Forums Splitboard Talk Forum What would you do?
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  • #574595
    319 Posts

    Now that we are in mid March, I know everyone around here in Colorado is getting the fever to ride the bigger lines. A friend turned 30 on Friday and for his birthday his awesome wife got him new gear. My birthday present to him was to take him out to Berthoud Pass and show him around. Friday night brought in about 5 inches of new snow but the North faces got much more due to wind loading. The highs over the last few days were getting up there with peaks temps at 11,000ft of around 45F and night time lows around 20’s. The avalanche danger for Friday was considerable (level 3) across the board.

    Leaving the parking lot, the sky was clear and air temperature was warming up quickly. We headed up to Russell to get a good view and find some soft snow on some north faces. To my surprise, a lone skier had put some track down North Couloir and was on his way back up for round two. I could tell from his track and the fact that he was going back for more that we were going to get some good powder turns in. At the top, we talk a little to the lone skier. I asked him how the stability was and his response was he put tracks down and everything looked good. Not trying to be a mother, but wanting to pass along useful information, I mentioned that the avi danger was level 3 everywhere. He just politely shrugged it off. He was probably in his mid-forties, looked like he knew what he was doing and quickly changed over and rode down the North Couloir.

    Shortly after his decent, we rode the same Couloir, one at a time, and then skinned up to one of my favorite little areas, hidden knoll. To my surprise, both Y and Z shoots had recent avi debris at the bottom and we were on top of Y shoot. I ski cut the top of Y shoot, and got about a 6 inch sluff to run. Thankfully, the majority of the face to our left had already slide and our hope was that the next layer as a little more stable. Still, not wanting to push it, we descended one at a time and rode the edge of the shoot, rider’s right. At the bottom, we looked back up at the shoots and talked about the stability. “Yep, things are moving around today. Likely due more to the temperature change then the new snow, but whatever the case maybe, we need to be careful today.”

    Skinning up to the bottom of the postage stamp I got a great view of Mines 1 and 2 (see picture). Wow, people were riding that stuff? If you look closely, you can see two sets of track coming down between Mines 1 and 2, favoring Mines 2.

    Now I get on to my question. Would you ride mines 1 and 2? I mean look at it. Such a beautiful line(s). Weather is so nice. We are getting into spring time riding. Yes, the top layer seems a little unstable and the avi is at level 3 but, other people rode it and nothing moved on them…

    For some of you who don’t know, Mines 1 and 2 are around 30-35 degrees, north aspects and have a history of sliding.

    Kyle Miller
    510 Posts

    Are you talking about the lines on the right side or in the middle?

    Just because someone has rode a line doesn’t mean it won’t slide.

    If we were in Washington ( Maritime snowpack) I would feel safer on the right face after a quick ski cut.

    319 Posts

    Mines 1 and 2 are the two avalanche paths, lookers left in the picture. The cliff faces (more middle of the picture) with lots of little shoots through it is “High Trail Cliffs”. FYI, a snowboarder died in the High Trail Cliffs area when he cut along the bottom of the cliffs and got burred Jan 2011.

    Kyle Miller
    510 Posts

    It sounds like they put in a skin track directly under the face.

    The dog legged slide path is a huge terrain trap and while I love open faces I would stick to tight couloirs until thing settle down?

    411 Posts

    From this weekend, Mines 1 and 2. Does this answer your question? (photos from CAIC page)

    Note the person standing next to the crown face.

    Something I read somewhere- Tracks are not signs of intelligent life.

    830 Posts

    It’s hard to answer your question not knowing what the concerns for the day where. For example was it Considerable based on winds and new snow or was the concern a deep slab instability. If it was the first you can get some good beta from the lines those other skiers took. Wind slabs are typically a manageable threat, I usually pop a cornice or place a board cut to safe zone, and pay attention to features in the runnout. No big deal. If it was a deep slab instability and the threat was raised to considerable due to the fact they weren’t sure how that weak layer would react to the new load than skier tracks don’t mean shit. You could be the 100th person on the slope and be the trigger. Too hard to say. I was out this weekend and the winds were nuking, we were pulling out smaller wind slabs on the leeward side but found good snow and good bonding on every other aspect. We rode our big-line despite based on our observations. Go/No Go can be a fine line.

    411 Posts

    I’m pretty sure the large slide pictures I posted were from Saturday.

    319 Posts

    ehcarly, you got it! Sorry to set everyone up, but I thought this would be a good way to reinforce what we already know. Just because you see track, doesn’t mean it’s not going to slide on the next guy.

