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Lucky in Utah - Avalanche

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
This guy must be counting his blessings, yet he sounds eager to do it again.

His guardian angel was looking over him on this day.
post #2 of 15
Quote:
Originally posted by Jaws:
His guardian angel was looking over him on this day.
Paul Hansen's guardian angel and several other mere mortals; my wife works with one of the girls that dug Mr. Hansen out. Mr. Hansen is lucky he was surrounded by other experienced backcountry skiers . . . . especially in light of the fact that he was ALONE!
post #3 of 15
"Now Hansen plans to be more selective about what days he skis and promises to wear a hat."

Good. The hat should help.
post #4 of 15
Oh yeah, I forgot to add . . . . Mr. Hansen is a foolish JACKASS!!!
post #5 of 15
Gadget, You sort of sumed it up Mr Hansen was vary vary lucky for being such a fool. He claims to be an experienced back country skier. But 30 years skiing in NY Mountains won't get you familiar with The Wasatch Back Country. Yet he was out there skiing alone? As I recall the Avalanch danger that day was considerable. Yes He was foolish and lucky he didn't pay a higher price for his being a fool.
post #6 of 15
Not to downplay this guys mistakes, as skiing alone is never a good idea. Rarely do I like to ski alone inbounds on powder days, let alone out. If your burried like this guy was in a slide, you need to be able to rely on your buddys to dig you out. This guy was lucky to say the least.

However, I heard rummors that the area that he was skiing was pretty tracked up, and "should" have been stable. Is this true?

In reflection to what I just typed, I have also heard that the Wasatch is sliding in places that it normally does not this season. That there have been numerious slides when the pack should have been stable. And that very experienced backcountry skiers are triggering slides and getting some good scares. However, I am backcountry/avalanche ignorant, so take that with a grain of salt.
post #7 of 15
AltaSkier,

I get the Utah Avi report every morning and have read all of them thus far. The guys and gals that work there and that write the reports haven't mentioned that they are seeing slides in places that normally don't slide. But, that's not to say that this isn't happening. The problem is they are seeing so many slides and that some of the areas that have already sliden (that can't be a word) are being covered up and they can't tell if they have slid or not already. From what I understand this year's snow pack is about as weak as it has ever been. The combination of warm temps and relatively little snowfall throughout Nov. and Dec. has produces very weak layers in the snow pack.

What does this mean? The snow hasn't had a chance to settle yet. Combine that with a couple of larger storms and then just dustings and you can't tell where the weak layers are anymore without a lot of shovel work. They're doing that but it takes time and they can't check every face, chute and bowl.

There were 22 consecutive days of human triggered avalanches in the Wasatch mountains that just ended this weekend I think. That's close to a record.

Basically it's just dangerous out there right now. There are some not so dangerous spots; slopes that are less then 30 degrees steep that aren't connected to steeper slopes above and southerly facing slopes. But those are the ones that are sun crusted so people don't want to ski them and head into more dicey terrain.

This guy Hansen obviously didn't read the avi report. I can't recall if it had said that slopes that had been tracked out were prone to sliding but they definitely did after that. Regardless, if he had been paying attention to the reports then he would have know how sketchy it was out there and hopefully been more careful. It just sounds like he was a stubborn older guy who wasn't going to let someone else tell him what was safe or not because "I've been skiing 30 years and blah blah blah...

I'm glad he's ok but geez man, use your head.

They said that with the warmer temps that were in place the past day or so the snow pack should begin to stengthen as it compacts but if I were out there right now I'd be really really careful. It's just not worth it.

I guess that's all I have to say.

Cheers,

Sean
post #8 of 15
Quote:
Originally posted by SeanyMac:
The combination of warm temps and relatively little snowfall throughout Nov. and Dec. has produces very weak layers in the snow pack.
I think that should read "the combination of cold temps and relatively little snowfall", not warm temps. Warm temperatures tend to strengthen the snowpack, and cold temperatures tend to weaken it. Usually.
post #9 of 15
I think you guys are beeing a little harsh on Mr. Hansen. Yes he made a mistake and was very lucky to be rescued without any injuries or worse. The slope had been skied several times over the weekend before the incident. It had even been skied that same day, by Mr. Hansen and by others earlier in the day. It was poor judgement, but by no means whould I call a fellow bc traveller a jackass because he got caught in a slide, even if he did make some mistakes.
post #10 of 15
Quote:
Originally posted by crew cut:
I think you guys are beeing a little harsh on Mr. Hansen. Yes he made a mistake and was very lucky to be rescued without any injuries or worse. The slope had been skied several times over the weekend before the incident. It had even been skied that same day, by Mr. Hansen and by others earlier in the day. It was poor judgement, but by no means whould I call a fellow bc traveller a jackass because he got caught in a slide, even if he did make some mistakes.
This is the point that I was getting at. The snow "should" have been stable, but was not. Pictures that I saw of the slide showed lots of tracks on either side of the fracture area, similare to what I've seen when Square Top slides. I am curious to learn what is going on in the snowpack this season. If anybody learns anything, please post, as I want some information. Amazing that there have not been more injuries/deaths due to it.

