Avalanche safety
9 posts
8 users
1k+ views
Denis - DCSki Supporter 
January 4, 2009
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,342 posts
The current snowpack stability in the west prompts me to post some thoughts. Please forgive me if they sound preachy.

It is a distressing fact that most of those who die in avalanches have taken the training, have the equipment,
and are very experienced. This is true at least for skiers and riders, perhaps not for snowmobilers.

I don't think this means that one is in greater danger per hour if they are avy educated, or carry beacons, probes, shovels. There is always a non zero risk and total risk is cumulative for every hour one spends out there. It is integrated over a lifetime. Spend enough hours in avy terrain and the chances become good of being in or around an
avy incident eventually. Personally I have for years tried to spend an absolute minimum time on or under slopes
of >/= 30 degree pitch in the backcountry. I don't feel deprived. Low angle powder is great! It looks like right
now and perhaps for the rest of the season, in the west, this practice may have to be extended to the in bounds as well. 30 degrees is steep. The steepest slope at Timberline, the lower part of Off the Wall is 30 degrees. I measured it with an inclinometer in order to show a friend who swore it exceeded 45 degrees.

I think that minimizing time spent in avy terrain is the single most important thing one can do to reduce their risk.
It is far more important than any piece of equipment
January 4, 2009
Member since 01/2/2008 🔗
174 posts
Very true. I was reading some posts on TGR after the avalanche death at Snowbird a couple weeks back. It amazed me how many posters exclaimed it was perhaps time for them to buy a beacon...as if that would prevent their own avalanche calamity.

As it was firmly explained when I took a NSP Avalanche course last year - the beacon is primarily a device to locate your lifeless body. Reading the terrain, obtaining the latest avalanche report, and safe skiing through questionable terrain is much more the solution. Or, to rephrase your key point - perhaps abstinence is the best solution.
January 4, 2009
Member since 03/21/2004 🔗
1,273 posts
.. yes! the best way not to get caught is to not be in an area that can roll! that is what i was always taught - "just don't do it" . there is no reason to go if there is any doubt. i've seen people stand there scoping out a place and debating if it was safe ... if you have to think about it don't go!
Roger Z
January 4, 2009
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
Some very practical advice, which is avy-avoidance 101 but in case folks haven't been out west or thought much about it before:

[*]Don't ski above someone in avalanche-prone terrain. I can't emphasize this one enough.

[*]Boot stomping at the top of the slope to test it doesn't hurt (unless someone is on the terrain already).

[*]Even in terrain that you feel is safe, sometimes it helps to make long traverses across the fall line to test the snow.

[*]Try to ski with someone who knows the terrain, what areas are slide-prone, and therefore which way to turn in case stuff breaks. Especially if you're going into the backcountry, going with a guide who knows the area can be very beneficial and worth the $$.

[*]As a corrolary to that, skiing with a buddy who can call out dangers is imperative. A shout from up top might be the only alert you have to bail, so skiing alone is a bad idea.

I'm headed to Park City in less than two weeks. They've been having a bear of it there, like most western places, and Scott's Bowl still isn't open as a result (nor is a lot of Jupiter Peak). It'll be interesting to see the avy blasting they've been up to in the Jupiter area to get the terrain open. Heck, they even had the Pioneer lift on a snow safety hold yesterday morning, and that is certainly not an area of the mountain I would have guessed was avalanche-prone. It's just one of those winters.
pagamony - DCSki Supporter 
January 4, 2009
Member since 02/23/2005 🔗
928 posts
Originally Posted By: Denis
... 30 degrees is steep. The steepest slope at Timberline, the lower part of Off the Wall is 30 degrees. I measured it with an inclinometer in order to show a friend who swore it exceeded 45 degrees.

About that ... I find that many people confuse angle with grade, so they might hear "45 percent grade" but they remember "45 degree angle." viva la arc tangent!

Best wishes everyone.
January 4, 2009
Member since 12/19/2002 🔗
998 posts
I read that if you do get buried and a beacon search is needed to find you chances are already under 50% you will live.