    We hitched a ride back up to the parking lot and arrived around 2pm. Fueled up and were heading back out for round two. We were gearing up to hit the east side and two people said that Mines 1 and 2 just slide big time.

    We skinned up and looped over to the far side of Mines 1. I guess someone called Search and Rescue around the time we left the parking lot. As we were transitioning over, and putting a game plan together to ride a safer line and then do a beacon search (likely for a body recovery of some solo rider), Flight For Life flew over and dropped off two patrolers and a dog. Seeing that a dog got dropped off, we waited for them to let us know if they wanted our help. We knew we needed to be careful not to contaminate the scene. A patroler came over to us and we offered assistance. They declined and politely asked us to leave the area. Below are a few picutures.

    I know there are a lot of great TRs of folks heading out for solo missions here on SB and that there are a few newbies who will see this and think, that looks like fun! I have nothing against that at all but just want to bring in a little reality check. Mainly, just because someone rode it, doesn’t mean it’s safe.

    Also, if you look closely, you will see the solo track into the debris field (On the lefthand edge of the slide). I believe this is what prompted someone to call S&R. Not really sure if this solo rided triggered this or if it happened after he rode it. However, this slide was big and if it would have carried you to the gully below you could get buried several feet deep.

    I think that a big chunk of riding in the backcountry is knowing the area. I’m new to BC riding, but try to get out every chance I can get and learn as much as I can while I’m out there. I think that using your eyes, ears, and the gray matter that links them together is very important. (I know, Captain Obvious here).

    For me, I rode Mine 1 and 2 last May. The snow pack was isothermal and one consistent layer (verified by snow pits, weather reports and by being out there testing stuff out). I also know that someone got killed out there in early November (hard to believe there was enough snow, but there was). I also know that the snow pack started off this year out there very scary (see snow pit picture from November this year above Mines 1 and 2). Basically, this was again, another learning experience day in the BC. I hope people don’t take this as being “preachy” but rather just someone who is just trying to pass along some information for other to consider. I love the freedom of the backcountry and want it to stay that way. It’s just that I had my first experience at getting ready to do a body recovery and hope I never have to do that again.

    Up close

    Patrolers and dog

    Snow pit pictures from November 2010.

    319 Posts

    This was from Friday around 2:30-3pm March 18, 2011.

    411 Posts

    Thanks for the great pictures Keffler. I thought that I read somewhere that the debris was 25-30 feet deep. As I understand it, when one of them goes it tends to sympathetically rip the other, resulting in two very large debris piles on top of each other. Not a good place to be.

    Peak 1 above Frisco went pretty big too. Crown is very clearly visible from Hwy 9. Skier triggered but everyone was ok. The skiers called dispatch and let everyone know they were ok, preventing an unnecessary rescue effort.

    1113 Posts

    Simple answer: mines on a considerable day? Hell no. One spring day I watched that thing rip big from the top of parsenn bowl at winter park, it had been skied earlier that day. Mines is definitely one of those lines that lures people in due to its visibility from the road. Personally I don’t have any desire to ride it. By the time its “safe” there are much better lines to shred. Unfortunately I’m sure there will be more deaths in that slide path in the future. North chute on russel is much different in that it doesn’t get that fat wind pillow at the top like mines 1&2.

    820 Posts

    First off, I am not a huge fan of this type of question anymore. I’ve come to see that everyone is different in decision making, and there are so many factors involved other then snowpack. Each person has a different level of acceptable risk, and that is the biggest thing here in question. I don’t think you should judge someone’s choice of line, just choose yours as you would like. The guy solo’ing the Couloir could have been fine riding that, where someone else may have thought it was crazy. Everyone looks at things different, and judges things for themselves. I think for this reason, never trust someone else’s decision making. You are on your own at all times out there, its always just YOUR decision. I think this is something that should be communicated through a group at all times, no matter what. I always am talking to a group and see how people feel throughout a tour. I have a strong rule that if one person in a group really doesn’t want to do the line, then don’t.

    As for the line in question and my decision. I rarely like to ride lines like this because I think the risk vs reward sucks. Even on moderate days I would probably stay away. The biggest things working against this line is that it is completely unprotected at the top and planar, as well as a terrain trap at the bottom. So even slightly wrong decision could have bad concequences. Its hard to say if a 6 inch sluff would bury you completely, but it has the possibility. I like to have outs as well as be protected as best I can, which I don’t think this face offers much of. Next, these lines don’t offer much reward in my opinon, a 30 degree wide open slope I really don’t have much appeal to do, but a steeper chute I would rather do. So on those lines, it can be more protected, as well as a better reward, so I would be more apt to do it. HFT nailed it here: @hikeforturns wrote:

    By the time its “safe” there are much better lines to shred.

