Going solo in the backcountry
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Denis - DCSki Supporter
June 5, 2009
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
I often do it. Many friends and family think it is a bad idea, but those who share a passion for backcountry skiing can relate. There is a special joy in going alone, the sound of silence, the sun on snow, the sense of self reliance, the freedom to set one's own pace and plan. It is not for the inexperienced or for those who do not have a heightened sense of caution and conservatism when alone.

Today I found this;
http://www.telemarktalk.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=58566&start=0
All I can say is Wow!
JimK - DCSki Columnist
June 6, 2009
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,720 posts
It's not ideal especially for "veteran" snow riders. Besides the inherent risks of the sport, you could suffer an unrelated health emergency or accident. But all of us snowriders are into risk management and I'm sure there are conditions, terrain, equipment, and other factors that can minimize solo backcountry skiing risks. Would you care to discuss how you mitigate risk? Do you seek out impromptu ski partners? Do you stay in favorite backcountry spots where you're likely to cross paths with a number of visitors? Do you have an avi beacon and cell phone? What are the key differences between going solo in East vs. West backcountry?
Should add that I totally understand the attraction. Put in many solo miles running (and lately biking) during my lifetime and enjoy the peace that comes with exercise and recreation in a pretty natural setting.
I didn't read thru the telemarktalk thread. Assume the guy was considering solo trips into very hairy backcountry?
Denis - DCSki Supporter
June 7, 2009
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
Jim,

Good and thoughtful questions. I know it sounds trite but the most important mitigation step is to use your brain. The checklist before a trip is; brains, water, extra layer, calories, in that order. After that come cell phone, repair stuff, first aid stuff, space blanket, fire starting stuff, map, compass, knife, avi gear, etc. I am a minimalist and will go as light as possible but always have the above things, minus avi gear which I don't carry in WV or on Mt. Washington in late spring.

Avi hazard is probably the easiest risk to deal with, just don't be there alone where & when they happen. This isn't really so restrictive. 30 degree slopes are plenty steep enough to have fun. Save the steeper stuff for lift served controlled areas where others are nearby. 30 degrees is the measured steepness of Extrovert at Blue Knob, Outer Limits at Killington, and the summit snowfields at Mt. Washington. 38 degrees is the "magic angle" of maximum snow avalanche danger. It falls rapidly for lesser angles, going to near zero for 30 degrees, with one important caveat, avalanches that start on slopes above 30 degrees can continue to run on slopes of much lower pitch below. In late spring wet slides can occur on corn slopes, but are very slow and tend to be just surface sloughs. I worry much less about those and have probably kicked some off. When I did a guided trip in Rogers Pass British Columbia my guide stated that there has NEVER been a live body recovery from an avalanche in the Banff backcountry except by those who were on the scene when it occurred. The implication is that a beacon worn when alone is of no use except to recover your body. Nevertheless I wear one in western backcountry, Mt. Wash. in winter and lift skiing on powder days in the west.

I guess another prerequisite is acceptance, there is a finite chance that you will not come back from any trip. I appreciate your point that when running or biking alone you could suffer a fatal health crisis and nobody looks askance at those of us who run, bike, or even hike alone.

More when I return; going biking now, with a buddy.
Roger Z
June 7, 2009
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
One of the biggest things- and this doesn't just go for solo, but any expedition into remote territory- is to "file a flight plan." Make sure at least one person and possibly two people- reliable, dependable people- know where you're going, what your route is, and when you plan to be back to civilization. That way if something does happen to you, you will have someone who can call in SAR and get you out with a reasonable degree of certainty. If you have a cellphone that works in the backcountry, that's even better as you can provide periodic updates. It helps if any emergency arises to narrow the search range.

The other thing to keep in mind is that wintertime travel is inherently more risky than summertime- hypothermia for starters. Know the risks going in, the signs for if they're affecting you, and have the proper equipment and mental preparedness to react appropriately. What that means especially is not being dismissive of symptoms and putting your own "journey" above your own safety. It's hard for outdoors enthusiasts to do that- we are there after all because it's there (speaking from experience- turning back short of a goal is really flippin' hard). But the point is if things go wrong, "it" is still gonna be there tomorrow. Better to come back and try again.
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fishnski
June 7, 2009
Member since 03/27/2005 🔗
3,530 posts
The "Flight Plan" is very Important...I do that before I head Offshore fishing in the winter...Offshore is like the Beach's Backcountry so to speak..
KeithT
June 8, 2009
Member since 11/17/2008 🔗
383 posts
Fish's comment is a good one as the flight plan rule should always apply. Next season find some poorly light edge to your favorite black run while night skiing and look into the abyss. Say you hit something unexpected and go over the edge at 9:15pm on a Tuesday night. Is someone going to find you??? (screaming and 80's skiwear excepted) I have never patrolled--do they regulary check the ditches before shutting down??? Makes me also think about the Blue Knob bleeding hand post a while back. The point is this is not just a backcountry issue.
David
June 8, 2009
Member since 06/28/2004 🔗
2,444 posts
They do run a sweep of the entire mountain before they officially shutdown the lifts and go home. As far as how well they look around, that's a different story.

