Forums Avy Discussion Forum Sheep Creek Avalanche Accident in The Avalanche Review
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  • #579654
    dishwasher-dave
    460 Posts

    The current issue of the Avalanche Review has a thorough analysis of the Sheep Creek accident as the cover story.

    Highly recommended.

    http://www.americanavalancheassociation.org/tar/TAR32_3_Cover.pdf

    Here is the sb.com thread about the accident:

    viewtopic.php?f=6&t=15437

    #675140
    shredgnar
    643 Posts

    Thanks for posting. I heard this was out yesterday but couldn’t find it.

    #675141
    HikeforTurns
    1113 Posts

    Good write up by those guys. I found the take-away on forecasting/communication particularly interesting.

    “……We think it might help the
    users of our products if we imply less and explicitly describe more.

    Should we tell people to simply avoid these slopes and travel under them to manage a
    deep-slab problem? If we suggest “conservative and cautious route finding and terrain
    selection” we need to define this as precisely as possible. If we warn of unlikely deep
    persistent slabs, and suggest people stay away from suspect slopes for weeks on end
    with no avalanche activity, how do we combat message fatigue?”

    #675142
    Taylor
    780 Posts

    The Lazar / Greene article is exactly the sort of critical, thorough, respectful and educational analysis that this incident deserved. Thanks to the authors.

    Rereading that day’s forecast was pretty chilling. I agree the focus on forecaster communication is interesting… Especially, in light of the high route not chosen, this:

    “If we suggest ‘conservative and cautious route finding and terrain selection’ we need to define this as precisely as possible.”

    @sun_rocket

    #675143
    summersgone
    813 Posts

    Excellent write up. I would have loved to hear more around the dynamics from Jerome that went into crossing that slope, but I can’t imagine being involved and having to talk about it, so I understand it didn’t go into that. Being friends with Jerome, and knowing 4 of the 6 people caught, this accident still hurts.

    To me, group dynamics was the major factor in this accident. Yes, deep slabs can’t be managed, and are extremely difficult to predict, but I can’t help but assume the previous week at Silverton Splitfest (3 of the 6 were there), with stable conditions, and no deep slab instability contributed to the lack of guard the following week. We basically had full reign to ride whatever we felt. I know at least 2 in the group did some larger tours that weekend in big terrain, safely. For me, it is difficult in the same state to switch from riding large terrain, to having to meadow skip the following week late in the season. Also, late in the year, we are all itching for big terrain, we’ve been tucking our tails all winter. I’ve made that mistake prior, and taken for granted snowpack late in the year, and had a partner have a close call.

    Also, hosting an event is difficult. 2 of those members were hosting, and 2 more were sponsors. As a host, you want to please sponsors, attendees, and yourself, and that has the potential to cloud judgement. This was their first event. Silverton, our first time, someone passed away (not in the event) the same weekend, in the area. It raised a lot of concern. Potentially they were too focused on the event and lost site of the real danger, hard to say, but it was a mistake. Because of this we are striving to push group dynamics this year to avoid situations like this, because having a lot of people in one area increases the risk of accidents, and thats the last thing we want in a backcountry event.

    #675144
    Killclimbz
    1165 Posts

    Thanks for posting this up. TAR is a great resource.

    So tough. It would not be unwise to note that we are having a similar set up this year too. Much earlier in the season. The Persistent and Deep persistent slab problem was one that I as aware of but not nearly as tuned into it as I am now.

    A few years ago, myself and several members of this forum, made some really stupid choices. We all came out unscathed but got a stern reminder that you need to pay attention and things change daily, if not hourly. A another splitboarder in the area, triggered and avalanche and died that day. I reflect back on that day and what we did wrong all the time. Not going to make that mistake again.

    We are having an unusual season right now and we are having unusual avalanches. I don’t see it letting up anytime soon.

    I will say that the CAIC does warn over and over again about this problem. It can go on for months at time. Certainly people start to think they are crying wolf, or calling for the 1 in a million chance, versus realizing it is a very real threat they speak of and staying on alert.

    #675145
    Taylor
    780 Posts

    @killclimbz wrote:

    I will say that the CAIC does warn over and over again about this problem. It can go on for months at time. Certainly people start to think they are crying wolf, or calling for the 1 in a million chance, versus realizing it is a very real threat they speak of and staying on alert.

    Environmental policy calls low probability, fatal impact events “black swan” (think Fukushima).

    We need a way to communicate about black swan in backcountry travel.

    @sun_rocket

    #675146
    dishwasher-dave
    460 Posts

    Many very good observations made in this discussion.

    I think one of the many challenges is learning and communicating that this was not a low probability avalanche. Reading the report (and especially the Deep Persistent Slab Cycle section) really brought this home to me. The deep persistent slab cycle (at least with the benefit of hindsight) was pronounced, easy to observe and fairly localized. To quote the report, “This cycle was the clearest pattern for a deep-slab cycle we’ve ever seen.”

    Yet even with that clear pattern, an accurate well written forecast, a fairly knowledgeable group that read the forecast and correctly identified safer terrain to ride, a horrible accident occurred. This indicates to me that we need to continue to improve many aspects of our backcountry culture.

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