    Lastly, since you had a new person to touring, I would of called a no go on it, and been much more conservative then you are with your normal partners. This line, although not to difficult in terrain for riding, it could be difficult avalanche risk for an unexperienced person in a party. It looks like the party in the picture choose the most conservative line on that face (other then the trees), and managed risks best they can, for good reason. Update: the second line, I’m not suprised it went.

    I would of said No, but I think the biggest thing to think about is, what would I have done? Cheers Keffler, see you in a few weeks

    319 Posts

    So a follow up question is this:

    Since we are getting lots of what I think are slides due to warming, does this mean that the backcountry will be safer in April. Meaning, the faces with weak layers are sliding so when we hopefully get our April/May dumps the base layer should be better? I know the answers to this question are very subjective, but I see this activity as a good thing for future riding and wondering if I’m thinking in the right direction. Time will tell and hopefully good sense follow.

    319 Posts

    @ehcarley wrote:

    Peak 1 above Frisco went pretty big too. Crown is very clearly visible from Hwy 9. Skier triggered but everyone was ok. The skiers called dispatch and let everyone know they were ok, preventing an unnecessary rescue effort.

    Thanks for mentioning this because this was the other dynamic that I found interesting and had not thought of.

    In this case at Berthoud, I’m thinking that the solo skier/rider did not trigger the avalanche because as it turned out, no one was buried in the avalanche and no one called in to let “dispatch” know that they caused a big slide and that they were there but everyone was ok. At least I’m hoping that was the case because if someone did cause this thing to slide and then just got out of there and drove home it’s a little bit of a selfish thing I guess. In this case since people saw tracks in but could not see tracks out from the road someone called S&R. Within an hour there was a whole herd of people and resources at the scene.

    Take a quick invetory:
    (3-4) Fire trucks, ambulances, S&R vehicles
    (1) Flight For Life heli
    (15-25) S&R, and Patrollers

    Not only does this cost money but it could also have been a drain on resources had there been another avalanche somewhere else with a real need for intervention.

    This is one thing I hadn’t really thought about. If you are involved in an avalanche (caused but no one caught), especially if it is one that is visible from the road, it sounds like you should call the local authorities in order to prevent an unnecessary rescue effort and keep those people out of a dangerous situation/location.

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I agree that maybe this question “What would you do?” is very subjective and maybe irrelevant but my hope was to bring up a good discussion and more than anything, get it ingrained in my head that just because there are track doesn’t mean it’s safe. You can hear people tell you these things, but it does help to see it for yourself.

    I think UTAH had a post up in the TR (can’t find it though) where at an area he rides and other people snow cat or heli in had lots of tracks and even a bomb blast hole on the slope but that it later avalanched.

    411 Posts

    From this thread over on TGR

    maloneSTAR;3219163 wrote:
    We talked with a few guys from CAIC who were checking it out on Saturday and they said that you could have easily missed the weak layer if you were looking for it. The CAIC report says it was a depth hoar layer, I assume its probably from January or so given the depth of the crown. There were some tracks heading into the skiers right side of the slide, and they seemed to think that’s where the skier triggered it. It was shallower over on that side (1-2′) and he was able to put more pressure on the weak layer. It propagated all the way across. Average crown was about 4′ and I think the biggest part was pushing 9′. The CAIC guys said that the skier refused to speak to them about how it all went down, but that’s what they seemed to have gathered from their observations. Others we spoke to were saying it was 40+ feet deep at parts in the gully at the bottom. Thank God the guy didn’t get caught.

    On the other hand, the shoulder was still really soft, even after a few warm sunny days with no new snow. However, you have to bootpack out of the gully because its near impossible to ski over the avy debris and the 7-mile trail is a little on the icy side. There were damn-near refrigerator sized chunks in the runout.

    830 Posts

    It’s good to ask questions like this keffler not to mention it’s fun to discuss. I think it’s funny for all the spamming boards and bindings and all the Jeremy Jones ass kissing that goes down on this sight very little avy talk is discussed. A lot of people are severely confused on this site. The difference between splitting and snowboarding is the line you put up will get you just as much respect as the line you put down. It’s a package deal for sure.