I know towards the end of the season Tline's ski patrol started getting shorthanded (too many raft guides) and they had a few of us instructors running down slopes and checking things out. The one chance I got I was sure to really look all around for bodies laying off to the side....
Denis - DCSki Supporter
June 8, 2009
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
Roger,

Very good points. I always give my wife the plan and get in touch to tell her when I am off the mountain. Often this is not easy so she knows that it may be a while after I am safe before she gets the word. Cell phones are of some use, if you have coverage. I am on my second carrier and neither has worked in most of the places I ski: Canaan Valley, Mad River Valley (VT), Alta, also places I hike like Shenandoah. Where there are few or no customers to pay for coverage, coverage is scant or non existent. Sprint didn't even work at Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County. Before cell phones I used roadside phone booths and a toll free 800 # we set up so the kids could call toll free. I also have a personal locator beacon; http://www.findmespot.com/en/ It is not as easy to use as advertised and I've never activated the emergency button that calls in a rescue. I hope it would work. In the event of a massive heart attack, in backcountry or walking alone on a city street, you are probably out of luck. I've had a 'silent' heart attack and a triple bypass and so I get checked regularly and have thought a lot about it.

No doubt you detect my skepticism about electronic devices. I think that brains are the most important thing to carry into backcountry; you can always get coverage.

Some places where I have gone solo:

Whitegrass and surroundings. Very often. Few people my age will do this so I am always a drag on the younger folks on the climb. Rather than exhaust myself trying to keep their pace I just go alone. Almost always there are one or more people when I get to the goal and I know the lay of the land well so this is not really very threatening. I feel safer there than in the crowds of yahoos at Timberline and CV. I give Chip, or whoever is in the lodge, the plan.

Mt. Washington, NH A mountain that is justly famous for its severe weather and the rapidity of weather changes. The plan is on file and I keep a watchful eye. In winter I stay low and out of run out zones. In spring I've been caught in a thunderstorm near the top of Gulf of Slides, and in fog that closed in over 15 minutes near the summit just 2 weeks ago. A recommended read is "Not Without Peril" by Nicholas Howe.

St. Mary's Glacier, CO Easy access and easy out, usually people there.

Loveland Pass, CO Park near bottom, hitch rides to top, hike out ridge ski down. Also easy and usually people there.

Indian Peaks Wilderness, CO (Isabelle Glacier and Rollins Pass) Much more committing, people near trailheads probably not once you get to the skiing.

Tioga Pass, CA Took a 'water taxi' across Saddlebag Lake with a bunch of fishermen, arranged my return time and hiked up Mt. Conness alone. Turned around below the summit by a thunderstorm.

Yosemite National Park. Took the lift at Badger Pass ski area, signed out at patrol shack and skinned & skied untracked powder on the backside all day within 1/2 mile of people but in complete solitude. Signed out and skied down the groomed slopes to my car.

Sequoia National Park My Mammoth buddy was out of town so I took a well known backcountry trail skied untracked snow, saw just a few other people in 5 hrs.

Rabbit Ears Pass, CO near Steamboat (not alone) Took my 11 yr. old grandson on his first backcountry ski. He loved it and wants to do more.

Nebraska Notch, Stowe backcountry, VT Last year, a -30 deg. day. Got scared when about 1.5 miles in and came out short of the goal. I felt warm when skinning but stopping for a rest the cold began to chill me to the core within 60 seconds. There is an expression among ski mountaineers, "The mountain will always be there." I knew the nearest human being was at least 5 miles away and decided to come back under better conditions.
Denis - DCSki Supporter
June 8, 2009
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
Originally Posted By: JimK
I didn't read thru the telemarktalk thread. Assume the guy was considering solo trips into very hairy backcountry?

I believe that is a serious understatement. These are the Tian Shan mountains in central asia, one of the highest and most remote ranges on earth. There is probably not another backcountry skier within 1000 miles. These mountains are the stuff of dreams. I'd love to be there with him (for a while, not for the rest of my life).



I opened the same discussion on the SkiVT-List. A friend who kayaks but rarely skis anymore commented on going alone far more eloquently than I,

"I will never keep pace with these guys on the uphill climb. They were all faster than me years ago and since then they've got faster and I've gotten much, much slower. So I told them to go ahead and lap me.

