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PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2007 3:31 pm 
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I'm just curious. How many people were in your touring party and how many people were caught in the slide? Was your group aware of the conditions at the time? Was this a slope where members should have been traveling one at a time from safety point to safety point? What kind of dynamic did the group play? Don't mean to barrage you with questions, I am just interested. I read a great article from a local avy forcaster about the relationship of big groups and avalanche accidents.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2007 4:03 pm 
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Hi UTAH,

Good idea on reading the avy forcast daily. I had been reading it prior to heading up, but now I'm on top of it daily. I also plan to do the same well in advance for any places that I plan to visit.

There were 11 in our group. We had just split up and five of us were ascending a small rib on a relatively low-angle, treed slope when it ripped about 4 feet deep. Two (Perry and Tim) at the top of the slope grabbed trees and hung on. P420 got ripped off his tree and pinned against another as the avalanche passed over him. I got pulled off my tree and rode to the bottom of the slope completely buried under the snow, only to pop out in the last 1/2 second. Leo also rode top to bottom, only I can't remember if he was submerged. I think so, for a while anyway. We all walked away fine, amazingly.

I believe group dynamics played a big role in the events of the day. I'm planning on a full writeup of the day, hopefully by this weekend. It is a textbook case of group dynamics gone wrong, in my opinion, and there are a lot of lessons to learn from that day. You may also be interested in my observations from the bottom of the snowpack...

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 01, 2007 11:12 pm 
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Hey Guys...

Sounds like a pretty wild weekend! Nothing like a little avy action to wake you up and make you think about your mortality and what's important in life. Glad everyone is o.k.

I had my own little avalanche incident about 8 years ago. My husband and I were pretty new to the b.c. and didn't know much about avalanches and the respect the mountains require. Took a little boot pack (way before we knew about splits) up a short face and got into trouble. A cornice broke off some cliffs above us which triggered the whole slope. We were young and dumb and untrained in avalanche safety, not to mention, too poor to buy beacons. Therefore, no avy gear. The slide hit both of us hard and took us for a ride. I really didn't want to lose my board (yeah, I know I'm a moron!) so I hung on to it. It successfully pulled me to the bottom of the slide. My husband managed to get out and thought the whole thing was pretty cool/crazy until he couldn't see his new bride...(That's ME!) I was buried under 4 feet of debris... couldn't move, couldn't breathe. Pretty much waiting to die. My husband had no idea where I was and just began frantically digging. Whether we were just lucky that day, or a higher power was helping us out we can't say for sure... but E found me within' a few minutes' time... just as my vision was starting to dim.
All in all, it was a pretty crappy experience. But in a way I guess I'm glad that it happened. Nothing will ever educate you more than to be in a situation like that. From that point on we both have been highly motivated to learn as much as possible about avy's and how to stay out of them. If you haven't checked out "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain" yet, do it. It's a great resource. Also, like everyone else has said, get a beacon, probe, and shovel and practice alot. And if your ever in doubt... bail! As much as we all love to slay the pow pow, make sure that you have a tomorrow to do it. Stay on low angled terrain if you're in doubt. You can still have fun on mellow stuff. We had so many BIG plans for this year. Sick lines to rip. New areas to ride. But... our plans have changed. The snowpack is so unstable that we have pretty much scrapped all plans for anything big for the rest of the season. Live to ride another day.

So, I'll get off my soapbox. Be safe out there. Get your wifey on a big long splitboard that will float really good in the pow. She'll love it. Get her a heart rate moniter that tells her how many calories she burns in a day of touring and she'll keep going with you just for the exercise!!!! (Burning 3-4000 calories a day is no problem!) Take some brats and hot chocolate and build a campfire. Me and all my girly cohorts dig it. Makes a great lunch on a cold day. Welcome to the forum and good luck with the avy education and the new b.c. wife!

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:25 am 
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Wow - that's insane, boardergirl. I'm glad you came out of it okay, despite heavy odds in the other direction. It sounds like you also know how wierd it feels to emerge okay from that situation after fully expecting not to. And that you have great advice for beginning backcountry explorers. Please don't get off your soapbox and I look for to reading your trip reports from bigger terrain next year!