    Anyways I was going to say after looking at those pics that was definetely a deep slab instability and skier tracks don’t mean shit for sure. Not familiar with your snowpack but my guess would be the danger level was elevated due to the wind/snow event and the forecaster was waiting to see how that weak layer would react to the new load. You can have a persistent weak layer all year long, a little loading…no activity, a little more loading…no activity, all of a sudden a little more loading and it’s the straw that breaks the camels back. Low Probability-High consequence as they say. Warmer temps, weight and time should help set things up but it looks like you guys need a few good/big dumps to really see. I don’t mess with that shit though.

    643 Posts

    To answer the original question: No, I never ski mines, wide open wind loaded bowls are just not my style and I remember seeing that thing go HUDGE back when they used to patrol it.

    I suffer from what I refer to as snow-agoraphobia: Snow-Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder defined as a morbid fear of wide open spaces, crowds, or uncontrolled snow conditions. In other words, I like nice tight north facing couloirs with frozen corn that softens up when the sun hits it, preferably 5-10 mins before I drop in.

    620 Posts

    I second summersgone on his point that I would never take a beginner or uninitiated person out in the backcountry while there are suspected deep slab instabilities. Many couple-a-seasons tourers really do not have an appreciation for the randomness of deep slabs, or more accurately where the thin spots are where your relatively small weight might actually get it moving. So a beginner tourer really does not have an appreciation for the risk level that they are taking on when the potential snow failures go beyond and below shallower new snow slabs that you actually can evaluate.

    Bridging snowpack over a weak layer is great, it means you might have a bridge on top of you too!

    1490 Posts

    Keff, thanks for posting this topic-I would suggest putting something a little more descriptive in the title though.
    A partner and I were up at Bert on Saturday. We rode two laps on Russell (North Chute 2 for her, and I rode the next line over on the second run) then we hit some stuff lower down for a couple of laps (80s, 90s). We did not go over to the bench that day. Stability on Russell was quite good, with no signs of problems. We did skin back up the center of the bowl, taking the lower angle line, and there was some scary windslab (thin, perhaps 4″) over there, but exposure danger could be mostly avoided through careful terrain anaylsis.
    Coming out at Current Creek, looking across the road, and seeing the slide on Mines was quite surprising, the first really big slide, to the ground, I have seen this season. I have often dreamt of the perfect run on Mines, a place where in good powder, one could ride really fast, and lay out some beautiful soul turns, but I have never had that run in 15 years of riding at Berthoud. Perfect and safe conditions rarely exist there, and the terrain is such that the consequences of getting caught in a slide there cannot be overemphasized. My feeling is that we always have deep instabilities here in Colorado, at least until late spring and the snowpack becomes isothermal. I do not think I have ever looked at a pit in Colorado in winter, which did not have some TG at the ground level. We choose to ride in winter on a snowpack which always has deep instabilities, and the question we have to ask ourselves is whether there is a strong enough bridge of the deeper problems to keep the slab from being triggered. This is a really tough call. I suspect that combo of recent wind loading, and very warm temperatures, was enough to overcome the bridge strength on Mines. But predicting whether deep instabilities like this will be triggered is really difficult, I will admit that I am not confident in my ability to do so, and that I rely on many sources of information and judgement in decision making in this regard. Mostly, I usually choose to ride terrain (in CO winter) which does not hold such a huge slab, and such an obvious terrain trap. I would love to hear other’s approach to slope evaluation/selection in terms of CO’s persistant deep instabilities.

    758 Posts

    I think history is very important regarding the danger of a specific slope. Knowing the history of THAT SPECIFIC slope can be invaluable. If it runs regularly, if it runs big, and when is likely to run. The snowpack is dynamic, but the slope itself is static. If it has run before, it will run again. I know this slope (Mines), I have been up there when it has run, and it usually goes big. Add to that the massive start zone, that gets progressively more sun exposure as the spring comes around, and the terrain trap at the bottom (this could likely carry a person out of eye-shot from his party) and you are looking at a very difficult rescue.

    I can remember last year having to force someone in my party not to go there, only to see a similar scene, tracks running into a avy crown within an hour or 2 of us being up there.

    That run is not worth my life, but that is every persons individual decision to make.

    PS: This weak layer (if this was truly the culprit) has been in the base for quite some time (1-8-11). I saw it when it happened, and took a picture of the textbook “Surface Hoar” layer in Beaver Creek SC. It remained stable (@ BP) till now. My opinion is that the warming temperatures have change the stability. In deep winter at BP we see very low temps and mild swings in temperature, in springtime we see considerably larger swings in temperature.

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