The avy danger in the Logan area hasn't been below considerable for weeks. They are claiming deep slab danger could linger all season. I think Dennis' approach is a good one.
January 5, 2009
Member since 01/17/2005 🔗
422 posts
The (old) stats I've seen said that most skier/rider avy deaths were young adult (<30) males who had not taken avy training. I'd like to see where your distressing fact comes from. "Experienced" back country skier does not mean that they've been through an avy training course. I've been through the equivalent of a level 1 course. It's about enough information and skill to make you dangerous.

Skilled avalanche professionals enjoy a very low avalanche fatality rate compared to other groups. Less than one percent of all avalanche fatalities involve avalanche professionals
- Avalanche.org faq

Knox Williams, in his portrait of a typical avalanche victim says, "The victim is a male, 27 years old, has had several years of skiing or mountaineering experience, and did not know an avalanche from a snowball."
- Avalanche safety for skiers and climbers by Tony Daffern

Although "most" avalanches happen above 30 degrees, the general recommendation is to avoid slopes above 25 degrees. BTW - wet slides can happen at as low as 15 degrees. As long as you're avoiding terrain, you also need to avoid run out zones. In all of my experiences with trained avy personnel, we've been skiing/riding on snow with weak layers that "could" slide. This includes inbounds terrain. It's a matter of managing risk. So although avoiding avy terrain is the single most important thing, the reality is that expert skiers are going to be placing themselves in harms way. Therefore, the more practical advice is to get educated about the risks, become able to recognize potentially dangerous terrain and practice discipline when you're in it.
January 5, 2009
Member since 03/21/2004 🔗
1,273 posts
heh - i'll never forget when i took an avi course from univ. of utah we were out across from solitude and our instructor/guide says after looking at the layers in a snow pit we dug said the avi danger was low - then we did the Rutschblock test (I was the crash dummy) and my little 2" hop off the surface made a slab 1 foot deep peel off the top of the block ... so our instructor said at that point - ooo kkk well the avi danger is high, let's not go here. quite the reversal !
January 15, 2009
Member since 06/29/2004 🔗
53 posts
Originally Posted By: tromano
I read that if you do get buried and a beacon search is needed to find you chances are already under 50% you will live.
There is a some misunderstanding comments here in this thread.

The concern out west is the frequency of in bounds avalanches this season even with ski patrol pounding the mountains with explosive Avalanche control. Dense snow pack ice crust that developed in November with surface hoar on top followed by more heavy snow on top of the surface hoar. Surface hoar is like ball bearings. Think of the heavy snow pack as plywood on top of small ball bearings. The problem is that this will exist for most of the 2008-2009 ski season.

In bounds Avalanches are occurring more frequently this season even with the Avalanche control. Normally in bounds Avalanches are extremely rare. The person that died in Jackson Hole Wyoming this year is only the second in bounds Avalanche death at Jackson Hole in 40 years. He was wearing a beacon, witnessed by ski patrol, found and dug out by ski patrol via beacons in under 10 minutes. Unfortunately this man died.

The issue here even though ski patrol does an awesome job protecting in bounds skiers by performing avalanche control, do in bounds skiers need to purchase an avalanche beacon for $300+. Do you need to wear your beacon when skiing in bounds? One women purchased 5 beacons for her entire family just to be on the safe side.

Ski patrollers at western ski areas that are prone to avalanche, wear Avalanche beacons so they can be found if the patroller is buried and so they can find guests if they are caught in an avalanche.

Reco tags are $25 that you put in your clothing. Some western resorts have maybe one Reco system at best to find someone buried but the response time is past 15 minutes for Reco. Your odds of living are better than 90 percent if dug up under 5 minutes. After 15 minutes your odds of living are less than 25 percent. This assumes your are not already dead from trauma. Beacons will not help the 25 percent of all Avalanche deaths that die because of Trauma. Beacons can only help the other 75 percent that are buried and still alive.

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

Join the conversation by logging in.

Don't have an account? Create one here.

0.14 seconds