Inbounds Avalanches — Perish the Thought!

Post by blogger | December 14, 2007      

Way back when, publisher Mitch Weber gave me the impression he was somewhat of an “area skier” rather than a committed backcountry earn-your-turns aficionado. But over past years his backcountry activity seems to have increased (or perhaps he’s just made a point of sharing more). This much to mine and many other’s delight, since Mitch is a good writer with a passion for covering the the sport of ski touring.

Thus, it was an ironic twist last weekend when Mitch and his friends tangled with an inbounds avalanche at Mammoth resort in which two of his buddies came close to serious injury or death.

They’re all okay, so my puckish side wants to say, “Mitch, you’d better spend even more time earnin ’em, it’s safer!” With that said, however, I was indeed alarmed when I read Mitch’s report and wish to extend those indomitable Teletipers a heartfelt “glad you’re okay!”

It all gets me thinking… North American resorts should indeed receive praise for how much steep natural terrain they’re now doing avalanche control on and opening. Yet there is a catch. If you want enough snow left on a slope to ski, you can’t blast it all off with explosives or carpet bomb it to the point of being unskiable. And as we all learn in avy class, if the ingredients for a slide exist (snow, slab, sliding surface, trigger and slope angle), an avalanche is possible. Perhaps remotely possible, but… as Mitch and his friends’ experience proves, possible.

So don’t laugh when you see guys in the lift line with Avalung packs and shovels. And son, you WILL wear that beacon and ski with a buddy when you’re poking around the corners of the resorts.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


44 Responses to “Inbounds Avalanches — Perish the Thought!”

  1. cory December 14th, 2007 9:33 am

    Glad to hear all is ok with the teletips peeps. On a side note, alot of the reason I prefer wildsnow to teletips is because of the earn your turns mentality. Next thing you know they’re gonna be putting a snowmobile on their Christmas list. (Complete with blaze orange coveralls and furry hat with flaps).

  2. Lou December 14th, 2007 9:40 am

    Okay Cory, snowmobile point taken , but we decided to get helmets instead of the farmer hats.

  3. Tom G December 14th, 2007 9:55 am

    That’s a wild video. It appears that the first skier dosen’t have a head lamp. I wonder how he was able to see where he was going. I kept waiting for the spot light to show him tracking right into a tree!

  4. Lou December 14th, 2007 10:13 am

    Tom, the front skier is a gal, and she’s super, she could probably ski pow just fine with her eyes closed. That said, she was probably getting enough light to see as much as needed.

  5. cory December 14th, 2007 11:03 am

    The worst thing is I have a hat with flaps and as much as I hate to say it, it is probably the warmest hat in my fleet.

  6. Matt Kinney December 14th, 2007 4:21 pm

    The beacon makers would surely enjoy a rush to buy beacons by the resort crowd masses. Might help drive the cost down. :-0

    More backcountry experience in untracked terrain is the best way to get the knowledge to ski those steep resort shots on powder days. If all you do is ski resorts, you are unlikely to recognize a slab til it hits you in the face. Seemed like a case of Saturday Fever After Big Storm Syndrome. They have been desperate. jonesing for snow and turns. down their and went directly to the some of the steepest untracked terrain in Mammoth. Kinda like Day One and that always drive the skii Human factor more than terrain, patrollers, etc…. IMHO. Glad they only hurt their egos.

  7. Tom G December 14th, 2007 6:23 pm

    Everyone, both here and at the TT forum keeps talking about how we should carry safety gear in-bounds and be avy aware at the resort just like we are in the BC. Maybe I’m the only one, but when I go the resort and pay $80+ for a ticket I trust that the ski patrol ensures terrain is safe from avalanches or dosen’t open it. I know that no one is perfect, but the potential for danger seems pretty obvious here – steep slope, 3 feet of new snow, little or old base. It seems that the persons involved in the incident are being awfully hard on themselves for not practicing safe skiing, but the resort basically makes a commitment that you are free from avy danger when riding their open terrain. I’m surprised that no one is being critical of the resort operators in this instance. Should a tourist from have to practice safe avy practices while on vacation at an American resort? I don’t think so. Even the Euros seem to represent that you are safe while on their pistes. It would be very interesting to read a full accident investigation report on this incident. What sort of snow pack evaluation did the Mammoth patrol make? Did they dig pits? Perform stability tests? If so, what did they find? Or did they simply throw some bombs and do some ski cuts? Is it responsible to rely somewhat blindly on throwing bombs? How do budgetary concerns effect the decsion of when to bomb? Lots of questions for sure. Now I’m certainly not one of the people who holds the resort operators completely responsible for my safety or my lack of personal responsibility. I accept the risks I know I’m taking when resort skiing. They do tell us there are hazards out there – trees, rocks, cliffs, man made structures, etc. But I don’t think the back of my lift ticket says beware of avalanches. I hope the ski patrol dosen’t skate away from this without critique as our national hero worship of emergency service providers so often leads to. I guess the moral of the story is that nature always wins, even when you have a backpack full of explosives. Nevertheless the ski patrol should be accountable for their actions just like I should be accountable for mine.

  8. Lou December 14th, 2007 9:33 pm

    Tom, my opinion is that anyone who likes poking around in the steeper less skied terrain at a western resort should consider skiing with a buddy and carry a small shovel/pack and beacon. The ski patrol tries, but they’re not perfect.