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:53 am 
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Location: San Mateo, CA
married?? boardergirl, you just broke alot of hearts! :D

good story, thanks for sharing. that is insane, and yeah, lucky, extremely lucky, for your husband to find you.

this has turned into quite the thread.

group dynamics, and the flexibility to say, "no, let's not ride that" when "that" is the line of your dreams, is so important. there's nothing more i want to do this weekend than rip lines in the cottonwoods, but with an avalanche warning issued for the wasatch for the weekend, i may take turns inbounds instead. yup, live to ride another day. know before you go. all good things.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 10:06 am 
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Interesting thread. As confident as people may become the key is to be aware of the basics and pay attention to the process of gathering info that applies to where you want to go.

This link will demostrate the consequences of ignoring the "process". These folks aren't beginners but you'd never know by how they acted.

A Series of Almost Fatal Decisions!

http://www.skiinggolden.com/

The sad part is I got the impression that they were looking for the failure and will likely look again.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 10:47 am 
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Location: San Mateo, CA
the terrain described in the link from www.skiinggolden.com sounds similar to what we saw at 2 oceans when we were at scrubfest.

we had a close call, that could have been much worse. There was a convex rollover, in thick trees that opened up a bit. The first correct thing we did was stop at the roll-over and wait for the group to gather to make a decision. Someone could have easily jumped in without looking.

One guy did go in, however, the weight of all of us gathering and creeping up to the starting zone collapsed the snowpack and remotely triggered a slide about 75' away with a 2 to 3 foot crown that ran for most of the gully. one of our riders may have been in the path. we yelled but couldn't hear anything. some of us left and descended to see what went on. Some of us stayed at top. This was another good thing we did; always leave someone in a safe zone.

Thankfully no one was buried.

Some things we did wrong:
we didn't have a plan. if we were in our home range, we would have discussed options, dug a pit, had internet and phone access to the reports. we also would be familiar with the terrain, and have a history. in WY, we were in unfamiliar territory, and we just weren't prepared.

group dynamics also played a part. for the most part, we did things right when the slide happened. but before, we may have all been in a powder coma, not worrying about pits or evaluation. we stuck to trees, and that may have also given a false sense of security. we also didn't see any obvious naturals, although someone said that they may heard some collapsing on the way up.

bottomline, the avy hazard was moderate that day. we were in thick trees, hovering around 30-33 degrees. sounds quite safe, given that we were in anchored snow. But, we found the pocket of instability that could have buried someone. I was unfamiliar with the snowpack, had not dug a pit, and did not see the amount of faceting down below. I saw the snowprofile on the avy report, but it may been more prudent to get into a pit with my hands and see the snowpack myself.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 02, 2007 12:30 pm 
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DrKoKo wrote:
we were in unfamiliar territory, and we just weren't prepared.


Bingo! Add to that 11 people maniacally chasing powder without ever huddling up together to take stock of the increasing danger signs. Like yours, our slope was in the 30 degree range and partially treed, not particularly dangerous-looking.

I don't think trees anchor a slope at all. They just tell you that avys are a less frequent occurrance on a particular slope and they give you something to hang on too if the slope rips. They also give you something to smash into in a slide and a place for avy snow to pile up deep. A mixed blessing.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 1:56 am 
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Sheesh, you go away from the forum for a bit and all hell breaks loose... glad to hear nobody was hurt. Like others have said, on the bright side that is one hell of a learning experience, that you will never get in any avy class. Seeing the tremendous power of even a small avy up close is pretty sobering. bg, the fact that you were buried and found w/o a transceiver is just insane... you must have some seriously good karma.

This is an interesting thread, and a good wakeup call for everyone. Especially us CA splitters who have been wondering where the hell winter went.

SF, I think that generally speaking a treed slope does anchor the snow better compared to the same slope w/o any trees and completely open. However that doesn't necessarily mean it is safe as you mention. You might look at the size and condition of the trees for clues; i.e. old mature trees w/o any missing branches is a better sign than absence of any older trees and branches missing on uphill side. Of course in the right conditions any slope could go.

