Inbounds Avalanche Safety PSA

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Highland Bowl, yesterday. During the hike, Big Storm’s fingers crept into every pore of your clothing like a thousand zombies prying your flesh. At the top, one guy had a patch of frostbite on his cheek the size of a playing card. Big Storm was obviously loading leeward slopes fast, this enhanced by cross loading. Visibility was nill. So even though a gate was open to a big line, we opted for more manageable terrain in the woods, where visibility was better and wind wasn’t changing conditions by the second.

Backcountry Skiing

WildSnow sticker spotted on Highland Bowl snowcat.

Word this Friday is we all should remember that ski patrollers do fantastic work, but they’re dealing with a somewhat unpredictable and fickle problem when they attempt to make all inbounds terrain safe from snow slides. This is especially true of the “double black” runs that many resorts now go the extra nine yards to supply. Recent inbounds avalanche accidents at Snowbird and Squaw bring the point home.

In other words, while your double black terrain might be “4 nines” safe due to avalanche control, it’ll never be 100 percent. To me, that means it could be wise to do a couple of things when you’re skiing the “inbounds outtabounds.”

1. First, skiers should keep their avalanche eyes open even when they’re on the peaceful side of the rope. Know your basic avalanche skills, and how to recognize if avalanche control has gotten away from the ski patrol. More, perhaps you’re pushing the limits of what’s “open,” and will need to apply total backcountry procedures even though you’re near or technically “in” the resort.

2. Wear a transmitting avalanche beacon at all times, and consider an Avalung as this device is the ticket for snow immersion emergencies such as being stuck in a tree well (as common as avalanches when it comes to in-bounds accidents), as well as being a possible life saver in an avalanche.

3. Use a low key buddy system. If things are gnarly, perhaps keep each other in sight at all times. Or just have a few pre-aranged meeting places. “Talkabout” radios can make this easy.

4. Know your communication options. Does that patrol have dispatch number? Does your cell phone work where you’ll be skiing? Is the number in your contacts?

5. If you’re storm skiing, be aware that rope lines can be blown around or even sag and get covered by snow before patrollers can fix. Thus, stay aware of the general lay of nearby ropes so you don’t ski into a closed area by mistake.

Basic stuff. But perhaps worth a PSA?

We’re outta here for a long Christmas weekend break — perhaps just a few days of slackcountry, but maybe we’ll make it to a hut.

Comments

19 Responses to “Inbounds Avalanche Safety PSA”

  1. Randonnee December 26th, 2008 11:41 am

    Good points, post-control releases and new hazard occurring during operating hours are real issues at times. There is a large ski area face in my locale that went one time with about a 40 inch crown with the first public-skier. Earlier during avy control six -one kg charges detonated on that face without result. I arrived after the accident with probes just as the buried skier’s face was exposed, he was fine and was praising Jesus exhuberantly- his boot had poked out of the snow and he had been located quickly. To this day I will not put the first track down that face because of that memory- I go to the side ready to ski off to safety!

    Conversely, I will say that skiers should demand high standards of avalanche hazard mitigation within ski area boundaries. It is my view that general safety within a US ski area Boundary is the norm, the expectation, is attainable and reasonable. It is to the disadvantage of the consumer-skier to accept the existence of significant uncontrolled hazard within a ski area as reasonable. In my view, bomb it into submission or close it, pretty basic. I see no excuse for allowing significant hazard to exist within an operating ski area.

  2. Randonnee December 26th, 2008 12:02 pm

    A couple of points to follow the “News and Twitter” “it’s a post-control avalanche.” The well-known and widely used $50 prophylactic measure on a deep slab on a big face is to lower to the slab on a poly rope an explosive charge of 50 or 100 lbs of ANFO. If the slab is thick and wet, the shock waves of smaller one kg charges may not penetrate to the weak layer. One time I dropped a 50 lg bag of ANFO charge from a helicopter and got a 4 ft crown fracture on the slab beneath. That is a fond memory, although I will never forget the look on the pilot’s face when he glanced back to see me hoisting that 50 lb bag of ANFO with a lit dynamite stick stuck in it!

    The sad report of the avalanche fatality outside Vail includes the information that the victim was wearing a transceiver and that he died of asphyxiation. Sadly this illustrates the point that transceivers are not “safety” gear, but a tool used after tragic failure in judgment sometimes with success but sadly not always. Again, condolences to all involved. But for the Grace of God go I. Stay safe out there.

  3. Rob Hunker December 26th, 2008 3:28 pm

    Hi Lou…thanks for all your blogs on avalanche awareness and safety during these recent times of increased avalanche hazard. We at CAIC appreciate it very much. Thank you, Rob Hunker

  4. Njord December 26th, 2008 9:17 pm

    Riding a snowcat in order to save 10 minutes of hiking? Weak sauce…

  5. Daniel Dunn December 27th, 2008 9:14 am

    Once again, you speak very wise words Lou. Ski patrollers work extremely hard for not enough money and they do a great job. I am not one. Be safe out there, you can’t have someone babysit you all the time.
    I love your site and have been reading for a couple years now. Keep up the good work. Daniel Dunn

  6. John Gloor December 27th, 2008 11:43 am

    Njord, unless you hiked up from the bottom, you don’t have much of a loftier position to look down from. Its hard to justify the macho “no cat attitude” after being shuttled 3000+ feet by a chairlift I’ll gladly take the cat if it happens to be leaving as I ski up to it. Often it is faster though to just hike it if one just missed it or there is a line.

