Be careful out there
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Denis - DCSki Supporter
March 6, 2008
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
On the final day of the Steamboat trip we all went down something called Christmas Tree Gully. It is one of the chutes but not one of the tougher ones. After 2-300 vertical it mellows out into an area called Big Meadow, which is actually a grove of conifers and a large area. The conifers shadow the snow from the sun and we found perfect dry light untracked powder, boot top deep, 3 days after the last snow. It is almost flat with an occasional rollover leading to a dozen or so powder turns in widely spaced trees; just aim and go. There were small knolls and it was great fun to just rise over one and accept the acceleration on the downhill side and ride it to the next knoll. My son and I were separated from the rest of the family but stayed close to each other with occasional stops to admire the beauty of it all. Perfect. It is easy to get carried away in such 'easy' conditions. Perhaps I let the speed build a bit too much.

Suddenly the knoll that I had just dropped ended in a deep hole. Holy Sh!#, I braced for the pain of a broken leg but it did not come. In much less time that it takes to write this I was in a couple inches of water in a tiny stream bed that had melted a 12 foot deep hole in the snowpack. I yelled for John. No answer; he did not hear me, he was gone. I took off the skis and tried to climb out - hopeless. It was powder 360 degrees around and simply collapsed when I tried to kick steps in the wall. I enforced a 10 minute cool off and think period. No sense in getting all sweaty and then hypothermic if I was going to be here a while. After that I slammed one fat ski sideways into the wall of snow. Once it was firmly in place I put a knee on it and lifted myself a couple of feet. Then I did the same to the other ski and got about 6 feet up. There it was no longer a vertical wall and ski poles, shoved into the snow, grips first, made a solid anchor point. I was out! I called the kids on the cell phone and let them know I was OK. It had now been 30 minutes and nobody had come by. One ski, half of my favorite pair was still down in the hole. After many failed tries to retrieve it without falling in again I got the idea that skis have sidecut for a reason. I slipped a pole strap over the tail, twisted it tight and lifted the ski out easily. Another 15 minutes of scraping the base of one iced up ski with the edges of the other, and I was ready to follow a track left toward the open slope and the lift. The track was rapidly joined by others and within a few hundred yards I was back in the ski area, riding the lift and telling my story to a guy who clearly thought that lift line roulette had seated him next to a madman.

Point of the story? If you ski the backcountry or sidecountry you cannot be too vigilant. When the steep part is over and you relax there is still something there waiting to jump up and bite you.

Be careful out there.
tromano
March 7, 2008
Member since 12/19/2002 🔗
998 posts
Wow scary stuff! Glad to see you are ok.
skier219
March 7, 2008
Member since 01/8/2005 🔗
1,318 posts
Geez Denis. Glad you were able to maintain a cool head and come up with a clever way out. That is really nuts.

That's why I always carry a long rope and grappling hook at all times. (yes, I'm kidding, and it probably wouldn't have helped anyhow)
lbotta - DCSki Supporter
March 7, 2008
Member since 10/18/1999 🔗
1,527 posts
 Originally Posted By: skier219

That's why I always carry a long rope and grappling hook at all times. (yes, I'm kidding, and it probably wouldn't have helped anyhow)


Sounds like a good thing to carry in the water backpack...
Denis - DCSki Supporter
March 7, 2008
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
A number of friends have expressed alarm and/or asked for more info, so here is some. I hope it might help someone else someday.

First, this was in bounds and could have happened to anybody. Hazards are always there. Nevertheless, I believe that all of us are more likely to come to harm from high speed collisions on groomers and car crashes enroute to or from ski areas. Still we need to be smart and cautious and to have thought through some scenarios in advance. I had my cell phone and knew that it had reception all over Steamboat. I also had the best, lightest, cheapest, most all around likely to save your butt piece of emergency equipment you can carry - a loud whistle. Every skier should carry one in my opinion.

