Colorado Weekend – Avoiding the Avalanche Dance

Post by blogger | February 13, 2012      

When the avalanche predictions are Katrina II, what to do? How about skiing your zone where familiarity breeds complacency but also helps you find the safe routes. So our weekend shook out like this: Friday, head up to Marble, Colorado with assistant Joe and make a run on a skied-out safe zone. Saturday do a couple of uphill fitness laps at Aspen resort so Lisa could test out her newly fitted TLT5 ski boots. Sunday, back in Marble at WildSnow Field HQ with my bride for some meadow skipping and picnic lunch. Not exactly the makings of a new TGR film, but then, our millieu here at WildSnow is not exactly helicopter supported spine skiing. Instead, we simply love getting out, under our own power, doing anything ski related in the mountains.

Backcountry skiing in Colorado.

Joe this weekend in Colorado, in the safe zone. We've got him set up with Scarpa Rush boots, for the time being using G3 Zen Oxide from the Ultimate Quiver. His Dynafit Radical 12 binders have the heel pin removed and they seem to avoid auto-rotation when set to fairly high release value as Joe chooses to do. He's adjusting to a softer backcountry setup after many days on the resorts this winter in his alpine gear.

Marble, Colorado backcountry skiing.

These guys set well designed skin track, and were playing a good game of 'safe zone' themselves, though a bit less conservative than my sometimes overly excessive nod to caution.

So, what’s going on with our snowpack? If you live up in the PNW or Canadian coastal, perhaps you’ll smile smugly as you learn our plight here in continental Rockies. Sympathy, please. Yes, we’ve got facet piles deep enough to cover the Great Pyramid, and “sucker snow” bridging that I’m fervently praying does not create tragedy as our snowpack “feels” okay but hides deadly consequences. For those of you new to the game (or old hands wanting a refresher course), check out the Tremper video below. He certainly sets things out in learnable fashion.

Marble Peak avalanche path.

Marble Peak avalanche path this past Sunday. Lisa and I caught this view while doing some adjacent meadow skipping. Due to ski compaction the thing rarely runs full path anymore. Before it became popular as a backcountry run it ran full several times during some winters, and truly huge every few years (to the point of removing mature spruce trees). The upper bowl stays quite ski compacted, but nonetheless new storm snow can make it dangerous. The blue outlines are approximately where skier triggered avalanches fell a short time ago. While those slides put a good scare in nearby skiers, they served to substantially stabilize that area of the bowl. But, and it's a big but, the area outlined by red is still hanging and could run as indicated by rough drawn arrow, or larger. Yeah, it's a bit more south-southeast facing, but I've seen that section pull out during bad facet years such as this. Something to consider, especially if you're the guys messing around and it appears digging a snowpit as indicated by the middle arrow. The right arrow indicates a skier on the common uptrack, in an area with sometimes a bit disconcerting exposure to danger. Interestingly, in my opinion it's actually safer to climb a bit left of where the skin track goes at it's upper reach. Why? Because the more south-easterly snow in that section is much more stable than that of the stuff that starts to tilt northerly. More, the consequences of a smaller slide can be severe if you're on the upper portion of the existing skin track shown in the photo (it strainers through steep trees). By staying a bit farther left, you're in lower consequence terrain. Of course all that is moot if the big one comes down from above, but as I mentioned, that's rare now. Interesting chess game, as some days you'd perhaps be scared of the big one and stay farther right, other days, more left... and so on.

Skiing Colorado powder snow.

I caught this babe in the backcountry. She even went home with me.

Backcountry snack.

Back at the ranch.


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6 Responses to “Colorado Weekend – Avoiding the Avalanche Dance”

  1. ellen hollinshead February 13th, 2012 2:35 pm

    Nice diagram Lou. And thanks. It is good to see the blue lines and what has slid since the hubby and I are both anxious to ski Marble but also are a bit scared. Any idea if the Alleys have slid this winter?

    And one comment on TLT 5’s used by Lisa (women)who tend to have colder feet – I first demoed and then bought a TLT 5 in a shell size bigger than my Dyanfit Gaias, but I put my Gaia liner in my TLT 5 boot – keeps me warmer and took up a little volume. Plus, with a bigger TLT 5 shell, I don’t have to re-mount any dynafit bindings so I can use all my boots on the same skis. I did gain some toe space with a bigger shell, but that boot locks down into ski mode so well, it really didn’t detract from downhill performance.

  2. Lou February 13th, 2012 3:47 pm

    Ellen, LOL, Lisa did exactly the same thing, only we’re waiting for a set of Pro Tour for the TLT. In the meantime, she’s probably going to try her Gaia liners. Perhaps she’ll chime in.

  3. Glenn February 13th, 2012 7:18 pm

    Toe warmers are a girls best friend. I never have used them but I never leave home without the hand warmers. Nice story Lou. I was out just behind my Cabin Saturday near Meredith and found Bricks on top of potato chip conditions. Nice idea to just skin up Tiehack and ski back down after a lunch and beer at the top. Back Country is not the place to be greater than 30 degrees right now. Stay safe and nice babe you have there. Keep her.

  4. Jon February 13th, 2012 7:50 pm

    We just had our first death in a long time in telluride today. Local snowboarder in contention, a side country run. Details will come out later, but he had an airbag and avalung, but they didn’t, save him from hitting trees. Airbag was ripped to pieces. Technology can’t replace good judgement and conservitave choices on dangerous days. My heart goes out to the family and friends.

  5. Mark W February 13th, 2012 10:40 pm

    Complex terrain there in Marble looks inviting, perhaps difficult to navigate. Thanks for the detailed analysis.

  6. Greg G February 14th, 2012 1:56 pm

    I have always thought that more diagrams of safe uphill and downhill routes would be a great addition to Avy classes and discussions. Even for someone that doesn’t ski a particular spot, its valuable info. Thanks for sharing.

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