    It’s like snowplows and salt on the road. The crews sometimes keep up with things, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes their salt truck skips a section and they don’t even know it. So one might drive winter roads with a bit more caution…and ski with a bit more caution as well.

  9. Marc December 14th, 2007 10:08 pm

    I’m glad to hear Mitch and his friends are OK!

    Being a ski patroler myself, I can say that having an inbounds avalanche occure on an open run is every patrolers worst nightmare. I finding it commending that Mitch did not place any blame on Mammoth Mountain Resort and the Ski Patrol, even though he certainly had grounds to. Few people may realize the pressure put on ski patrols on control mornings… A storm has rolled in, dumping large amounts of new snow. Teams head out the door (often times in the dark) to control potentially unstable slopes with explosives and ski cuts while the public and mountain management eagerly wait for an opening. Our patrol has received letters complaining about the appearant overuse of explosives, delayed openings and excessive ski tracks in unopened terrain. I have personally recieved a cell phone call from mountain management while on a control route asking “What’s taking so long?!”. All of this, and one has to manage to stay safe, effectively assess stability and make a decision whether to open a run or not.

    I’m not trying to defend the Mammoth Ski Patrol, but Tom’s attitude seems a little accusational. I garantee those guys at Mammoth are asking themselves how this happend and what they can do to prevent it from happening again! At some point we need to take some responsibility for ourselves. When it snows three feet and the plows come and clear the streets, are you garanteed that you wont get your car stuck?

    Although ski areas do what they can to reduce risk and increase safety, nothing is garanteed. Skiing inbounds with a beacon and a small pack that contains a shovel and probe on a powder day is a good idea. Every year I see more and more people doing it. The pack can double as a back protector on those big hucks, and you’re prepared for avalanches no matter which side of the rope you are on.

    After such a tramatic event, I was most impressed with Mitch when he said that coming prepared with avy gear to ski is an “opportunity and challenge to stay sharp and to be prepared on each and every powder day, no matter the venue”.

    Right on Mitch, I’m happy you guys are alive!

  10. Mark December 15th, 2007 12:12 am

    Glad Mitch and crew are okay. Those guys play a big role in the sport.

  11. Geof December 15th, 2007 12:29 am

    Tom G…

    It’s nice to assume that things inbounds will be perfect and ski patrol has total control. But, it ain’t the case. They do a GREAT job IMO of keeping things controlled while maintaining something skiable, as Lou mentioned. Just look at A-Basin a couple years ago. A guy died on Palavincini in an Avy. Late season, should have been just fine… The snow god’s deemed it otherwise. A lift ticket doesn’t insure absolute safety in any way…

    Really, It would be great to see the resorts all go the the Reccor (I think that’s what it is) system and at least they would have some sort of system for possible avalanche situations…

  12. Mugs December 15th, 2007 5:46 am

    Glad to here that everyone’s OK. I’ve made a point of skiing with tranceiver, probe and shovel in resort since sharing a bubble down with a Whistler ski instructor (complete with jacket) who’d just been avalanched inbounds. I do hide the shovel and probe though in my pack 🙂

  13. Marc December 15th, 2007 7:50 am

    Recco chips are excellent insurance for inbounds skiers. The Recco device can detect anything that has a diaode in it; i.e. cell phones, i pods, radios, beacons, etc. But, from my experience, the best results come from the chips themselves. If you’re in the market for new gear, consider purchasing something that has a recco chip in it. In addition, you can also buy recco chips seperately and put them in a pocket, pack, etc. They are inexpensive and about the size of a stick of gum. Without a recco or a beacon though, you’re relying on avalanche dogs and/or a probe line. The former can be very effective, but may take a while to get the dogs on scene. The later is not as effective and usually ends up being a recovery, rather than a rescue. Being prepared and skiing with a buddy insures that you are the rescuer in a worst case scenario.

  14. AJ December 15th, 2007 3:22 pm

    Recco is fine for body recovery (or the recovery of your pack if you put in there)

    unfortunately it’s just too slow to deal with real world situations

  15. Tom Gosiorowski December 15th, 2007 6:43 pm

    Well, this is certainly thought provoking. If my post sounded acusatory it was meant to be. I’m not trying to be a jerk, I just think that the ski resort operator shouldn’t be held harmless when there is an inbounds avalanche. I’ve got no problem with people carrying avy safety gear when skiing steep inbounds terrain – if everyone understands that carrying such gear is necessary and expected. I don’t think that Joe Public understands this, nor do the resort operators inform people of the danger of avalanches. Remember that most resort skiers aren’t like the people reading this blog. I’ll refer to Lou’s snow plowing analogy (not picking on Lou here, but it’s a good analogy). The difference with snowplowing is that everyone expects the road to be slippery when it’s snowing, even though it’s being plowed. I don’t think resort skiers expect there to be avalanche danger becasue they believe the resort is effectively controlling it, and the resort operators don’t say otherwise. I actually read the small print on my ski pass today – not one word about avalanches. I guess what I’m really saying should be happening is that resorts should open steep off-piste terrain, they should do their best to eliminate the avalanche hazard, and they should honestly explain to their guests that the hazard exists and that the guest needs to participate in ensuring their own safety by carrying and knowing how to use avy gear. Silverton is an excellent example of this. They professionally take reasonable measures to eliminate the avalanche hazard, but they inform the guest of the danger and require them to carry gear. No problem. In the Mammoth case, we can assume the resort acted responsibly to eliminate the danger (although we have no way of knowing this) but they failed to make people aware that on that particular terrain there was a higher level of risk. I don’t expect the resort operator or ski patrol to be perfect, but the should create realistic expectations with their guests for what level of safety they are able to deliver. I’d love to see this approach more prevalant in the US and see more natural terrain opened up. Thanks to everyone who has posted for helping me continue to collect my own thoughts on this issue.

