Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
What to do on a rainy day? The eternal question. In the case of backcountry skiing, a rainy day (as in H20) does come once in a while, especially in wet and scrappy regions. In those zones, you just wring out your Gortex, cut arm holes in a garbage bag, and keep moving. Here in Colorado, rain doesn’t skunk as many backcountry days as high avy danger does. As recently, huge slabs are hanging nearly everywhere around here and no one seems to know when they’ll start dropping.
|So our eternal question: What do you do on an avy day? My approach is to get out and learn all the nooks and crannies within an hour drive of our home. Places where timbered slopes approach 30 degrees but only exceed that angle in short pitches; perhaps slopes that might face more sunny exposures that bake in the snow layers after nearly every storm so they don’t have the deep unconsolidated slabs you may find on northerly aspects. That’s what we’ve been doing the last few days — and it’s been pretty good.
Above, WildSnow guest blogger Dave Downing tests his Kilowatts and Cloudveil RPK Jacket. On this trip we explored the foothill terrain west of Carbondale, in the Marion Gulch area. Early season skiing back there is a no-go because of brush and timber, but during nearly every February and March you can find moderate terrain with some fun tree skiing in the Aspen forests. You have to do laps as the biggest vertical you’ll get is about a grand.
|Another option, only used when avy danger is marginal but not excessive, is dipping into the runout zone on an avalanche path for a few quick turns. We only do this when the snowpack is solid enough to eliminate the possibility of remote triggering a slide, and only in small doses way down at the toe of larger paths where you’re far away from the starting zone. Above from yesterday near McClure Pass, Colorado.|
|Another shot from yesterday, only in the trees. At around 30 degrees this slope could slide given worst case scenario, but it was short, varied in pitch and was quite heavily vegetated (not to mention having a solid snowpack). We assessed it as safe, though we still skied one at a time. The results were good.|
I take our local avalanche forecasts seriously. They’re all saying we’ve got some huge ones just waiting to fall, so I’m for tiptoeing around till the pack either locks up from warm weather or we do get a spectacular avalanche cycle that takes out the hangfire. Other options in this situation are to ski at the resorts, go nordic, or grab your mountain bike and head for Moab… As for me, I’m having too much fun this season getting in a huge backcountry day count — but doing it with care.