Forums Avy Discussion Forum Avalanches Death and Exemption
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  • #575867
    TEX
    2486 Posts

    I am posting this thread not as an “armchair quarterback” of any recent incidents but more from observations of a few seasons with other board members.

    Avalanches are a natural act in nature of a release from too much weight resting on a weak under surface
    Avalanches can happen any time if there is snow on the ground and a slope (steep or not)

    Avalanches do not care who you are , how old you are, if you are a pro or a hack , if you have kids or not.

    They do give some warning sometimes, and sometimes they dont

    having years of knowledge in sketchy avalanche terrain doesnt keep you from getting caught or killed in one.

    having more people in the group, more experience,somebody with more “first decents” doesnt help at all.

    We all need to take a step back and remember the basic warning signs
    below is a list of “red flag” warning signs from Avy level1 and 2. If you are violating these, you may want to step back and ask yourself if dying for pow is worth it

    ANYTIME snow falls at a rate of 1 inch per hour or more

    ANYTIME wind is above 35mph and you can see snow moving around ( although 25 mph is a better benchmark)

    Wind Loaded leeward slopes

    Convex rollover wind loaded slopes

    cracks, settling …or ‘whomping”

    WHOMPING is a HUGE sign of the slope saying “get the fuck off of me”

    Whomping is like a dog growling right before he bites you

    Rapid warming with rollers , without rollers

    wind plumes up on high peaks

    Any avalanche forecast from an avalanche forecast center rated “High or Extreme”

    and please, to all you who are pro, near pro or like to hang with pro’s – avalnches have no skill recognition. they will sweep you up just like they will the guy who just parks in thwe wrong spot along the highway

    I will list some, please feel free to add more

    #648637
    Killclimbz
    1165 Posts

    @TEX wrote:

    ANYTIME wind is above 35mph and you can see snow moving around ( although 25 mph is a better benchmark)

    I’d like to modify that. I believe snow transport can happen with winds as little as 10-15mph. 25-35mph being optimal. Once you get over 45mph, it’s being blow out into space and due to the higher speeds you won’t see snow drifting into huge pillows and such. Still 25-45mph winds are pretty much the norm and snow transport by wind has probably set up more deadly scenarios than anything else out there, including heavy snowfall.

    #648638
    andbrown
    34 Posts

    Good thread.

    I like acronyms, since they’re easy to remember. ALPTRUTH is the one I always think of because I always carry an avaluator card in my pack. The Avaluator system was developed by the CAC

    A – avalanches – are there signs of slab activity in the area within the last 48 hours
    L- loading – was there loading by snow, wind, or rain in the area within the last 48 hours
    P- path – are you in an avalanche path or start zone
    T – terrain – are there gullies, trees or cliffs that the increase the consequence of being caught
    R – rating – is the danger rating considerable or higher
    U – unstable sow – are there signs of unstable snow such as whumpfing, cracking or hollow sounds
    TH – thaw / instability – has there been recent significant melting of the snow surface by sun, rain or warm air.

    Answer each question, every Yes = 1 point. If 0-2 use normal caution, if 3-4 use caution, and if 5-7 not recommended. Remember that even at 0-2 it is still imperative to use caution and continually assess the snow, terrain, weather etc.

    The second component of the Avaluator system is just as valuable and important, and this is to determine the risk based on the danger rating (bulletin) and the type of terrain (simple, challenging, or complex).

    Read lots more about it here – http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training/online-course/pre-trip-planning

    I vaguely remember the acronym FACETS, but couldn’t remember the concept, so Google’d it -http://backcountrybeacon.com/2010/02/helpful-avalanche-safety-acronyms-alp-truth-and-facets/

    #648639
    Archie McPhee
    78 Posts

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts. Well said, Tex, and great referral, andbrown.

    Arch

    #648640
    boardgeezer
    11 Posts

    I came across this interview with Ed Viesturs that I thought dovetailed well with the above comments. For those of you who don’t know him, here’s an exerpt from Wikipedia: “Ed Viesturs is one of the world’s premier high-altitude mountaineers. He is one of only 26 people and the only one from the United States to have climbed all eight-thousander peaks. He has summited peaks of more than 8,000 meters for a total of 21 times, including Mount Everest seven times, which makes him the third person with most total summits, behind Phurba Tashi Sherpa Mendewa and the Spanish climber Juanito Oiarzabal who have reached 25 summits. He has reached all of the aforementioned summits without supplementary oxygen.”

    One of the things Viesturs is known for is his resoluteness for safety – on one of his trips to Everest, he turned back within 300′ of the summit because he felt conditions were not favorable.

    Into Thin Error: Mountaineer Ed Viesturs on Making Mistakes

    Ride safely, fellow splitters and friends.