After realizing that my son had gone on down I called the kids on the cell phone to let them know what had happened and that I was OK and trying to climb out unassisted and would call again in a few minutes. I took it as a useful and educational challenge to see if I could climb out unaided. It was 11 AM, plenty of time. I did not sound the whistle after failing to summon John by yelling; I was unhurt and didn't want to scare the bejeezus out of him. If I could get out unassisted it would build my skill base for when I might truly be alone. Help could be summoned later if needed.

BTW my family (who do worry) gave me a Personal Locator Beacon for Christmas. http://www.findmespot.com/ I was not carrying it and probably should have. I did not go on this trip with the expectation of doing any backcountry.

Thinking some more, I will not ever again be without my standard backcountry pack on a big mountain or when alone. A couple water bottles and some high calorie food, a down jacket or extra layer, and some other stuff will fit there but would be hard to stuff into pockets. I need to carry 10 meters of 8 mm climbing rope and some prusik loops, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prusik_knot These would be light and easy to carry. Then a ski could be pushed tail first into the wall of snow, as high as one could reach, and used as an anchor. A pair of prusik loops would allow climbing several feet, then the other ski could be jammed into the wall, and the process repeated until out.

The above are minimalist steps. If you really want to get serious read this book; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountaineering:_The_Freedom_of_the_Hills
pagamony - DCSki Supporter
March 8, 2008
Member since 02/23/2005 🔗
838 posts
Truly impressive story, Denis, and thanks for the links. I'll buy that book! I had an similarly eerie thing happen this year - it was not enough for whole thread but might be a good lesson in here.

My 14 year old son had badly bruised his elbow on a super steep bump run at Breck, so the next day I went to A-basin on my own. Unloading next to the beach, I realized I had brought his boots but not mine. I also had no tools at all with me!! Well, they are the same shoe size with only a mm or two difference in sole length, so I tried them in my marker pistons and they seemed to work correctly.

I took a couple of easy runs off the expedition chair to test them out and then headed for Montezuma that had just opened the week before. I skied a long time on some steep runs without incident and started following the traverses further out to the nicer snow. I finally followed the east traverse along the boundry rope until the snow was no longer packed and then it hit me. The heelpiece on my left ski released. Uh oh. After digging the ski out of 18" of thick stuff I was able to cock the device and continue for another 50 yards back towards the slopes when it happened again. This time, the heelpiece was off the track and could not be locked. Oh no. I stepped off the ski and sunk up to my thigh. Oops. I finally found I could just step on the ski and keep enough pressure in a snowplow to make it about 200 yards to the only other human I could see.

I must have looked incredibly stupid snowplowing through deep snow on the back side of a-basin, but that was it. He called for his friend who had a good old swiss army knife so I could scew the heelpiece back onto the worm gear. I thanked them profusely and then headed off in the easiest direction possible. No more incidents that day, thank god.

So, this could have easily happened another few hundred yards down the boundry where no one would have been nearby. I could have been smart and taken the skis to the shop and had them adjust the bindings to the boots (since I had no tools of my own), but was feeling a little too infallible. Anyway, I ski inbounds, what could happen. I had even left the blackberry in the car though I doubt it would have worked back there anyway. Since then, I have carried a whistle andd a swiss army knife and probably always will.

