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 Post subject: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 10:22 am 
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Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 4:18 pm
Posts: 324
Location: NW/BC/Montana
This TR is dedicated to Steve Romeo and Chris Onufer, for living life and putting yourself out there for all to see.

This winter has been the most challenging, yet insightful, season that I've ever experienced for splitboarding. I am by no means any sort of guru, wise man, or expert, but I'd like to think that I've learned something from the years that I've spent in the backcountry - observing, making mistakes and adapting. Most of all, I hope I have learned how to be a beginner, throwing out all of those accumulated experiences that so often cloud judgement and skew perceptions. I've been struggling, yet thriving; holding back, yet pushing forward, and for this tumultuous experience I have nothing to thank except for this crappy winter.

I'm still struggling to process Steve's death, and each time I think about it I instantly feel a weight in the pit of my stomach, heavy and mute. I have no desire to critique what happened that day or analyze the endless possibilities of the snowpack, route, or other factors. All I can do is to turn my thoughts inward, and examine my own decision-making, motivations and ways of dealing with the inherent risks of backcountry travel. I respect how, in his own way, Steve performed this introspection in a public forum, being fully open to judgements and disagreement. In that way, I think he provided a great service to all of us who read his blog, by stimulating discussion of how we approach the mountains.

I've been following some of the comments in the other threads, and have a few thoughts of my own. While I do think that the dangers of the backcountry can be overblown, I do agree that traveling in terrain with objective hazards does carry a substantial level of risk. Depending on our decisions, that risk can be heightened or lessened, but it will always exist. However, we can never quantify that risk or know the chances of it coming to fruition. In this sense, our perception of the probability of disaster is always only relative, and normalized to our own particular viewpoints. Unfortunately, our viewpoints can easily be skewed by all the times that we get away with risky decisions. The more times that we ride a sketchy slope and survive, the more likely we are to engage in those behaviors yet again. I have to admit that one of my reactions to Steve's death was to feel pissed off at all of the glorifications of big mountain riding that don't even remotely mention the safety aspect of the equation. But then I remember that psychologically it is no different from the glorification of wealthy hedge-fund managers without mentioning the associated risk of economic disaster. The cultures might be different, but the human brains involved are the same.

I make no claims to be "above" this process, but do my best to be aware of it within myself and to stay vigilant.

Our own decision-making, as usual, seems to be the crux of the matter. Beginners make poor decisions because they don't know any better. Experts make poor decisions because they think they know better. We all make poor decisions at some point. My own strategy to stay safe is to make 80% of my decisions before I even step out my front door, then to leave the other 20% open to interpretation. If there's been a lot of wind-loading on top of surface hoar, I'll know that I'm going to stay out of the alpine, no matter what. If the conditions are looking good, I'll make plans for something big, but always be ready to back off. And if there is a high level of variability, as there is this year, I make my plans based on the sketchiest conditions that I expect to find. I can somewhat mitigate surface slabs, and I can stay away when it's something more sinister, but what I can't do is plan for uncertain stability, which is omnipresent this year. The avalanche danger may be moderate right now, but I sure as hell am not going on exposed lines any time soon.

I'm fully convinced that there is no magic bullet to decision making except being aware of how our own motivations and inner machinations are affecting our trajectories. As I sometimes tell my friends, the most difficult backcountry trip I can imagine would pale in comparison to the task of understanding my own mind. Unfortunately, it is the mind that is the key to enjoying the conditions, good or bad, and it is the mind that can keep us out of trouble.

This year, I have only been into the true alpine once, and that was back in the beginning of February. Once we received our initial dump of snow in November followed by several weeks of cold, dry weather, I knew that I should prepare myself for a dangerous season. It has been so bad, that I went XC skiing for 5 days out in the Methow Valley (which was actually quite fun), and did a rando race at the end of February, which would have been unheard of any other year. I tried my hardest to take advantage of the early Feb weather window in the North Cascades, but backed down when I learned that the freezing levels would be dangerously high. I canceled my plans for a Canada trip this week with the avalanche danger rising through the roof. I've had to adapt, adjust, and just be content with waiting and exploring safer areas around here. There still is hope that I can salvage a trip in April/May up to BC/AB or out to the coast, but at this point, all bets are off. It's okay though, because there will be another day, another year, and another line.

Here are a few photos from my only day in the alpine.

Image
Image
Image

There's been some powder, but the instabilities have been consistently lurking and keeping me in the trees or on low-angled slopes.

Image

I wish we could be riding lines like these, as we could last year:
Image

That's not to say that I haven't had any fun. Will in the Bridgers.
Image

Even now we're staying in the trees. It was fifty degrees in the mountains this weekend. So odd.
Image

Just chilling in the sunshine
Image

That's all for now. I put a few brief thoughts on Steve's death here, but there are many more that are more difficult to write about. I will always love big mountain lines, and I don't know that this accident will change my approach to the mountains. However, it definitely reinforces my desire to stop, think, and critically assess what I'm getting myself into, and why.


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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 11:12 am 
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Joined: Fri Jun 03, 2011 10:39 am
Posts: 114
Location: Helena, MT
good thoughts, good post

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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 11:59 am 
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Joined: Wed Oct 06, 2004 10:57 pm
Posts: 4958
Location: California
Thanks for that nomad!

So much respect for you. You're talented on many levels. Great words, great pics, and great post.

While I never met Steve or Chris, their passing brought a lot of things into perspective, add fatherhood to mix and it's an eternal battle to justify some of the things we do and places we go in the mountains. I've been toning stuff down over the last few years but still feel the urge that many of us experience. Sometimes the backcountry can feel like the gift and the curse...it's such an amazing experience but comes with the ultimate risk.

