Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
Agro ski tourers, airbag air pockets, Teton sheep and more
Back from a goodly stint of traveling. Washington, then City on a Hill, on to OR show, then a few days at WildSnow Field HQ to unwind. Lisa filled up our wood-fired hot tub, the snow was cotton balls, avalanche danger low. Colorado at its best. Then, the siren call of my black plastic Logitech keyboard.
Ever wondered how and why snow crystals fall out of the sky in two main types, “flat star” and “column?” I never did. But thanks to the “pope” of snowflake physics my understanding of the natural world has been broadened. Cool stuff here.
A few days ago we blogged and podcasted about Bluebird Backcountry, a nascent human-powered ski area taking form in northeastern Colorado. Most of the commentators on that post had useful takes, but a disconcerting thread of negative elitism developed. I was surprised, as I could not (and still do not) see any downside to what these guys are trying with Bluebird, other than their taking a risk with a new business. My take is simple. I love backcountry skiing. It’s produced huge value for my family, friends, and countless other skiers across the globe. Since nearly dying in an avalanche in 1982 and subsequently shifting priorities, a top purpose in my life has been sharing the gift of wild snow. That’s why this website exists. Why my guidebooks exist. Why I chose a career that’s not particularly financially rewarding, but is ultimately fulfilling. If someone wants to help share the the gift, and their venue is a paid, human-powered resort, I say, “thanks for joining the mission.” More about Bluebird here.
Along the lines of backcountry skiing related business, check out a new hutting effort here in Colorado. I found it a little odd they’re expending the effort to restore a decrepit mining structure, instead of building something fresh and new. On the other hand, as a fan of our mining heritage I can see the point. No doubt the end result will be wonderful.
Did any of you uphill resort skiers see this? Ski tourer attacks snowcat driver, on film! If this happened here in central Colorado it would probably shut down our mountains for uphill, as we’re still in the kindergarten phase of how the activity is regulated (i.e.,”misbehave, we’ll shut it down for everyone.”). Apparently they’ve graduated from kindergarten in Europe, but are perhaps not so polite? Seriously, I’ve observed and wondered at the epic alcohol consumption many nighttime “piste tourers” enjoy at mountain-top restaurants and huts. I’m not against a good buzz now and then, but perhaps apre is more appropriate than pre? Apparently the guy attacking the cat driver was pre-soused. The sordid mess can be viewed here.
Regarding “science.” Want some intellectual stimulation regarding outdoor clothing fabric? Go here.
And more science, this time conservation biology. In Grand Teton National Park, a once prolific population of bighorn sheep is near total annihilation. The “Targhee Bighorn Herd” now numbers around a hundred individuals. According to a Wyoming wildlife expert I spoke with, valley development has blocked the sheep from their lower altitude winter range, forcing the animals to spend winters high in the Tetons — not their normal winter habitat. Adding to that, an incursion of mountain goats is competing with the noble, curly horned bighorn beasts for their highland terrain. The goats are an invasive species; they belong there no more than a noxious weed you’d spray or pull. But goats have four legs instead of a root. Let the politics begin.
The proposed logical solution is to kill all the weed goats via hunting and “helicopter gunning.” But PETA and other entities are bringing on the lawyers. As if that’s not enough confusion, the bighorn habitat is backcountry skiing habitat. Skiers are already restricted from several bighorn habitat areas. The restrictions may grow not only to protect more habitat, but to prevent skiers from being accidentally shot during the helicopter gunning. Stay tuned on this one. The self proclaimed “Chamonix of North America” could become more about Bighorn than Big Lines. More here. — And here.
Any of you among the clattering masses who’ve been wondering (and hoping) the auto-deflation of the Black Diamond Jetforce might create an air pocket if you do get buried by the white? A study published in Resuscitation Journal suggests this is indeed the case, and that the resulting air pocket is similar in efficacy to an Avalung (my own example). In other words, a significant grace period before asphyxiation. My cynical take says: Great, now we can worry less about the astounding number of incidents when for whatever reason a balloon doesn’t get triggered. My techie take says: Why not? The things have an electric fan — for cripes sakes, let’s use it to blow air both directions. More here, your thoughts?
As we’re on the subject of avalanche safety: Climbers get caught in avalanches too. In Canada, a reminder is circulating asking climbers to carry avy gear, if for no other reason than to reduce the danger and expense for SAR recovery of unfortunate souls without beacons. At least one extreme alpinist has told me he didn’t carry avy gear on alpine climbs because weight was so critical, and the chance of a shovel/beacon saving a life is somewhat limited by the nature of big slides on big peaks. The idea of only carrying a beacon results in an odd moral dilemma. Beacons, but no shovels or probes? What if a companion did somehow become buried in such as way as to be saved by companion rescue? And on the other side of the equation, beacon yet no shovel, a too-grim reminder of what you’re involved in?
Anyone experienced the problem heuristic of “plan escalation” while skiing avalanche terrain? You know, that pesky conversation that starts with something like: “This seems pretty stable, lets do the consequential line now that we know how things are…” One of this winter’s Colorado accidents is instructive. Condolences to all involved, may we learn from each other’s experiences.
Some of you pointed out my echoing silence during this past “enviro week” here on WildSnow. That was by intent. I felt it better to keep my mouth shut and enjoy you guys presenting your range of considered opinions. Now, however, this is my blog post so I get to rant: Your smartphone uses as much energy as your household refrigerator (due to data centers that are vacuuming, worldwide, twice the energy output of Japan). In fact, that little LCD faced entertainment nirvana might even use the energy of two refrigerators. If you’ve done the ultimate virtue signal of quitting air travel, I hope you gave up your frig as well, as who could ever give up their phone? More here. — And here.
I’ll end on a skimo up note. If you’ve been waiting for more U.S. competitors to podium in World Cup skimo, we’ve got some radical youth development underway. Just a little over a week ago, Coloradan Grace Staberg won the 18 to 20-year-old vertical race at Andorra (uphill only, 1,300 foot vertical sprint) a full minute ahead of her competitors! Other Norte Americanos were there as well. Article here.