    BG

    #648641
    fustercluck
    668 Posts

    @Killclimbz wrote:

    @TEX wrote:

    ANYTIME wind is above 35mph and you can see snow moving around ( although 25 mph is a better benchmark)

    I’d like to modify that. I believe snow transport can happen with winds as little as 10-15mph. 25-35mph being optimal. Once you get over 45mph, it’s being blow out into space and due to the higher speeds you won’t see snow drifting into huge pillows and such. Still 25-45mph winds are pretty much the norm and snow transport by wind has probably set up more deadly scenarios than anything else out there, including heavy snowfall.

    Just want to point out that at higher wind speeds, loaded areas are more likely to be lower down, away from ridge tops. Also, changes in wind direction can cross load slopes with lower wind speeds.
    It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have, what the conditions are, or what your pits revealed, every time you drop in you are rolling the dice, just sometimes with better odds than others.

    #648642
    HansGLudwig
    601 Posts

    @fustercluck wrote:

    just sometimes with better odds than others.

    ^^ Truth!
    That’s why we read books and have threads like this one. . . To increase our odds.

    Be sure to bookmark Splitboard.com's Recent Activity page...
    http://splitboard.com/activity-2/

    #648643
    KGN
    215 Posts

    http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/bulletins/forecaster-blog

    I thought the article above, the incremental loading one was interesting. He mentions how people don’t report avalanche incidents often. People can get embarrassed that they have been caught in an avalanche, its admitting that you may have made an error in judgement. Its too bad, because the info is good, I like to check the incident database to see whats been moving.

    I am definitely not an expert, but I think people need to sometimes just relax and be happy to just be out there, rather than having to bag the best line every time you go out. Get out your swallowtail, and shred that 30 degree slope :thumpsup:

    #648644
    buckchow
    356 Posts

    A message I get from the original post, is to not get overly confident from a perceived “expert halo” (AKA a false sense of security due to experience), which can increase risk tolerance, and lead to a bad scene. Also the bottom line is it’s the actions we take, and not any other perspective or attitude in our heads, that determines if we get caught in a slide. Good things to keep in mind and I welcome the reminder, thanks Tex.

    My two cents on a couple points:
    @TEX wrote:

    Avalanches are a natural act in nature…

    Avys are typically classified as natural, or some type of non-natural (skier-triggered, explosive-triggered, etc). OK that’s a technicality, but the reason I mention it, is that presence of natural slides typically suggests greater hazard, as compared to presence of comparable slides from only human (non-natural) triggers.

    @TEX wrote:

    Avalanches can happen any time if there is snow on the ground and a slope (steep or not)

    I’d offer that slope steepness is of primary concern. We can of course greatly mitigate avy risk by avoiding being on, under, or adjacent to steeper (~30+ degree) slopes. It’s pretty much impossible for an avy to occur if nothing in vicinity is over 25 degrees. Utah’s current persistent sketchy snowpack inspired me to buy an inclinometer last month and refine my slope angle awareness. There’s also an app for that.

    @TEX wrote:

    having more people in the group, more experience… doesnt help at all.

    Group size is pretty key: If you’re solo, then you are operating with no immediate support should you need it. Having someone else around to dig you out, deal with your compound fractures, or suggest that you not drop into that sketchy loaded terrain trap, certainly can help. If the group size is too large, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage group dynamics, make consensus decisions, avoid skiing on top of each other, find safe spots, etc, and that can lead to avy trouble. I like a group of 3-5 people.

    Experience and knowledge definitely helps avoid avalanches, and deal with the aftermath. I certainly put myself in more avy danger when I was starting out, and had no backcountry experience nor education. It also can help if you go with people with experience in medical professions, backcountry rescue, etc if there are pieces to be picked up.

    Sorry if nitpicking; my wife and some equally novice backcountry friends are thinking of attending an avy intro course tomorrow, plus I’ve heard woomphing this season on I think 6 or 7 different days, so stuff discussed in this thread is forefront in my mind at present.

    #648645
    Snurfer
    1448 Posts

    Great topic Tex, thanks for starting an alternate conversation on the matter of avy fatalities and risk.

    Speaking only for myself… I’ve found I just don’t like taking avy risk at all and I’ve resigned myself to very safe lines. Most likely it’s age and an acknowledgement of all the stupid shit I did when I was in my teens, twenties and thirties. “Lucky to be alive” is an understatement and luckier still that I didn’t kill someone else. Each passing year requires more attention to health and fitness just to keep at it, so any undue risk is off the table for me.