  16. Lou December 15th, 2007 6:49 pm

    Indeed, Recco is basically a cadaver finder when it comes to avalanches, but then, so is a beacon to a rather sobering extent…

  17. Lou December 15th, 2007 7:19 pm

    Tom, good points. With Silverton leading the way, I’d expect we’ll see resorts addressing the gear issue at some point. I’m sure they’ve talked about requiring helmets, for example. BUT, head injuries vs skier days are quite rare, and inbounds avalanches are about as rare as a dodo bird, so I wouldn’t expect avy gear or helmets to be mandated any time soon at most resorts.

    A good example of mandated gear is that everyone has to use safety straps or ski brakes. Anything else? Clothing instead of streaking (grin)?

  18. Josh Hartung December 15th, 2007 7:54 pm

    Hey everybody…

    Just for a little situational information, Mammoth Mountain is one of the most avalanche prone ski resorts in North America. Every day is a battle for the ski patrol to be on top of the avy danger and because of that every day is a compromise. Including this year, the last 3 seasons have seen large inbounds avalanches release on the upper mountain. In 05-06, Climax slid out unexpectedly, burying a couple people and generally freaking everybody out. Patrol got extremely conservative the following season, rarely opening the upper mountain before new snowfall had a few days to settle. In 06-07, The Paranoids slid to ground in the morning while the patrol still had the place closed off. When climax slid, they dropped twice the normal compliment of explosives on it and it didnt budge. Then people skiied it all day. No one thought that it would go except the head patroller who had a “bad feeling” about it. Mammoth is an extremely difficult place to predict avy activity. Tom, you say that the resort should “eliminate” avalanche danger. Any patroller worth their salt will tell you that they ought not to even open the mountain then. Especially in a place like Mammoth, where the skill level is extremely high and the customers are really wealthy, waiting until there is zero risk would be completely impractical.

    Furthermore, last season was really awful in terms of snowfall and there is a major expectation in the community that customers just won’t come if there isnt considerable snow by xmas. 90% of the Mammoth customer base is from LA, about 6 hrs away. Most of them are independently wealthy and can just as well fly to a different mountain that actually has snow. Therefore, the pressure is very high on Patrol to open the mountain fully and to get reports of some excellent pow days out to the world. The ski business has such a small margin that many shops simply can’t survive 2 bad seasons. The mountain itself is hurting too, especially after spending a bunch on replacing one of it’s oldest chairs with a high speed 6 (chair 9).

    What I am saying: give these guys a break. You are in danger of avalanche whenever you go into steep terrain in a resort, whether you know it or not. And knowing it wouldnt keep anyone out.

  19. Geof December 15th, 2007 9:28 pm

    The thing is, 99.9% of the time there is little to no danger inbounds to skiers RE avy’s. At least not anything life threatening. Other careless people are a FAR greater threat… Most trail maps have the generic “mountain sports are inherently dangerous” bla bla bla… this obviously is considered “good enough” for the lawyer types, and insurance co’s… However, sh!t happens sometimes and while unfortunate, it is what it is.

    When it comes to the mountains that have bigger terrain, there are usually statements regarding the “extreme” nature of the given slopes along with warnings etc. Again, given the nature of lawsuits these days, I would think if the danger were even slightly serious the ‘suits’ would be ALL over it.

    Tom G… Based on your language, if an avy were to occur inbounds and you were a victim, serious or not… you would sue said resort? Just curious???

  20. Tom Gosiorowski December 16th, 2007 10:07 am

    Thanks to Josh for the insight on the Mammoth situation. Basically I had suspected as much and that was why I tried point the finger at the resort operator as much or more than at the ski patrol. I think it’s irresponsible to put your custormers are risk for the sake of marketing without explaining to people what they are getting into. As far as eliminating avy danger in the resort, that’s the goal but it’s certainly not possible to eliminate all risk. Nevertheless, if Mammoth has had three in-bounds avalanches in 5 years then I think it’s safe to say that they are pushing the limits of acceptable risk. One thing I’ve assumed here is that the resort dosen’t advise the customer of the risk, maybe Mammoth does require beacons and warn people of the danger, which it would be fine to do in my book.

    As for Geof’s question about would I sue, that’s a tough one and something I’ve wondered about. I’m not a fan of our sue-happy culture, but it seems that in the US corporate responsibility is created in the courts rather than in the boardroom. Certainly it would depend on the situation, what the resort was advising the customer of, etc. I wouldn’t say I that I would absolutly not sue. I’m not sure if that makes me part of the problem or part of the solution, but for better or worse lawsuits have probably brought about as much change in America as any other process we have. I think that covering your but with a vauge statement on a trail map seems weak to me. Tell people what the risks are, advice them to take appropriate action, and let them make their choice.

    Lou, great point about the ski brake. I wasn’t around pre- safety device (not saying that you were either!), but this is something the skiing masses certainly have adopted, and required. Probably a good and prudent example of “the man” interferring with our liberties. Of course the danger associated with a runaway ski is much more obvious to the average resort skier than the danger from avalanches.

  21. Jason Hendrickson December 16th, 2007 8:08 pm

    Good post, Lou. I’m glad to hear everyone was ok. It’s certainly one of those dangers most of us don’t plan for.