  7. Evan December 27th, 2008 6:33 pm

    Yikes. This season is off to a frightening start.
    Inbounds avi death at Jackson Hole today:
    http://www.tetonat.com/archives/672/avalanche-at-jackson-hole-mountain-resort/
    http://www.jhunderground.com/2008/12/27/avalanche-fatality-at-jackson-hole/
    http://www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=145198
    Seriously – stay alert and safe out there! Things are sketch.

  8. Bryce December 27th, 2008 7:29 pm

    “In my view, bomb it into submission or close it, pretty basic.”

    Amen. I spent a lot of teenage time waiting for the gates to Solitude’s double-black diamonds to open, then snorkeling/tumbling down thinking not a thing avalanches. There would be a lot of buried 14-year-old kids if ski patrollers started slacking on avalanche control.

    That said, now I wear my Tracker anytime I traverse into the outskirts of a ski area. May as well make it easier on the patrollers charged with finding which tree my body is wrapped around after a freak slide.

  9. Chuck December 27th, 2008 8:19 pm
  10. brian December 27th, 2008 9:54 pm

    Very timely article, Lou. We had our own in-bounds disaster today at the Village. You can read about it here.

    http://www.jacksonholenews.com/article.php?art_id=4064

    Scary layers down there.

    Brian

  11. Mike December 27th, 2008 11:27 pm

    Very rough start to the year with another inbounds death at Jackson. I do have a dynifit question. Im thinking about mounting a pair of ft 12 to DPS lotus 120. Ive heard people say that they do not recommend skis fatter then 100mm underfoot with dynifits. Is this true? Also Can the breaks be bent(100mm) to fit the larger ski?
    Thanks Be Safe
    Mike

  12. John Gloor December 28th, 2008 1:27 am

    I just googled the Jackson slide. It appears there was a slide with an eight foot crown in terrain which had been recently skied. It is hard to tell from reports if the run was open or not. This is a very unfortunate way to drive the point home about inbound slides. For myself and my ski partners, I’m going to urge tranceiver usage on big powder days. We all own them and they weigh ounces. The victim was found and dug out in ten minutes!
    Are there any shovels which are small enough to be skied with at a resort without needing a pack or external carry sling? Perhaps under the jacket carry?

  13. Lou December 28th, 2008 5:57 pm

    Just back from some major slogging and plentiful human powered vert. Don’t mind getting some ribbing from Njord, but just so he knows, we usually do the walk and ride the cat once in a while to mix things up. It’s actually kinda cool, and will be a nostalgic memory when they put the lift in they’re planning to replace it with.

    On a more serious note, we’ve been at a hut for 3 days so have not been tracking the news. Sorry to hear about Jackson avy. We’ll keep the avy bloggin’ going. Trip report tomorrow.

    Thanks all for your comments!

  14. John Gloor December 28th, 2008 6:44 pm

    Njord, sorry about the critique. I did not catch the good natured ribbing between friends. My bad

  15. Mark Worley December 28th, 2008 6:55 pm

    Jackson has been getting unreal amounts of snow in the recent past and I’m a little concerned with the avy danger. My buddy George is up there right now. If you’re in the Tetons, be very careful.

  16. Lou December 28th, 2008 7:45 pm

    No worries Gloor, sometimes people do drop in here and leave posts that deserve our ire, so don’t hesitate to comment. We can always edit or delete comments if they turn out to be mis-directed. And besides, Njord is half serious anyway (grin).

  17. Lou December 28th, 2008 10:59 pm

    Latest tragedy at Jackson Hole, the guy was wearing a beacon. I remember skiing up there years ago and even back then the patrol had a list they kept of skiers who wore beacons. As much as any place, they’re the ones who legitimized the idea of wearing a beacon “inbounds.” Sad it didn’t help in this case.

  18. Carl December 29th, 2008 5:49 pm

    The Headwall at JH slid today. Several ‘troller’s caught but saved. The Gondola’s Restaurant was damaged. SR’s http://www.tetonat.com has images.

    It ain’t over, either.

    Carl/flatgate – who’s name was on that “pieps” list many years ago

  19. Scott Tucker November 5th, 2010 11:35 am

    Yeah When visibility gets sketchy like that you better hope you can manage your way to the bottom. It’s always nice to have an avalanche beacon with you for a little extra added security. I’ve been using the Pieps Dsp for a while, and have never had problems with it, especially when I feel like it’s going to get me out of a sticky situation!

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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