Speaking of conditions, things seem to be very atypical out here in CA, particularly in the eastern Sierra. So be careful out there, now that we've finally gotten some real snow don't let pow fever overrule better judgement.

Check out this excerpt from the latest eastern Sierra avy advisory, mentioning some inbounds patroller-triggered (I assume) avys at Mammoth. These sound HUGE.

Quote:
The huge avalanches triggered on Mammoth Mountain are a sobering reminder that the deeply buried the early season facet layer remains a potential weakness in the snowpack. Even though many 30-38 degree slopes have been skied over the last couple of days, this type of deep instability can allow days of skiing before an avalanche could occur as the slope is slowly loaded. This layer is buried too deep to feel with your skis or snowboard and it is not giving away obvious clues before releasing. It is not reactive in all locations which could easily lead to false conclusions about stability. Pay attention to slope angle and aspect. Most north facing slopes above 9,000 ft have well developed facets at the base of the snowpack. Despite new snow adding to total snowpack depth, air temperatures have been unseasonably cold and temperature profiles show gradients greater than 1 degree C every 10 cm in the Mammoth Lakes Basin and the Tele Bowls.

Having a sense of slope angle can help your stability evaluation today. Examples of local terrain that is 35 degrees or greater include the top 50 to 100 ft of the Sherwins and the summit of the Cinder Cone. Scottys Run, Monument and Paranoid have starting zone slope angles of 36, 38 and 38 degrees, respectively. The skiing below the start zones quickly mellows out to easy terrain at 26 and 28 degrees. The large avalanche was triggered near the top of the path, ripped out a huge crown that measured 10-12 ft in places and propagated 1200 ft across the upper portion of the runs. The top of Climax is 35 degrees. The crown was 5-6 ft deep and you can see the avalanche from town.


Oh yeah, p420 I never thought of the utility of Verts in a situation like you mention. Just another reason to keep them on the pack and being the self-appointed forum Verts evangelist. :)


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 11:25 am 
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Maybe I should have said that you can't really count on them to anchor a slope. In my avy one class the instructor said they can be weak points in the snow pack, just like rocks, with shallower snow and facets because the snow is always shaded. He showed us pictures of avy crowns that connected the dots from tree to tree. But prior to that I had always heard trees are anchors. Anyway, I don't think you can count on it. But trees are a good indicator that avys are rare on a particular slope. Actually, all the trees on our slope were young, so maybe they aren't that rare there.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 11:31 am 
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PS - I saw that on the Eastern Sierra forecast, too. Thanks for the reminder. I'm staying off really steep N. shots for a while because I'm terrified of avalanches. They are real and you really really don't want to be in one. At the very least dig a pit and check it out for yourself before dropping in. People in California forget to do that..

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 7:28 pm 
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SanFrantastico wrote:
Maybe I should have said that you can't really count on them to anchor a slope. In my avy one class the instructor said they can be weak points in the snow pack, just like rocks, with shallower snow and facets because the snow is always shaded. He showed us pictures of avy crowns that connected the dots from tree to tree. But prior to that I had always heard trees are anchors. Anyway, I don't think you can count on it. But trees are a good indicator that avys are rare on a particular slope. Actually, all the trees on our slope were young, so maybe they aren't that rare there.


In order for trees to realistically serve as anchors, they have to be so close together that you can't ride through them.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2007 10:43 pm 
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Max - I just got this from the Tahoe Adventure Club:

Quote:
Now that there is some snow, and some avalanche activity, taking the AIARE Level 1 Avy course really makes sense. Due to to the overwhelming response to this course there has been the last minute addition of another section. If you haven't taken this class, or its been a while, it is strongly encouraged and a plain old good time. Here are the details:

WLD128B 12 & 13
Lecture: Fri 3/9 6-950pm L107
Field: Sat, Sun (3/10, 3/11) 8-350pm (L107 for Sat only)

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