    As for resolving the important issue of just exactly who to point the finger at, I would like to point out that all of my passes from the last few years cite “existing and changing snow conditions” as an inherent dangers of skiing. This, of course, isn’t an explicit warning about avalanche danger, but I believe that an avalanche could fall into the category of “changing snow conditions”.

    More to the point, though, the skier warnings don’t explicitly spell out any truly rare or remote dangers that exist in the mountains during the ski season. Falling trees, falling branches, falling rocks, large wildlife on the trails, even lightning, all occur but none are listed in the warnings. Of these, I’ve heard lightning in the spring in Steamboat, and almost skied into a moose in Jackson (pretty clearly my fault), but I’ve never seen an in-bounds avalanche on an open slope.

    My point here is that there are any number of obvious and not-so obvious natural hazards present anytime we venture out beyond our front doors, let alone into high alpine environments. What I see time and again is that when one of these hazards snares someone, people immediately start looking for someone else to blame. As if humanity has such a control of nature that adverse events could only happen if someone screwed up. That is simply not the case. What is evident to me in this case is the effectiveness of ski patrollers across the country at preventing exactly this kind of event time and again.

    Consider these numbers. To my knowledge, in Colorado, there were two skier deaths due to in-bounds avalanches from 1976 to the present. Last year, there were 12.6 million skier days, and if we assume there was half that in 1976, we could average about 9 million skiers days per year for 31 years. That leaves us with 2 deaths to 279,000,000 skier days, or odds of 1 in 139,500,000, close to the odds of winning the grand prize in powerball. Now consider how many avalanche-related deaths there are in the backcountry, where most skiers are avalanche aware and prepared. The numbers are tougher to figure for this, but I’m pretty sure the odds are a lot greater that 1:139.5 million. If this were South Lake, you know where my money would be.


  22. Carl December 16th, 2007 8:27 pm

    I don’t for a second doubt that the Mammoth Mountain ski patrol is doing the best they can with the resources they have available to them. But maybe Mammoth Mountain (and the other North American ski areas) need to start figuring out a better way to communicate with the public what they are selling (that is, if they wish to be honest with their customers). $79 bucks for a day of skiing at Mammoth for a chance to be caught in a post control slide? No thanks! Perhaps it’s time for the resort to reduce the “inbounds” controlled terrain and their prices accordingly and leave the other stuff lift-accessible but not controlled or patrolled.

    ps: I’m glad to here they are hurting from upgrading chair 9. took one of the best daylong powder stashes and now its tracked-out in an hour.

  23. Josh Hartung December 17th, 2007 12:33 am

    Yeah, I think replacing chair 9 hurts us more than them. Still like to see some gapers head out that traverse to the Tail, though.

  24. Henri December 17th, 2007 6:37 am

    Nice post and great discussion, and nobody is getting snarky!

    Just thought I might mention how its done in Europe (Switzerland at least) as I find its a great system.

    All of the runs are marked with wands and flags, are controlled and are guaranteed safe from avalanches. Should you choose to venture off the marked piste you do so at your own risk. The daily avalanche report is prominently displayed at the base and at the top of all lifts, with a large blinking light warning you when the hazard is 3 or above.

    If you get into a situation which requires rescue, thats fine, you will be rescued/recovered, but you have to pay for it.

  25. Lou December 17th, 2007 7:10 am

    Yeah, nice thread you guys! Not only enjoyable reading, but a good resource for people researching this issue in the future.

  26. Hans December 17th, 2007 6:30 pm

    Have to respectfully disagree- except for what Josh and Jason posted, there is a lot of BS and speculation here, and Mammoth has had enough go down in the last few years without more second-guessing by the under-informed.

    Mammoth’s patrol has more than enough resources, experience and skill- they systematically bomb the ever-lovin crap out of that hill. The entire ridgeline of the upper mountain gets massively loaded w/ every storm- they gun it, bomb it, ski cut every run, and manually control every single substantial drift, cornice, and pillow up there.

    Post control avalanches do happen- but they are about the least of the hazards on the mountain, which also include toxic fumeroles, deep tree wells, unmarked obstacles and cliffs, a terrain park with supercross-sized gaps, and 30,000 oxygen-deprived tourists from Southern California hurtling willy-nilly.
    Despite all those hazards, the body count remains less than say, recreational boating on resevoirs.

    Mammoth is one of the only resorts in the country with an open boundary policy and a strong aversion to closures. They open terrain that you can’t experience at most resorts.
    The slide in question occured in steep alpine terrain, accesed by hiking a precipitous ridgeline where a stumble will send you off an intimidating headwall into large rocks (which is something I would have been far more concerned about than a slide). Anyone dumb enough to get over there w/o knowing what they are doing is going to get Darwined anyway.

    I wear a beeper on many powder/storm days- not because the patrol doesn’t do their job, but because I am seeking out the most loaded areas on steeper terrain/in the trees- it’s always possible to get flushed into a tree well by your own slough, even when it’s “stable”.

    The patrol at mammoth is competent, battle-hardened, always beeping, deploys rapidly, has recco and a dog- you’ll get dug out a lot faster there then you will with your buddies in the BC.

    Full avalanche protocol is not needed at Mammoth, IMO, but staying out of terrain traps, skiing anchor to anchor, ski cutting deposition zones, being aware of sudden temp rises, etc., is always good idea when your skiing fresh snow on ANY steep alpine terrain. and why not wear a beeper when there’s probably a patroller within 2 minutes who’s ready to search?

