Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
Yesterday, in our nearby Elk Mountains of central Colorado, famed telemark skier Nick DeVore took a dire avalanche ride that resulted in a broken femur and backcountry helicopter rescue. It sounds like Nick was at the scene for quite some time, with associated blood loss from his injury. Super serious and definitely a close call for the guy. Nick is in hospital having undergone surgery yesterday (Thursday). Prayers from us for no complications and speedy healing. DeVore details here, and below is his own account from his Facebook:
From Nick: Well…..Its official. I’m laying down in my hospital bed with a broken femur, they have actually already fixed it with a titanium rod and a few screws. A small wet pocket ripped out as I jumped a cornice into this steep but short line, I almost had it but it sucked me in and sent my flying toward a protruding boulder where I broke my femur. I tomahawked and rolled and slid with the wet slide until I finely came to a stop and was just able to remove the snow from around my face, only my head was popping out. The pain was far beyond what I have experienced. After about two hours the helicopter came in a took me to Aspen Valley Hospital where I will be chilling for a while… Thanks for all the love and the incredible rescue performed by my friends and the heli peeps and the hospital!!
We’ve had somewhat of an extended winter in our area. Result is what the avy gurus are calling a “schizophrenic” snowpack. What’s happened is due to storms and cooler temps our snowpack overall has been delayed in the general settling and stabilization that occurs as temperatures warm and the sun is up longer. As a result a slope at just the right elevation and aspect will be bomber — while another slope perhaps higher or more northerly will remain layered and slabby, or with weird pockets of instability that are really hard to spot till you’re on them. Stability always varies of course, but in this situation it varies to an extreme degree.
My way of dealing with a schizo snowpack is to dial back my goals, and if we encounter unconsolidated snow to stay off steep areas where things may be hanging by a thread. Easier said than done, as any big day of ski alpinism is going to involve varied elevations and exposures. In the end, the safest approach is to suss out one aspect and elevation range that’s super safe, and just lap that for fun, leaving the big goals for another day. I’ll admit that’s a tough call for me, as I like summits and big lines as much as the next guy. But I try.
The other avalanche accident that truly elicits tears is that of Pannell Kuhl and Gregory Seftick, who were found this past Sunday buried in their tent in Garnet Canyon, Tetons. While it’s easy to second guess this one, I’d offer that when visibility is bad and you don’t know an area well, setting up camp in an avy runout is a mistake any of us could make. It sounds like Kuhl and Seftick were wonderful guys — our condolences to family and friends. More here.