I hope I did not come across as calling this skier anything. While I do not agree with skiing alone in the BC, who am I to cast stones? I backpack alone in far more remote wilderness than the Wasatch. Is this more or less dangerious?
post #11 of 15
This is what is going on in the backcountry, not only in the wasatch, but in many other parts of the Rocky Mountains: A verly large early season snowfall, followed by cold dry spells created a very thick layer of snow crystals that do not bond together very well. Imagine walking on a 12 inch thick pile of glass. As you take a step, the glass spreads out and cannot support your weight. Because of the cold weather and the shallow snow pack (which usually creates a large temperature gradient over a short distance) the snow crystals did not morph into more bondable crystals. Any time any weight is added on top of these weak layers, it either slides naturally or requires that little extra push to get it to slide. Until those layers are broken down and they morph, the slope is a threat to slide if it is steep enough. As you can imagine, the snowpack can change dramatically over a short distance, so one section of a slope may slide naturally, while the adjacent parts of a slope have enough cohesion to stay put. When a skier gets on it, the downward pull of gravity and the added weight are enough of a force to overcome the amount of friction between the layers and the slope slides. Sometimes it takes more force than one skier to trigger a slope, and the second, third, or fourth person down triggers the slide. You are right, it is astonishing that no one has died in Utah yet this season.
post #12 of 15
Quote:
Originally posted by Inspector Gadget:
Oh yeah, I forgot to add . . . . Mr. Hansen is a foolish JACKASS!!!
You must have read a different article than I did. The article read "A lone skier, .. decided to climb higher" It doesn't read that he entered the backcountry alone or that he was traveling alone. It simply states that he alone decided to climb higher. It doesn't even state how much higher he climbed. Only the total length of the slide.

Divining facts from a loosely written document makes everyone who does so a Jackass. There are not enough facts documented in the report to justify your lofty declaration that this individual is a jackass or foolish. How do you know he didn't read the avy reports, dig a pit, travel with another, assess slopes of similar aspects, or test the snow pack before dropping in. The author didn't interview him to find out how he approached the line or evaluated the risk.

Accidents happen even to the most trained individuals. That's why they are called "accidents". So why don't you give the guy the benefit of the doubt since you weren't there, don't know all the facts, and can not know all the facts from the article in question?

[ January 15, 2003, 08:18 PM: Message edited by: Bullet ]
post #13 of 15
Bullet:

He *was* alone. Other parties were skiing nearby, but Mr. Hansen hiked up alone and was skiing by himself.

The avalanche report had pegged the overall danger at "Considerable" with the forecasters leaning toward "High" in susceptible areas. Mr. Hansen was most certainly skiing a susceptible area. Every day during that period, the forecasters were practically begging people to stay off open, steep, NE/N/NW-facing slopes.

That fact that other skiers had already tracked the area *very* obviously doesn't mean it was safe. It merely means that no one else hit that magical combination of time and location to trigger a slide.

I know a bunch of extremely experienced Wasatch backcountry skiers who wouldn't have been caught dead (literally) on the slope Mr. Hansen was skiing that day, and they wouldn't have dreampt of skiing it alone.

My own problem with the incident is not so much that he was backcountry skiing alone. I do that myself somewhat regularly. My concern is his choice of terrain. When I go out by myself, I stick to low-angle slopes where avalanches aren't even a consideration.

Hindsight is 20-20, but I think this is one incredibly lucky individual. Some questionable decisions put him in harm's way.

Bob
post #14 of 15
[quote]Originally posted by AltaSkier:
Quote:
Originally posted by crew cut:
[qb]...

I am curious to learn what is going on in the snowpack this season. If anybody learns anything, please post, as I want some information...
Here's an excellent graphic of the Wasatch snowpack from the avalanche.org site:



The two red layers (appropriately enough) and the very bottom layer are the culprits.

Bob
post #15 of 15
Quote:
Originally posted by Bullet:
</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by Inspector Gadget:
Oh yeah, I forgot to add . . . . Mr. Hansen is a foolish JACKASS!!!
Divining facts from a loosely written document makes everyone who does so a Jackass. There are not enough facts documented in the report to justify your lofty declaration that this individual is a jackass or foolish. How do you know he didn't read the avy reports, dig a pit, travel with another, assess slopes of similar aspects, or test the snow pack before dropping in. The author didn't interview him to find out how he approached the line or evaluated the risk.

Accidents happen even to the most trained individuals. That's why they are called "accidents". So why don't you give the guy the benefit of the doubt since you weren't there, don't know all the facts, and can not know all the facts from the article in question?
</font>[/quote]Dearest Bullet,

I called our Mr. Hansen a foolish JACKASS because, very simply, accidents do happen. Yes, he clearly was grateful for the help he received from the other BC skiers present and ackowledged that he is lucky to be alive. But I was somewhat astonished at Mr. Hansen's - dare I say "cavalier" - attitude as I watched him on the local televison news broadcast; wherein he stated, in front of God and everyone in the viewing audience, that he was skiing alone. If he did read the avalanche reports that day and still went out on that slope ALONE, does that make him any less of a foolish JACKASS???

Now, as mentioned elsewhere in this thread, we all take risks as we pursue our activities of choice and sometimes that risk may be compounded by going out ALONE. And yet, we still go. Would I go scuba diving alone? No. Would I go skiing alone? Yes. Would I go skiing ALONE in the BC, when the avalanche danger is elevated? No.

IMHO Mr. Hansen is a foolish JACKASS because he didn't exercise good judgement in light of the prevailing conditions. Finally, had his rescuers not been in the immediate vicinity, Mr. Hansen would be DEAD. And that would be much worse than merely being a foolish JACKASS.

Wouldn't you agree.
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