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risk and backcountry skiing

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

In the thread about the Loveland accident in the Skiing News forum, habacombmike made an interesting post in response to JayT:

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by habacomike View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by JayT View Post

It seems to me the worst decisions aren't being made on the snow, but in people's homes when they decide to go out even when there's a ton of information right in front of them making it obvious they shouldn't.  That's why "experienced" backcountry skiers are always the ones who get killed - they think they can somehow manage what is inherently unmanageable.  On an ultra-conservative level this is true, I suppose, but terrain selection doesn't do much good if those low angled aspects are right beneath something steeper that could slide.

 

I feel terrible for the friends and families of those who were caught up in this latest avalanche, but you could see it coming a mile away.  Last Thursday I was talking to my cousin (who lives in Denver) about all of the snow, wind, and then that slide near Vail that ripped down to a crappy layer from early in the season, and his group had just decided to cancel their weekend touring plans because it was a no-brainer to do so.  We both concluded that someone would probably get killed that weekend or hopefully be very lucky.  Sadly it was the former and not the latter.

JayT

 

What was it that made it such a no-brainer that no one should have gone out?  The avalanche forecast?  You do realize that it was "considerable," right?  And that most of the year the avalanche risk in Colorado is considerable?  And that that bad layer was present almost all of the season?  Are you suggesting that no one should ever have traveled in the backcountry this season at all?

 

Mike

 

I thought it might be a good idea to move my response over to the BC forum, and I highlighted the part that interested me.  My thoughts: 

 

So, as described on avalanche.org and other places, "considerable" means:

 

Quote:

Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential.  Natural avalanches possible; human triggered avalanches likely.  Small avalanches in many areas; or large avalanches in specific areas; or very large avalanches in isolated areas.

 

So if the avy danger was listed as "considerable" in Colorado "most of the year" then yeah, it's dangerous in the bc "most of the year.  And to say "Are you suggesting that no one should ever have traveled in the backcountry this season at all?" is a) overstating the case and b) veering onto thin ice.  

 

Reading material:

http://avalancheinfo.net/Newsletters%20and%20Articles/Articles/AdamsPerspectiveAvalanche%20Risk.pdf

 

^That goes into how the more people get away with risky behavior, the more comfortable they get with further risky behavior.  I'm not saying that "no one should ever have traveled in the backcountry this season at all" but that unless significant precautions are taken, especially with terrain selection, then yeah, under "considerable" conditions avalanche conditions are dangerous and human-triggered avalanches are likely.  It doesn't matter if you haven't gone out this season at all or that it's been "considerable" almost all of the season - it's pretty much just as dangerous the first day of "considerable" as it is after two months.  And if you don't go out at all for a long time because it's dangerous, that's cool too - things will eventually mellow out, maybe next season.  :wink:

 

Anyway, just saying, read that pdf by Laura Anderson that I linked above and don't let impatience get the best of you when you're making backcountry skiing plans.  

post #2 of 5

One thing I didn't mention in my first post was they also decided they probably wouldn't go out again (other than really low angle terrain) until at least May based on those observations.  It wasn't just about that weekend but also the foreseeable future.

 

On the same idea of perceived risk, that's why existing tracks can have the same falsely re-assuring effect even though their presence doesn't make the slope any more safe to ski.

post #3 of 5

I'd also like to point out that the danger below tree line, where they were traveling was rated as Moderate.  The snow field that released above them was in that considerable rating.

 

The blanket statement that the media has been making about the danger rating, is not entirely accurate. 
 

post #4 of 5
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by killclimbz View Post

I'd also like to point out that the danger below tree line, where they were traveling was rated as Moderate.  The snow field that released above them was in that considerable rating.

 

Hard to say.  From the CAIC final report:

Quote:

The group, in climbing mode, traveled a few hundred yards from the highway down the old summer road until it emerges from the the trees into the open alpine area of the Sheep Creek drainage. They decided to spread out with approximately 50 feet between people as they crossed below the north-facing slopes, and head for a small stand of trees on a small knoll on the far (northeast) side of the open slopes. The first two members in the group had reached the small stand of trees, with the other 4 group members close behind, when they felt a large collapse and heard a whumpf. It took several seconds for the crack to propagate uphill and release the deep slab. In those several seconds, they all ran for the far end of the slope and towards the small stand of trees. 

 

But probably not worth arguing hard about.  

post #5 of 5

I read that report yesterday.  It does sound like they were higher up than I had initially thought.  At treeline was rated considerable. 

 

If you look at the photos, where the group of three got swept.  Maybe five feet further out and they would not have been caught.  That really sucks.
 

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