    A few years back I was on a lift with a girlfriend and she asked; “What are you going to do when you can’t do this anymore?” Frankly I didn’t know how to respond. I finally told her that if “this” is defined as having fun making turns, then I plan to make turns into old age and I believe the key to satisfying that simple goal is by minimizing risk. Continuing to carve even the humblest of lines in the mountains is all I can really ask of this sport that started out on my local golf course riding a glorified water ski (Snurfer) with a rope on the nose.

    Think long term and take in the broader view as you venture out to revel in the mountains goodness and hopefully you’ll all live to be grumpy old meadow skippers 😀 Be safe friends…

    Shark Snowsurf Chuna
    Voile V-Tail 170 BC
    Voile One Ninety Five
    Spark R&D Arc

    #648646
    RioLeoOne
    14 Posts

    @boardgeezer wrote:

    I came across this interview with Ed Viesturs that I thought dovetailed well with the above comments. For those of you who don’t know him, here’s an exerpt from Wikipedia: “Ed Viesturs is one of the world’s premier high-altitude mountaineers. He is one of only 26 people and the only one from the United States to have climbed all eight-thousander peaks. He has summited peaks of more than 8,000 meters for a total of 21 times, including Mount Everest seven times, which makes him the third person with most total summits, behind Phurba Tashi Sherpa Mendewa and the Spanish climber Juanito Oiarzabal who have reached 25 summits. He has reached all of the aforementioned summits without supplementary oxygen.”

    One of the things Viesturs is known for is his resoluteness for safety – on one of his trips to Everest, he turned back within 300′ of the summit because he felt conditions were not favorable.

    Into Thin Error: Mountaineer Ed Viesturs on Making Mistakes

    Ride safely, fellow splitters and friends.

    BG

    Um linky no worky.

    This thread is $$$ btw. Thanks all!

    #648647
    dishwasher-dave
    460 Posts

    http://explore-mag.com/2831/adventure/the-grand-delusion

    “I do a lot of presentations about mountain sports, and sometimes share a list of dead friends to remind myself and the audience that the hidden price for the stunning photographs is all-too-regularly life itself. There are 27 names on my list. Not one of those friends died while driving to the mountains. Not one died on a commercial airline flight. To equate the risks of mountain sports to everyday activities like driving or even the chance of death from cancer is completely idiotic. Every friend on my list drove to the mountains a lot, and some even wrecked vehicles and spent time in the hospital from those crashes. But they died doing mountain sports.”

    Good thoughts on this topic from Will Gadd.

    My own take, is that it is ok to enjoy dangerous activities, but I’d rather be honest about the risk than cover it up with bullshit, and like others my own risk tolerance has definitely changed over time.

    #648648
    Archie McPhee
    78 Posts

    @RioLeoOne wrote:

    Into Thin Error: Mountaineer Ed Viesturs on Making Mistakes http://goo.gl/ECasc

    Ride safely, fellow splitters and friends.

    BG

    Um linky no worky.

    This thread is $$$ btw. Thanks all!

    Or try http://www.slate.com/blogs/thewrongstuff/2010/06/14/into_thin_error_mountaineer_ed_viesturs_on_making_mistakes.html

    #648649
    Colin
    153 Posts

    @buckchow wrote:

    A message I get from the original post, is to not get overly confident from a perceived “expert halo” (AKA a false sense of security due to experience), which can increase risk tolerance, and lead to a bad scene. Also the bottom line is it’s the actions we take, and not any other perspective or attitude in our heads, that determines if we get caught in a slide. Good things to keep in mind and I welcome the reminder, thanks Tex.

    @TEX wrote:

    having more people in the group, more experience… doesnt help at all.

    Group size is pretty key: If you’re solo, then you are operating with no immediate support should you need it. Having someone else around to dig you out, deal with your compound fractures, or suggest that you not drop into that sketchy loaded terrain trap, certainly can help. If the group size is too large, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage group dynamics, make consensus decisions, avoid skiing on top of each other, find safe spots, etc, and that can lead to avy trouble. I like a group of 3-5 people.

    Experience and knowledge definitely helps avoid avalanches, and deal with the aftermath. I certainly put myself in more avy danger when I was starting out, and had no backcountry experience nor education. It also can help if you go with people with experience in medical professions, backcountry rescue, etc if there are pieces to be picked up.

    Following up on group dynamics and expert effect–oftentimes, people can be afraid to speak up and express concerns… especially when they think there are more experienced group members. Yesterday, a friend asked me if I thought he should ride a certain sidecountry line that had potential to slide. I told him it was entirely his decision, but I, myself, didn’t feel safe riding it. He ended up talking to a few others and eventually deciding to back down. Communication can be lost in group dynamics–speaking your mind is key.