    Tom G, skiing powder above timberline will never, ever be a safe experience. Mammoth Mountain will never be a safe place. Thank God.

    Mammoth’s ski patrol puts their lives on the line to get that hill open for us and make it as safe as possible. You won’t hear any locals criticizing them, ever. We’re just grateful that they’re willing to do a scary job.

  27. mountaincrash December 26th, 2007 8:15 pm

    What song is on that video clip?

  28. Lou December 26th, 2007 8:57 pm

    Ralph Stanley and companions version of the old gospel song “Children Go Where I Send The.”

  29. Robert January 1st, 2008 2:59 pm

    I don’t think one should ever assume that terrain outside of marked slopes is safe. Whether off-piste skiing is inbounds or out of bounds makes no difference.
    I hope this incident makes people realise they are always responsible for their own safety, “even” when skiing inbounds, and should not rely on someone else to do their thinking for them. Unfortunately, inbounds off-piste avalanche fatalities do occur every year in Europe. Most victims get caught out without beacons. Ski patrol is not at all held responsible for these incidents, as it is a well known fact over here that, while pistes are made safe, off-piste skiing is always at the skier’s own risk. Pistes are there because they indicate safe terrain to ski. One cannot expect ski patrol to secure every single bit of terrain outside of the marked slopes.

    Read this excellent analyis of avalanches in France in 2006-2007 for some examples of inbounds accidents:

  30. Barry January 6th, 2008 10:22 pm

    Sunday Jan 6 – inbounds avalanche at Big White ski area in southern British Columbia, 3 partial burials, one thought to be completely buried but later found elsewhere on the hill. The bowl in question was controlled on Saturday Jan 5 with ski cutting and hand bombs. Pretty interesting and worthy of further discussion.

  31. Lou January 7th, 2008 1:25 am

    Yeah, I truly believe this is going to become more common as resorts try to provide more terrain that’s a natural snow experience. Skiing with a buddy and a beacon just seems wise, but having some awareness is probably more important than anything.

  32. Marc January 7th, 2008 11:15 am

    I have to disagree with AJ and Lou. The Recco device is as speedy as a beacon in most search senarios. The thing that takes the most time is getting the Recco to the avalanche site; which is no different than a beacon if you are relying on the ski patrol to conduct a search. Remember the first rule of an avalanche rescue? YOU ARE THE RESCUER. If a victim is burried and doesn’t have a beacon on, the Recco device and avalanche dogs are their best bet for survival. I would have to correct Lou and say that a probe line is more of a cadaver recovery tool than a beacon or the Recco.
    I am revisiting this topic because this past weekend we had several feet of new snow on top of some shallow, week facets at our mid-mountain elevations and had several in bounds avalanches. One in particular occured post control, was skier triggered and burried a 15 yr old boy. There were several witnesses and ski patrol was on scene with the Recco device in a matter of minutes. The boy was recovered in 10 minutes and had no injuries! He was not wearing a beacon, but was found by the patrol being guided by a witness who had a very accurate last seen point. The victim was recovered with his head downhill and burried in about three feet of snow. The Recco device and the avalanche dogs were used to clear the rest of the slide path and confirm that there was only one victim.
    In my opinion there are a few basic guidelines one should follow when skiing on a “powder day” at the resort: 1) never ski alone 2) you and everyone in your party should, at the very least, be wearing beacons and know how to use them 3) better yet, have shovels and probes too 3) carry a cell phone 4) respect closures – there is nothing worse than having someone poach a run the ski patrol is controlling with explosives! 5) have a general knowledge of the snowpack and the hazard you are dealing with.
    Lastly, the Recco device is just another tool used in avalnche rescue. I believe it deserves a little more credit than it as gotten here. Like all tools, it requires familiarity and practice. If you are unwilling to abide by some of the guidelines mentioned above and get caught in a slide, then it just might be the Recco that finds you, dead or alive.

  33. AJ January 8th, 2008 1:02 pm

    Hello Mark,

    Glad the boy is ok.

    In a situation like this Recco works fine. But I think you’ll have to agree that this scenario really can’t get any better. One victim, Recco and dog on the scene in minutes. A witness.

    You’re right. It’s another tool. Useful in some situations. Worthless in others. Just like a beacon.

    You’re absolutely right with your guidelines.

    My main concern with Recco is response time. Distance, terrain, weather can easily turn a short trip into something epic. And meanwhile the clock is ticking. How many Recco devices are there in an average resort? One?

    I see your point. I’ll give Recco credit. But I see even more variables in this equation.

    Happy skiing and stay safe.

    PS today seven people were caught in an inbounds slab avalanche in Austria, luckily only one person sustained minor injuries.

  34. Marc January 8th, 2008 11:01 pm

    You’re right AJ; response times are going to vary in all situations. If someone in your party gets buried and you have to go for help, their chances of survival decrease minute by minute. It doesn’t matter if the help performs a search with a dog, beacon or recco… like you said, the clock is still ticking.

    I can’t believe all the in bounds avalanches this year! It’s frightening. This must be the year for in bounds avalanches and sore feet! (Seems like half the Patrol are pulling their boots off and rubbing their feet these days. I just had my boots punched for the first time ever!)

    Thanks AJ. Safe skiing.
    Cheers, Marc.