And I start what, unplanned and unexpectedly, would turn into a unique experience for me. I've solo'd in woods near my home, but I've never been out in the unfamiliar backwoods alone. As I climb step by step, it suddenly occurs to me, I've never skinned in an environment like this without rushing to keep up. But now I was.

Took a few steps, stopped to look around, took a few more steps, stopped to listen. It was a shame missing time with my friends, but it was shockingly mind-opening to be out here undistracted, unseparated by chatter and thought, from the steep surrounding woods. Slower and slower, up I went.

Got to the top as the group was there, waiting, from their second lap. They wanted to take a third, asked me to join and I declined. Just waited at the top, slowly moving back towards the trail back to Bolton.

It was a windy and cold day up above the treetops, which were swaying and whistling. Below, the air was calm, and it didn't require a lot of exertion to stay warm enough. I stood and looked and stood and looked. There was a recurring thought of fear, as I had been alone for what seemed like way too long. Had I missed the group? Were they already skiing trails down to Bolton, thinking I'd gone ahead?

But I'd say nah, it's just my sense of time gone weird, and go back to watching the wildly swaying hardwood limbs, wondering what would happen if one fell. Not caring if it made a sound, but what if it fell on me?

Eventually the skiers returned. "Equipment issues" had slowed them up beyond any reasonable expectation. We headed back. They were jolly from their ski. I was introspective."
Roger Z
June 8, 2009
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
I'm not a big fan of mobile devices, either, but I will say that when I was in Alaska I was happy to have the emergency radio along (it was a group, not a solo thing). The only reception was to planes flying overhead, but they came over frequently enough. Funny thing, when I'm in the lower 48 I hate hearing a plane fly over on a wilderness trip, but north of the arctic circle it seemed like a welcome lifeline if things went awry.

I do a lot of solo hiking in the summer. One day trips cross-country skiing alone weren't a big deal either back east. I'd be more leary about a multi-day, mid-winter trip to telemark down open bowls, etc.
Denis - DCSki Supporter
June 9, 2009
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
Originally Posted By: KeithT
Fish's comment is a good one as the flight plan rule should always apply. Next season find some poorly light edge to your favorite black run while night skiing and look into the abyss. Say you hit something unexpected and go over the edge at 9:15pm on a Tuesday night. Is someone going to find you??? (screaming and 80's skiwear excepted) I have never patrolled--do they regulary check the ditches before shutting down??? Makes me also think about the Blue Knob bleeding hand post a while back. The point is this is not just a backcountry issue.


Good point. Reminds me to mention that I wear a whistle on a lanyard. Now I will wear one lift skiing too.
The Colonel - DCSki Supporter
June 9, 2009
Member since 03/5/2004 🔗
3,107 posts
I always carry a whistle with me when skiing. And I have a British "Bobby" type whistle that is always on my key chain.
Never can tell when they might come in handy.
The Colonel smile
kwillg6
June 10, 2009
Member since 01/18/2005 🔗
2,030 posts
I've assisted in searching for overdue back country skiers and snowshoers in the Sods off salamander. My advice is to check the weather and know what to expect when weather fronts blow through, even in summer. That was the case in those lost souls. The were from the DC area and had no idea that a strong front would bring as in white-out conditions in a matter of minutes. Horizontal snow can really screw with your sense of direction if not prepared or you don't have first hand knowledge of the terrain. Topo maps, trail maps, etc... don't work in those kind of conditions. We were lucky. We found them within an hour, hunkered down in some rocks, wet, and half frozen. got em out just before dark which comes early in early winter. Some folks just don't respect back country, even in WV.
kwillg6
June 10, 2009
Member since 01/18/2005 🔗
2,030 posts
Originally Posted By: Denis
[quote=KeithT]Fish's comment is a good one as the flight plan rule should always apply. Next season find some poorly light edge to your favorite black run while night skiing and look into the abyss. Say you hit something unexpected and go over the edge at 9:15pm on a Tuesday night. Is someone going to find you??? (screaming and 80's skiwear excepted) I have never patrolled--do they regulary check the ditches before shutting down??? Makes me also think about the Blue Knob bleeding hand post a while back. The point is this is not just a backcountry issue.


Uh huh to this one as well. 15 years ago I was helping patrol sweep at t-line at closing one night and low and behold, I found a teen-age dirt chicken in the trees on what used to be upper silver streak. Those old rental bindings had broken, the kid was scared silly and he had injured his wrist in the fall. It was a good thing I stopped and looked back up the trail. The lights on WL were and still are terrible and didn't light up the tree area. He wasn't calling out either, just sitting there, kind of shocky due to the injury.
Roger Z
June 11, 2009
Member since 01/16/2004 🔗
2,181 posts
Denis- check this out for skiing alone in the backcountry:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fhbJRJmhlI

I don't think I condone what this guy does- when the first slab broke I'd probably head straight back for the summit and hike out. BUT, given what transpired, I'm impressed by a) the checks he made on the snow (particularly the hard-edge traverse at about the 1:45 mark) and b) the nerves of f******* steel he displays by going on.

ps- also, if you look on the "related" videos at the side they have one of my all-time favorites listed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiZP71jwt9Q grin
bigdamo
June 12, 2009
Member since 06/12/2009 🔗
2 posts
Originally Posted By: JimK

I didn't read thru the telemarktalk thread. Assume the guy was considering solo trips into very hairy backcountry?


