mountain passes because he can't afford lift tickets.  He invites me along now and then and I always turn him down because, like him, I have zero avalanche training or gear.  How often do you bc skiers see people like that out there?

post #6 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by crgildart View Post

Perhaps they were looking for a private place to have some quick sex?

Be safe, take gearicon14.gif

 

Sidecountry can see all the fun range of behavior that a summertime roadside-accessible crag does, good and bad, in terms of the o.p.'s context.

post #7 of 13

The name Charles Darwin came to mind when I read this.

post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Abox View Post

What percentage of bc skiers do you think are totally unprepared like that?  I have a friend, granted he's an idiot, who rides mountain passes because he can't afford lift tickets.  He invites me along now and then and I always turn him down because, like him, I have zero avalanche training or gear.  How often do you bc skiers see people like that out there?

 

That was me as a teenager- I skied Loveland and Berthoud a bit.  Not a ton, but I was definitely out there.  At the time, I had never heard of an avalanche course, never heard that there was a forecast center (In fact, I'm not 100% sure there was in the mid 90's), and vaugely knew that an avalanche beacon existed, but never saw anybody with one, or a probe, or a shovel.

 

Avalanche safety consisted of "If it breaks, straightline it to try and outrun" or "ski to the side and hug a tree" or "Yell and scream if you see it break so your buddy can ski out of it" and "look at others tracks, and if the tracks look clean and didn't trigger anything, good to go."

 

Now, I look at this as exceptionally stupid, but in the pre-internet days, you didn't know what you didn't know.  But even with all of that, I was skiing in a very limited area where I knew exactly where I would come out- every line I skied was one that you could see virtually all of it from the road.  I would have every considered skiing something that I didn't know where it would take me.

post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by whitemb View Post

They're nuts, but backcountry skiing is the fastest growing segment of the sport, so all the cool kids are doing it.  

 

I've only skied WC a handful of times - just driven down for a day or two during big dumps.  Always had a blast off of Alberta and never felt like it got skied off enough to even consider leaving the area boundaries.  Of course, I'm about as gnar as a baby carrot.

 

No doubt. Yesterday, with a huge influx of good skiers hitting up the $35 lift tickets on a massive snow day, I saw more tracks than I have on any other powder day to date. But even with 40 people tromping up the bootpack trail to get to the staircase at any given time, I still found untracked snow- I just had to look for it more.

 

There really is no sidecountry at Wolf Creek (that you can ride a lift, go out of bounds, ski something, and then relatively easily get back to a lift) because so much of the mountain is already set up to be a sidecountry style experience. Not many other places have 1000 acres served by 1 solitary chair with no cut runs.

 

Honestly, BC in the San Juans kind of terrifies me, because of the reputation for unstable snowpack, and the fact that I really don't know much of the geography, and the mountains are just different than most other places in Colorado. The volcanic history leaves surprise basalt cliffs all over the place, making for terrain traps that you just don't know about unless you are intimately familar with the area. Wolf Creek has really reinforced this for me, not just for the number of times I have skied into cliff areas (on runs/areas marked single diamond on a trail map, no less), but the number of times I have found ripped slab avalanches inbounds, several of which have run over cliff faces. Skiing waterfall in the days following the 40" storm cycle a few weeks ago, I skied the bailout chute next to one of the larger cliffs in waterfall (40-50 feet), and found the gully below the cliff to be totally comprised of avalanche detritus the entire way down to the valley floor, about 400 vertical feet. No evidence that a patroller bomb had set it off, and it had obviously slid from above the cliff as the avy debris was right up to the cliff face with no crown.

 

I've been easing my way into it slowly- I took a local avy class and have been gently inquiring about good introductory terrain in the area with the idea that I will consider hitting it in April/May when the snowpack gets as safe as it will be.

post #10 of 13

My new favorite is the use of the term 'backcountry' for anything inbounds that's not groomed. It happens enough now that it seems to be a semantic trend.

post #11 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by markojp View Post

My new favorite is the use of the term 'backcountry' for anything inbounds that's not groomed. It happens enough now that it seems to be a semantic trend.


I have never heard anyone use the term like that.  Where do you hear people using this?

post #12 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by markojp View Post

My new favorite is the use of the term 'backcountry' for anything inbounds that's not groomed. It happens enough now that it seems to be a semantic trend.

 

A trend that many ski areas encourage. I've read lots of articles about Wolf Creek where management is quoted referring to Alberta as "lift served backcountry," where sometimes they throw a "like" at the front of the phrase.

 

To me, I think this gives people a very wrong idea and really does a disservive to the heroic efforts WC Ski Patrol puts into making an area littered with avalanche risk safe to ski.

 

I would be a lot happier if when ski area management touted their lift served backcountry, in the same sentence they would disclose the 5 and 6 figures they spend every year in purchasing explosives.  If people knew that ski patrol threw $120,000 in bombs on one side of the rope to keep it relatively safe, and nobody had done anything on the other side, maybe they would think twice before venturing out.

post #13 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by anachronism View Post

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Is it just me, or is this completely and totally insane behavior? I doubt they had any avalanche training

 

but were they wearing helmets?

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