so yes, be careful out there.
bawalker
March 8, 2008
Member since 12/1/2003 🔗
1,547 posts
I never realized those things could happen in bounds territory, but then again I've never been to such a large resort area. I did see several years ago when I was at timberline first getting to snowboard. Me and two other friends were going down "The Drop" when my friend Kevin ventured off to skiers right and was fooling around near the trees. The deeper untouched snow off to the side lured him in close to the trees and appearantly just off the packed groomed base he fell and sunk in upto his chest/shoulders. This was after one of those bigger 36" dumps a day or so before with obvious wind blown powder accumulating. Even with that situation to see him struggle being completely unable to assist himself to get unstrapped and get out. We had to go and dig him out. So seeing that at timberline, I can only imagine what it's like on the bigger mountains.
The Colonel - DCSki Supporter
March 8, 2008
Member since 03/5/2004 🔗
3,107 posts
All of this reminds me of something that happened to me at Deer Valley about 14 years ago. I was skiing on the shoulder of a trail and noticed a low lying structure ahead of me. As I swing left to go around this mostly underground structure I suddenly saw a gaping hole just in front of the structure. I slid in and had a devil of a time getting out, with the snow surface being about four feet above my head. I might still be there had not help arrived.
The Colonel \:\)
MadMonk
March 8, 2008
Member since 12/27/2004 🔗
235 posts
Similar story, sans stream.

A long time ago (like in the 1980s) I was skiing at Keystone during Easter Break. It was very warm and all I was wearing was a pair of windpants and t-shirt. By 1 or 2pm the snow was getting super soft so I ducked into the trees looking for something more firm. Big mistake.

I was skiing along and just like above, the snow collapsed and I was up to my armpits. I immediately dug myself out to my waist and used my poles to release my bindings. Pulled myself out of the hole and then spent 30 minutes digging out my skis.
Ullr
March 9, 2008
Member since 11/27/2004 🔗
531 posts
My story happened at Whistler back in 2001. My wife was not skiing that day due to the conditions (heavy fog and snow). It was late in the day, and I had to get back to the Roundhouse lodge to download before the gondola stopped running. I saw what I thought was a trail to my left, so I cut into the woods. I was fairly far into the woods, when the trail narrowed, then disappeared. I was on a fairly steep slope, in the woods, by myself at about 3:30pm. I should have turned back, when I realized this was not a marked trail, but I made the mistake of continuing on. I hit a stump and fell. Slid down several feet, and came to a stop above a cliff (maybe 30-40 foot drop). I was in waist deep snow, and by myself. I could not climb back up, for fear of sliding back down and over the cliff. I had a two-way radio on, but was unable to get my wife down in the village. I scanned the channels and found someone. Gave them my location, and they said they would send the patrol. He showed up around 15 minutes later. Through me a rope, and I was able to tie my ski's and poles on, and pull my self up to him. We the skied back out to the original slope I was on.

Very scary when you are by yourself.
The Colonel - DCSki Supporter
March 9, 2008
Member since 03/5/2004 🔗
3,107 posts
You do not have to be by yourself to get into trouble!
Two personal examples:
1. In the mid-seventies I was with three friends at Park City late in the ski day, time for one more run. We were at the top gondola station and decided to follow a bunch of ski tracks down a "slope" we had not previously noticed. The further we skied down, the fewer tracks we saw, until there were none ahead of us, only trees and a very narrow (absolutely no room for even a short speed-slowing turn, not even enough room to side slip), straight line opening through the forest. It was that or hike out, so we took it. Skiing straight down for probably a quarter mile or so, very fast, afraid we would fall and hit a tree or be run over by the friend behind us, we continued until we bottomed out onto the last inbounds trail. As we shot out onto the trail we met a very surprised ski patroller who was sweeping the trail to make sure no skiers were left on the mountain before the lifts shut down. Did I mention that this trail led only to a lift back to the mountaintop where there were trails that led down to the base area on the other side of the mountain? Afterward we reflected on how close we came to having to hike out in deep snow (assuming waning daylight and our sense of direction would have allowed such), or spending the night freezing on the mountain, and how lucky we were to not have hit a fallen tree, stump or log when flying down that last narrow opening in the trees.
And you can be local and still find yourself "LOST"! 2. Many years ago at Seven Springs my brother-in-law insisted we take a "trail" not shown on the maps. It was at the top of the front side lifts and appeared to me to me to be some sort of access road that had ski tracks on it. This was when the furthermost trail on skiers' right was "Corkscrew". Anyway, we headed down this "trail" and began to notice fewer and fewer ski tracks until we were standing in virgin snow, several hundred vertical feet below the top terminus of the lift. I wanted to turn around and hike back up to civilization, BUT NOOO, I listened to my brother-in-law and we continued down what turned out to be a road to nowhere. Further down and after another discussion about turning back, I told my brother-in-law that I would continue to accompany him only if he agreed to carry my skis when we eventually hiked back (in ski boots, in 18 inch deep late March wet snow and warm temps.). Eventually we decided to head back, but not up the way we came, rather over a ridge in what we hoped was the direction of the lodge. It was eerie; the only sound we could hear was the creaking of the trees as they swayed in the late March breeze. We hiked up to the ridge top and only saw a valley and another ridge. We continued on up and over to another valley-ridge, still hearing no resort sounds. Finally, after about 90 minutes of hiking (remember in ski boots and knee+ deep snow in the woods) we finally saw the base of a lift, the tennis courts and the hotel. When we emerged from the woods the lift attendant asked if we were the pair that took off down the "fire road" that went for fifteen miles before it reached civilization.
Seven Springs was just starting to organize a search party to find us. Stupid of us, yes; lesson learned, yes!
The Colonel \:\)
JohnL
March 10, 2008
Member since 01/6/2000 🔗
3,516 posts
Denis,