  35. Kris January 9th, 2008 11:51 am

    Just thought I’d chime in on the gear requirement comment – Sunshine Village at Banff won’t let you into certain in-bounds terrain without avy gear.

  36. steve ritchey January 18th, 2008 7:31 pm

    The in bounds avalanche at the Big White ski resort was very sad. A 21 year old male lost his life in that one. He was an employee of the mountain. He was from Australia, living out his dream to ride the mountains of B.C. He was snow boarding alone that day….no buddy and no beacon. In this case neither would have saved his life. He was burried 4 meters down. If you google Big White avalanche you will get lots of info and pictures.

  37. greg February 23rd, 2008 7:03 pm

    Not to be too obsessed with the moribund, but does anybody have a comprehensive list of inbounds accidents this year? (not just deaths, but anything that caught a skier) It seems alarmingly large to me. As a skier in south west Colorado I am exposed to a lot of avi terraine. On days riding chairs it is not much better, but the massive amounts of explosives used at Silverton and Telluride ski areas give some senes of security. As we have discussed in other settings, beacons, shovels, partners are merely a way to salvage a horrible situation. Best to stay on top of the snow.

  38. billy ryder July 3rd, 2008 7:51 am

    looking for info – check — they have a list that is getting bigger — also ski areas do not have to report bad accidents and they have not been reporting correctly for years

  39. Lou July 3rd, 2008 8:26 am

    Good link Billy, thanks!

  40. scott williams September 25th, 2009 3:14 am

    Hi all and thanks to everyone posting! I must say you all have done a remarkable job of keeping things very civil… a pleasure to read! I came across this while doing research for post control releases.

    First I have a question to pose to the community: How much risks does an inbounds skier assume? My thought is it depends ALOT on the skier.

    Some seem to think that there should be no responsibility, while others definatly pushed the boundries… Silverton was mentioned. Mt. Baker was not mentioned although they acutally opened up the resort (very steep and avy prone) for a couple days a couple years ago having done very little control, but required skiers (and snowboarders) to have all neseceties. They are also one of the leaders in deep snow asphixiation (resorts in Tahoe are also in there). Remember, even if you don’t think you should have to ski inbounds with a tranciever… inbounds slides happen and to ignore this is well, ignorant… keep it real.

    Let me just put this out there just to help keep it real… No steep ski area is ever 100% free of hazard. The Alps a few years ago had a moguled PISTE slope slide and burry many folks, and there are many more tails of this… I have my own from Copper Mountain about 15 years ago. The patrol had opened up a slope, but due to low snow cover and just opening it up they were directing people down… modified guiding style. I had about 6 runs on it and it was beginning to look tracked out byt the end of the day. The next day it slid to ground- 4 foot crown. Took 2 more months to get snow on it to ski.

    Some myths to dispell… Most ski areas are using Recco now, but it’s slow to find people. It takes time to get it on scene- figure 5-10 minutes and another 5-10 to find a victum…15 minutes to dig someone up burried 1 meter deep is really good, but 50% are dead after 30 minutes burried (if not the 25% that die by trama on the way down). Dogs work great, but once again 5 to 10 minutes to get a dog on scene… 5 to 15 minutes to search depending on size, slope and obsticals present, you might be alive when my dog finds you, but will probably be dead by the time I dig you up. With a tranciever, If i see you get burried, I can find you in about 3 to 5 minutes, 15 to 20 minutes to dig you up… you might actually survive to ski another day… A tranciever really is the best method and it’s great to see more folks getting them especially with the cost of gear going over $1000 for a good set up. There are more tools on the market though… the Avalung, Air bags… more gets invented all the time.

    The best way to not die in an avalanche is to NOT get caught (take a level I and II avalanche course), use propper ski party management and get a tranciever. Avalanche training: $200-$500, Tranciever: $200- $300. The cost of another pow day: priceless. Anyways, I hope some of this helped… Stay well… Work hard, Party hard, Ski harder!

  41. Randonnee September 25th, 2009 9:24 am

    This is the real consideration- “The best way to not die in an avalanche is to NOT get caught”

    The trend of excusing Professionals especially Ski Area Professionals is troubling and misguided. A competent Professional in a controlled area should get it right at such a high percentage as to be very low-risk indeed. Yes, I had that job, the ultimate call for over 200 avalanche paths inbounds at a ski area. The properly trained Professionals given the funding and manhours should absolutely monitor and reduce inbounds hazard to near zero. Any less is just a cop-out to allow for less expense for the Operator.

  42. scott williams September 26th, 2009 7:26 pm

    Hi Randonnee….

    I’m curious about your experience. How much were you right? How long did it take you to get the experience and judgement to be 100% right? Most pros start out as rookies with little experience or training. Most of their experience is/ was gained on the job.

    I have had the job of professional patroller for over 10 years at a class A area (220 paths inbounds) and now another few for a state highway department as an avalanche forecaster. Though my experience I have realized that I am not god and hence am not right 100% of the time. This past season saw ALOT of post control realeases all across the western US… when you pepper a slope you would expect it NOT to slide afterward (we’re talking over 70 lbs of explosives) and they have still slid… All I’m saying is that it’s a reality. The ski areas are there and they do their best. When have you ever been right 100% of the time?