    On another note, talking with Jones a few years back, one of his great points was to always, always trust your gut. Even if there are few indicators of avalanche potential, if you feel funny about it, back off. Intuition may not be scientific, but it can be another thing worth thinking about… if you find yourself talking yourself into a line instead of out of it, maybe it’s time to back down and ride another day.

    #648650
    Jason4
    443 Posts

    I’ve backed away from that area 2x in my life when there were cameras around and both times I was reminded that it was good to not hang it out there. The consequences of the slide on Monday were much better than the last time I turned around there.

    I’ve found that the more I’ve educated myself the less I’ve listened to my gut instinct which has served me well over the years. I try to pay more attention to that now and and factor that into my approach to the mountains.

    I think group size and dynamics play a large role in safety in the mountains. The group that I was out with on Monday for the first lap had me possibly a bit overconfident in the conditions. I bowed out after the first lap and they got 3 more in after that. I think large groups are dangerous and really prefer to have 3 people when I’m venturing into questionable terrain. (Of course I’ll go with more or less and adjust the objectives accordingly.) That gives enough people to support each other if things go bad and with good group communication and management (and patience) only one should be exposed to reasonable risk at a time. Larger groups make decision making more difficult, it slows down travel, and it leaves more people exposed to danger for greater amounts of time.

    Lately, especially when touring with someone for the first time, I’ll remind the group that nobody should be uncomfortable with where they are. I have a hard time balancing encouragement for adventure with supporting a decision to turn around. I not only ask that anyone who has a bad feeling say something but I make sure that everyone knows that I’ll be disappointed if they don’t speak up.

    #648651
    nickstayner
    700 Posts

    Just thought I would use this thread to educate anyone who isn’t already aware of these two classics:


    Read and reread them and better yet, practice the skills and habits they preach.

    #648652
    dangraham
    51 Posts

    @buckchow wrote:

    @TEX wrote:

    Avalanches can happen any time if there is snow on the ground and a slope (steep or not)

    I’d offer that slope steepness is of primary concern. We can of course greatly mitigate avy risk by avoiding being on, under, or adjacent to steeper (~30+ degree) slopes. It’s pretty much impossible for an avy to occur if nothing in vicinity is over 25 degrees. Utah’s current persistent sketchy snowpack inspired me to buy an inclinometer last month and refine my slope angle awareness. There’s also an app for that.

    Generally the case, but this is from the Canadian avalanche associations Facebook this afternoon, and living in fernie, we generally seem to have at least one cycle per year where extremely low angle slopes release

    Quote from CAA Facebook:

    “If you’re in the BC Interior, our forecasters are warning you to stay out of avalanche terrain. Slopes that have been hanging on by a fingernail are peeling off, on angles as low as twenty degrees. Experienced backcountry users are coming in from the field because they feel they can’t adequately manage risk out there. Things are getting crazy out in the snow.”. End quote

    For background: this cycle is occurring on a layer of SH up to 20cm deep in sheltered areas and sun crusts that built up on S facing slopes over a two week drought/occasional warm temp and fairly HP dominated period. Followed by gradual loading of 40cm over 48hrs of snow falling at -5-8C and a further 10-15 this morning with freezing levels @ 1600m

    #648653
    EBwest
    71 Posts

    ^^*newbie question*

    How long would it take a multilayered snowpack described above to settle? Considering the gradual consistent loading continues (which is forecasted) thereafter without any observable faceted features from the HP base to the fresh…

    #648654
    dangraham
    51 Posts

    There is no definitive answer really. the metamorphosis of the snowpack is constant and has many variables. I’d recommend reading the Bruce tremper book pictured above and observing trends over time in your local snowpack to get a better idea

    #648655
    stomppow
    150 Posts

    Having lived in interior BC and seeing SH layers dominate, that is a scary scenario when the long high pressure system SH is slowly buried, adjusts, then slowly buried again, until it’s buried maybe 60-70cm deep and still hasn’t shed off any lines… SH can be very spotty depending on wind destroying/feeding it, sun sublimating it, stratus cloud bands forming it at their tops in a tight elevation band etc., and it can take a ton of pressure to get the overlying slab to bond somewhat to it, or hopefully to lay it over while it rounds out. It takes forever to round out, they’re really stubborn huge crystals and leave big gaps between them, not like fresh snow. Just got to keep an eye on it as different aspects and elevations will react drastically differently. The whoomphs from an old persistant SH layer seem to be very random if they will occur at all, but when they do they are loud and you may even feel a drop in the snowpack! Also even mundane features near drainage bottom can be sketchy since this is sometimes where the moist cool pool of air flows katabatically down the basins under clear skies and high pressure, building massive SH, watch for terrain traps in the bottom of drainages, even though there are trees everywhere.

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