Hi that was me who posted the question on telemarktalk.

Just to confirm the question there was

"Am I totally crazy to go out and ski those front range mountains by myself after I build up my skill on the beginner slope when winter comes I know I shouldn't do it but looking at that mountain range every day and not skiing it is starting to get to me.Hopefully by then some more people might be inspired to give it a go."

I thought it and still think it is to dangerous to go out and ski the main mountain range by myself.

I have been alpine skiing for 25 years around the world.Not that I am saying that has made me a expert in BC skiing.
fishnski
June 12, 2009
Member since 03/27/2005 🔗
3,530 posts
Actually..That wasn't Bigdam..Lie.mo that Posted on Telemarktalk..It was me..Fishnski!!......

Disclaimer....I could be Wrong....
camp
June 16, 2009
Member since 01/30/2005 🔗
596 posts
I just read that entire T-tips thread, waiting since the first posts to find evidence that it was a troll, or joke-on-someone thread.

Anyone else get an odd vibe from that thread? I recognize a lot of the responders, and I know they post great stuff on their own and were not thinking it was a troll.

But it just seemed a bit weird to me, especially, the forced bad english (from a supposed Aussie??). Reminded me of those malicious worms and virus' written in a stiff attempt at English.
Denis - DCSki Supporter
June 20, 2009
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
The pictures worked for me. Here is another post on the same general topic, skiing in the Tian Shan mountains,
http://www.telemarktalk.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=58793
JohnL
June 20, 2009
Member since 01/6/2000 🔗
3,516 posts
Quote:
I've assisted in searching for overdue back country skiers and snowshoers in the Sods off salamander.


Cahill? wink

J/K since he knows what he's doing, but he's not exactly an early riser. Lanterns required.
JohnL
June 20, 2009
Member since 01/6/2000 🔗
3,516 posts
Denis,

I have to give you a bit of crap. grin I remember you looked at me like I wuz a fool (actually I am, plenty will vouch for that) for hiking Baldy Chutes @ Alta (inbounds) by myself, yet we are considering going solo in the backcountry? Big step up in risk, IMHO. But, I have no probs with solo in the backcountry if the person is skilled, careful and willing to accept the consequences.
bigdamo
June 20, 2009
Member since 06/12/2009 🔗
2 posts
Originally Posted By: camp
I just read that entire T-tips thread, waiting since the first posts to find evidence that it was a troll, or joke-on-someone thread.

Anyone else get an odd vibe from that thread? I recognize a lot of the responders, and I know they post great stuff on their own and were not thinking it was a troll.

But it just seemed a bit weird to me, especially, the forced bad english (from a supposed Aussie??). Reminded me of those malicious worms and virus' written in a stiff attempt at English.


I can assure you I am the real deal.

What do you mean I have bad English.

I'm an Aussie we talk different to you Yanks.

Last time I was in the USA they thought I was from the UK because of my Accent.Funny because I was traveling with two lads from the UK and they thought they where from Australia.

What you want me to take a photo of the local newspaper with date to prove it.You couldn't read it anyway.

photobuckket

That should prove it
David
June 20, 2009
Member since 06/28/2004 🔗
2,444 posts
Originally Posted By: JohnL
Quote:
I've assisted in searching for overdue back country skiers and snowshoers in the Sods off salamander.


Cahill? wink

J/K since he knows what he's doing, but he's not exactly an early riser. Lanterns required.


That was a good one. You hit the nail on the head.

Oh yeah, and don't forget to safeguard your beer from any flowers he may bring around......

Hey John, it's been a while. How you been?
Denis - DCSki Supporter
June 21, 2009
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,217 posts
John,

Just concern for a friend. There are some concerning things about the Baldy Chutes. They are at 40 +/- a few degrees, prime pitch for avalanches, they are chutes so there is no escape if one starts above you, and the standard access is by climbing elsewhere so you are not climbing what you ski. Most of my solo has been in WV where those things don't exist; also I was shown the way by a local in the beginning.

Also, as you no doubt observed, I am losing the mental resolve to ski gnarly stuff. My physical ability is as good as ever, which is not that good anyway, but my sense of caution is becoming a bit excessive. This started at about age 60 and is a growing trend.
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