    You had an argument of keeping things low risk… The average ski area is open from December 1 to April 15, a total of 136 days. There are aproximatly 35 ski areas in 11 states that do control work( there might actually be more- that was just off the top of my head) and some of these ski areas ar open from mid October into May, June or even July (Colorado I think actually has bragging rights to one of the longest ski seasons thanks to man made snow. And there has even been an ISSW presentation on manmade snow avalanches, which I didn’t think was possible… Google ISSW to find out more info). Anyways back to topic… 136 days multiplied by 35ish resorts is about 4760 possible control days (possibly more if a ski area has to do control to even open for employees to set up or tear down). Now how many employees does it take to do control? At the ski area I worked at is was 26-28 (we’re a small resort). Maybe thats an average to go with… another ski area close by utilizes 8-10- different terain configuration and management. so i’ll go with 25 to be on the conservitive side. Take the 35 resorts and multiply by 25 employees that’s 875 people doing control on 4760 days and anyone of those employees can have a bad day- we all do… well you can see where I’m going with this. Then start looking at skier visits (I’m guessing over 50 million skier visits to these resorts alone. Mamoth, Vail, Breck, Copper, Squaw, Alpine, Aspen, Telluride, Jackson probably are over 2 million skier visits each) and accidents which were about 10 this season in bounds and …. pretty small numbers as far as accidents per visit. You might argue that 1 is a high number and it is definately a tragedy… Squaw Valley even lost one of their employees to one this year. But They are all learning experiences… The thing I learned is that I am NEVER 100% right and my best educated guess is still just a guess. So I wear a tranciever and ski with a partner who is also beeping because I have a plan B if all goes to pot. I take responsibility for my safety. I dont expect the ski area to be 100% safe- because it will never be.

    Next question: Suppose you show up at your favorite resort (or at least your local resort/ski hill). I just dumped 3 ft and thye opperator refuses to open due to a suspected hazard. You were there early enough to hear contorl work being done and maybe even saw some results from the parking lot. What do you do ?

    A) Randonnee up the hill anyways thinking they did control… what could be the matter?
    B) Your not going home… you called in sick to ski some pow and they should not be closed… they did control. Go complain to guest relations to open the resort.
    C) Go ski you favorite Backcountry haunt, it’s close to the resort and there’s 3 feet of new. There’s gotta be some low angle hippy pow to ski or is that steep line calling your name?
    D) Go home… time to spned some quality time with the wife or get those chores done she’s been asking you for a week to do.
    E) insert favorite excuse here.

    Anyway you slice it were all human and such will make mistakes. We are also obligated to die. Hopefully not due to the mistakes we make.

    Robert put it best “I hope this makes people realise they are always responsible for their own safety, “even” when skiing inbounds, and should not rely on someone else to do their thinking for them.”

  43. Randonnee September 26th, 2009 10:38 pm

    Hi scott,

    The ski hill just sits there in front of you and is observed 24/7 and is skied on daily, hazard controlled constantly, telemetry all over it, years of history and observation. It is not like one is trying to forecast on an untouched slope. That amount of ski area data may be used very successfully, and serious avalanche hazard mitigation will reduce the problem. There are plenty of examples of post-control release to be studied, again in one’s own area that history should be fresh in one’s mind. 50 or 100 lbs of ANFO is cheap insurance in my view to protect thousands of skiers who pass under/ on a face. Elevating this relatively simple science to a mysterious level is just lame, in my view.

    As far as “peppering slopes”- placement of charges in the path, their location in relation the snowpack (on, under, above), the bomb size in relation to the necessary transmission of the shock wave to the weakness intended to be initiated, eg that shock wave transmission varies according to water content and other snow characteristics- all of this stuff is established in the literature and known by competent AC folks.There are folks that I have observed who never get this stuff, and there are smart folks who have done this work many more years than I have who are incredibly knowledgeable and skilled.

    My experience and observation support my statement in my mind, I see no need to compare the size of anything or scores. If my statements are faulty in your view and you support your ideas with logic and observation, great. There is no statement by me for “100%”, but an intelligent person can use control, closure, and other precautions to approach 100%. I view that as stepping up and being responsible, a trait not always found in ski area workers, for sure, in my experience. I currently work in healthcare, where one performs to a very high level daily tasks which are much more complex and exacting than ski area avalanche hazard mitigation. My view is that some folks make ski area avalanche hazard mitigation into something beyond what it is. Some folks doing AC in my past experience did not want to sweat, or do the tough job quickly or make the tough call for closure in the face of uncertainty. On the other hand, I observed folks who perhaps lacked confidence in the field of avalanche science/ hazard mitigation and overused closure, and slowly did AC routes that could be done safely much more quickly- there is a point when timid or slovenly performance actually add to the problem- again my view.

    Actually I do not ski tour anywhere near ski areas, but to answer what I think is a question, the backcountry usually has very little correlation to a ski area that is regularly skied and controlled. I have not said that I assume absolute safety, my experience tells me that I do not necessarily trust ski area or highway workers. with some of the history of errors. However, I stand by my assertion that it can be done when done well with a very high degree of certainty.

  44. scott williams September 29th, 2009 4:55 pm

    Hi Randonnee…

    I just wanted to be sure we are talking about the same thing- Post Control Release… I would hate to compare apples to oranges… Not many deaths out there at a ski area that weren’t post control… only one I’ve found and that was on a path that runs every 50 years… not alot of history on that path.

    Discussions from your statements:
    “The trend of excusing Professionals especially Ski Area Professionals is troubling and misguided. A competent Professional in a controlled area should get it right at such a high percentage as to be very low-risk indeed.”
    Are there examples of this?? I find very rarely a ski area to ever be excused from any percieved wrong… it’s the American way- to sue.