Thanks for sticking around over the years too. I've seen some of the OG splitboard.com forum members come and go, it's an honor to see you still contribute. Thanks.

Remember this day? :)
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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 12:02 pm 
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Location: The Magic City
Thanks Patrick- nice ruminations. Seeing that SoMad picture brought back great memories of the turns we shared last season. So different from our realities this season....
I agree that the most important assessments made this winter deal with the internal. As for the external, all we can do (all we can ever do) is take the information we're given and the information we gather and use it to make the best decision possible. I like your 80-20 concept too. For what it's worth, all of our collaborations have been a joy.
Maybe this is the year to elevate splitskiing to the next level?

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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 12:23 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 4:18 pm
Posts: 324
Location: NW/BC/Montana
Thanks for the nice words Chris! Yes, I do remember that day... it sure feels like that was a different era, especially just before splitboarding really blew up (okay, it was already getting bigger but now I think the risk calculus has changed). I wish it wasn't so far to Cali so I could come shred with the OG crew more often. I've drooled over your "stock" areas for years!

I hope that even though I'm not a dad (at least not yet), I can still make wise decisions. There have been times in the past when I've gotten away with poor choices, and even if was an epic line I've never felt good about it afterwards. To be honest I get more stoked about your TRs with your kids than some TR from some gnarly line from who knows where. Lines come and go, but it's the people that we share them with that matters. As you said, BC snowboarding can truly be the gift and the curse, but as time goes on I hope I can appreciate the former more while avoiding the latter.

I'm glad that I've stuck around even though I've been less active, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to do so. Thinking about what I gained from Steve R., I think I'd like to contribute more to this community that's provided so much, so hopefully I can be a bit more active in the future.

Nick - yes!!!! Thanks for the comment. During that rando race I half thought about split-skiing the whole thing. Man, we could take it to the next level. Lycra-wearers watch out!!!!


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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 12:59 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 09, 2005 11:50 am
Posts: 328
Location: hippy pow turns
thanks for your post nomad.

a few things that caught my attention.

Quote:
Unfortunately, our viewpoints can easily be skewed by all the times that we get away with risky decisions. The more times that we ride a sketchy slope and survive, the more likely we are to engage in those behaviors yet again.


I think about this a lot. I try hard to be as observant as possible, and some times those observations make me roll the dice. these experiences lead one to the other till you start to think you might know what you doing. I always wonder how many false positives do you get till it bites you in the ass?

then again I am a chicken shit.

Quote:
We all make poor decisions at some point. My own strategy to stay safe is to make 80% of my decisions before I even step out my front door, then to leave the other 20% open to interpretation.


this is interesting, I operate on the opposite end of the spectrum. I attempt to head out every day with a blank slate and let conditions and observations lead the day. that is not to say that the 20% does not tell me to get into big terrain some days, or stick to the trees on others, but forecasting decision making is not my style. what works for me.

great post nomad. thanks again. :thumpsup:

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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 1:09 pm 
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Taft: I might be wrong, but I think nomad's "80%" refers more to collection of snowpack/weather data from prior weeks, weather forecasts, recent firsthand obs and partner availability to guide his initial decision about what lines/tours could be a good idea rather than being 80% resolute to ski a certain line.

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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 1:41 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 22, 2004 4:18 pm
Posts: 324
Location: NW/BC/Montana
Nick, you're right. I guess that I mean 80% of my risk reduction occurs before I go out - so if I know that we just had a huge dump on a weak layer, then I will severely limit the areas under consideration. I don't really think of it as forecasting - perhaps more like using prior information to temper my goals (for all you Bayesian stats geeks out there, how would you put a distribution on that prior? :wink: ). What I shoot for before stepping outside is knowing what to expect, while being open to contraindications. I still use the full range of observational tools when I'm out there to better fill-out my decision matrix.

Thanks for the input Taft. One more thing - I probably would lean a little more heavily on within-day observations if I was dealing with a coastal snowpack which can metamorphose and change much more quickly than the continental snowpack out here.


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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 3:49 pm 
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It's been good reading on this site lately, appreciate all the people who have taken time to share their thoughts.

Quote:
Beginners make poor decisions because they don't know any better. Experts make poor decisions because they think they know better.


Whats the saying " the more I learn, the less I know".

Lot's of good stuff and very well written. And yes theres nothing wrong with throwing a little rando into the mix. Meadow skipping is as close to xc as I'll get but could be fun as well. Right on! Take care.


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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 4:36 pm 
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Great post. I appreciate it when people take the time and effort to go beyond 'stoke' and delve into the wisdom that can only be gained through experience and reflection. I think that a 'mountain education' can make a person wiser the same way that a traditional education or art can, but only if you're open to it. Easier said than done. Nice pics too.

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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 7:01 pm 
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Posts: 532
Patrick thank you soo much for writing this. The tragedy in the Tetons hit me rather hard as well. You have slayed some killer lines over the years and I always look forward to your trip reports.

Cheers to riding another day :guinness:

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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2012 10:43 pm 
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UTAH wrote:
It's been good reading on this site lately, appreciate all the people who have taken time to share their thoughts.


couldn't agree more!

very eloquent words nomad, greatly appreciate your time, emotion and effort to post it!

be safe out there everyone.

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 Post subject: Re: A Hard Winter: Reflections from Montana
PostPosted: Tue Mar 13, 2012 10:45 am 
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great words and great photos!
Thanks nomad.


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