Glad to hear that you're OK.

 Quote:
Point of the story? If you ski the backcountry or sidecountry you cannot be too vigilant. When the steep part is over and you relax there is still something there waiting to jump up and bite you.


Yep, the moral of the story. Doesn't have to be on back or sidecountry, can be on groomed or marked trails. Lots of us in big mountain terrain are super cautious for cliffs, hidden rocks/stumps, possible sluff/mini avis, etc., but it is so easy to let your guard down when you feel the major dangers are not present. But if we don't let the skis run a bit when we feel we can/should, we take away a lot of the joy of the sport.

Came within a nat's eyelash myself of a serious injury on a groomer in Brighton this past week. Wuz at crusin' speed, hit a small jump, and landed in a hidden deep depression on the other side. Might have been OK in soft conditions (that's when the depression formed), but the snow base was firm that day. Fortunately, I only tweaked my ankle/shin - but I felt it hours later. +/- a few MPH or degrees of lift/wind angle, and I could have broken my tib/fib. On a pretty flat slope. Had a similar experience a few years earlier at Brighton, so hopefully the experience is now etched in my DNA.

At Steamboat, you had a lot of extra safety bandwith that you chose not to exercise. For the reasons you stated. For most inbounds experiences, I'm not sure if the extra precautions you mentioned are really needed (if you are skiing with others.)

As a very gentle bit of prodding (may not be fully explained in your posts), you may want to clarify your off-piste skiing protocol with your son.
Denis - DCSki Supporter
March 11, 2008
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
 Originally Posted By: JohnL
Denis,

Glad to hear that you're OK.


Thanks, that makes 2 of us.


 Quote:
As a very gentle bit of prodding (may not be fully explained in your posts), you may want to clarify your off-piste skiing protocol with your son.


You can bet that we were both a bit more careful in the following days at Loveland and A-basin. Still, as you point out much of the joy in skiing comes when you just go with the flow. It's a delicate balance. John and I have done a lot of skiing together and are well matched although he is bolder. A good backcountry partner is a precious thing; as is a good son.
lbotta - DCSki Supporter
March 11, 2008
Member since 10/18/1999 🔗
1,527 posts
It's easy to say "safety first", another thing to live it... I had my own experience at Stowe, almost at closing time on Chin Clip, past the last exit before a mile of moguls. Besides exhausted, I misjudged my turns and abilities and wound up in a snowbank in the trees. Stayed there for about 10 minutes trying to get out until my increasingly louder calls were answered by someone. Not as dramatic as Denis' story, but it taught me that if I'm doing a challenging run in isolated territory, I will try to go accompanied.
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