    “The properly trained Professionals given the funding and manhours should absolutely monitor and reduce inbounds hazard to near zero. Any less is just a cop-out to allow for less expense for the Operator.”
    I don’t think I”ve ever NOT thrown a shot because I thought I could save the ski area money… I didn’t throw it because there was nothing to throw it at… all the snow had blown off. I am pretty sure an inbound slide is something that no ski area would ever want to deal with. In my experience there has always been an open dialogue between the avalanche forecaster and the patrol. With lots of support from the forecasters to use as many explosives as we think we needed.

    “There are plenty of examples of post-control release to be studied, again in one’s own area that history should be fresh in one’s mind. 50 or 100 lbs of ANFO is cheap insurance in my view to protect thousands of skiers who pass under/ on a face. Elevating this relatively simple science to a mysterious level is just lame, in my view. ”
    Snow science has only been around for about 50 years, and post control release has gotten very little study. To have a post control release in 5-10 years at a ski area is actually a pretty rare thing, so to even get a chance to study them is hard. Most patrollers aren’t even around for more that 10 years and the ones that are probably have very little scientific data on the evewnt and cannot therefore give their insite on it. Having all the elements line up like last year was astonishing and to have that many accidents even more frightening. Your assumption that just dumping 50-100#s of ANFO on a slope and it will be safe is off base. There is an artical in: The Avalanche Review Vol.27, No.4 page 24-25 that goes into a discussion on some research done at Copper Mountain in CO. They dump about 50#s on a slope with no resluts, only to come back the next day and pop out a 3 foot slab with a 1kg hand charge. I would also attest that to even get that much explosive up the hill at some ski areas would be quite a feat indead as some ski area lifts don’t go all the way to the top and having hiked 25# of ANFO up 1800 vert myself, I can attest to the endevor it is. Placement is probably the key element. There are studies that have shown where good placements are, but there are many ways to approach a slope and how to control it which depnd on loading (high wind vs. low winds) and slope configuration (ridges vs. chutes vs. open slopes) and all can vary even more if there are undulations which would create even more starting zones within the same path. You will also find in that in some instances over 300 people skied the slope before it slid… how do you forecast for that? Maybe you have some knowledge that I don’t. If so please explain- but keep it in laymans terms.. I’m either too lazy to understand or too stupid.
    As for a scientists and compitent personell know it all, recently a very well respected and knowledgeable avalancvhe forecaster was killed in Alaska while out on a field trip. Obviously if he knew everything he would still be here today. Snow science is a science and therefore based on theory. We don’t know all there is to know about avalanches.

    “I see no need to compare the size of anything or scores.”
    I put the numbers out there for you to see that the numbers are pretty close to 0. Less that 10 people have died due to avalanche in less than 15 years (go to to check my numbers) compaired to probably over 1/2billion skier visits for those same 15 years… compare that number to the number of people that die due to other causes at ski areas… much diferent munbers.

    “There is no statement by me for “100%”, but an intelligent person can use control, closure, and other precautions to approach 100%. I view that as stepping up and being responsible, a trait not always found in ski area workers, for sure, in my experience. ”
    If this is where your coming from, we will never see eye to eye or have a positive debate. My experience from ski areas are that the employees are very dedicated individules especially considdering the amount that they are paid for what they put their bodies through every season including the hazard they encounter on a daily basis.

    “I currently work in healthcare, where one performs to a very high level daily tasks which are much more complex and exacting than ski area avalanche hazard mitigation.”
    I am suprised you to bring this up , especially in the state in which the healthcare system is in. I have my own personal story of nearly being killed by my healthcare providers and have many a friend and family member that have been provided less that professional care by someone being paid many many times more than any partoller.

    “I observed folks who perhaps lacked confidence in the field of avalanche science/ hazard mitigation and overused closure, and slowly did AC routes that could be done safely much more quickly- there is a point when timid or slovenly performance actually add to the problem”
    Rushing through a control mission just to have it accomplished is risky business and can lead to missing something important such as a deeper burried unstable layer.
    Snow settles overtime and can build strenght. Some programs rely on this, especially those in places with low snow fall rates, thus saving more snow on the hill to ski. Not to say they don’t control it, they just let time do its magic and work for them. Some programs also go piece by piece due to limits on manpower and yet others do it to slowly open the mountain so as to concentrate skier compaction before opening up new terrain (especially the big ski areas) there by alowing for onsistent compaction, a plus is that the pow pow lasts through out the day and the resort isn’t skied out by 11am.

    “I have not said that I assume absolute safety, my experience tells me that I do not necessarily trust ski area or highway workers. with some of the history of errors. ”
    Once again some examples would be great. I will admit, though that mistakes have been made in the past and would further hazard a guess that leasons were learned. I don’t hold contempt for healthcare workers even though I was almost killed due to mistakeds made. I am positive that the mistakes made by the professonals helping me wont be made again by those individules or even their agencies. I still go to the doctor and am sure I will end up in the ER at some point in my life again and will trust the folks issuing care to do their best.

    On another note- I don’t want people to get the impression that I see it as ok for people to be taken out by avalanche. Some of the case studies I read brought tears to my eyes, not because I knew them, but because I have been through what they have and know how the friends and family feel- my heart goes out to those that have suffered that loss and even to those that have themselves been killed doing something that can be so freeing to the soul. But like I said, we live and learn and the leason I take with me is that nothing is ever safe and to have a plan B.

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