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Special tactics for sloughing snow

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
While recently skiing in significant snow accumulations at the ski areas outside of SLC, my son and I encountered many tree runs with conditions of unstable snow. That is, as we skied, the snow would slough off behind us, with us, and if we stopped, ahead of us. At one location a fellow mountain rider (not my son or part of our duo) "triggered" the snow in such a way that I was taken right off my skis. I was about 20 yards below this rider, and was being "advised" by my son to "LOOK OUT! SLIDE!"
In many places, when the cover slid ahead of us, the terrain under the 50 cm + of fresh snow was boney, rocky and showed exposed tree roots.

Allthough the fresh is great fun , I wondered what special considerations I should have given these conditions.
I was aware of the possibility of being swept 20 meters into a tree or down lower than I had planned, but there seemed little danger of being swept over a cliff or away in a significant avalanche.

More disconcerting, was the possibility of a ski striking exposed rocks underneath a moving snow surface and causing a "trip" that could send one head over tea kettle down the hill or into a stationary object.

Mostly, we just skied the snow as the powder it was, and accepted the unexpected releases as they occured. The greatest problem I observed was a strong need to sit down when I was not able to dictate my speed and direction.

Life should be so unkind!

Comments anyone?

post #2 of 4
Generally you're safer skiing in the trees if the snow's not too stable, but it will still slough off in the steeps, it helps if you can keep your speed up and just try to cut across the slide (kinda like swimming out of a strong current). Try to take different lines too, if you ski down then someone else comes down the same line and triggers a slide you're screwed, you can just ski till you're in a safer area, in a corpse of trees or somthing like that.

Of course if you straightline, you'll be gone before the slide even effects you
post #3 of 4

There's a gray line in between slough and slide. If slough is uncovering rocks and tree roots, I'd call that a slide and start making departure plans accordingly.

Otherwise there's a whole ton of things you should be doing to ski conveniently and "saferly" when powder is sloughing. Some suggestions:
wear a helmet
use powder straps
use an avalanche beeper
pack a shovel and a probe and a first aid kit
make sure someone off the mountain knows where you're at and when you expect to return
buddy up, with someone who's not overtaxed by the conditions
ski one buddy at a time, watching each other - and stay close, but not so close that you'll both be caught if trouble happens
ski lines where you can stay out of your own slough
avoid terrain traps (e.g. gullies)
pick safe spots to stop so that other idiots slough won't get you
look uphill before you start out
don't ski down near anyone else in the open
pay attention to shifting weather
ski either the steepest pitches where snow has already sloughed off or mellower pitches where it won't travel as far

listen to your inner voice - if it is saying bad things then it's time to leave with no "but"s and no regrets.
post #4 of 4
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the comments.

The biggest sense of failure was watching all that wonderful untracked slide down the mountain in front of us.

In retrospect, I guess there was danger. Just bringing up the topic points out the danger of what is unknown to me.

During the week of our stay in SLC, A snowshoer parished in what looked like a very small slide. Not very wide at all. (TV perspective at night)

Having the trees all around gave a sense that events would not get out of control,( inner voice says OK!) though I admit that we let some stuff go that I would not have wanted to be in. (Inner voice says "Sh---T! I wouldn't want to be in THAT!") The Patrol at Solitude closed the areas we had been skiing all morning due to the danger of accumulated snow. I guess that says something.

I do know that my son and I kept closer communication in these sliding areas. we would take 10-15 turns, then look for each other. The heavily falling snow didn't help visibility.

I am not sure I will do anything different next time. Just increased awareness.

Boy! Was it grand skiing!

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