- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- January 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- February 2009
- January 2009
- December 2008
- November 2008
- October 2008
- September 2008
- July 2008
- June 2008
- May 2008
- April 2008
- March 2008
- February 2008
- January 2008
Jones riders Mitch Toelderer and Bibi Toelderer-Pekarek just returned from a recent mission to the Italian Dolomites. Check out their POV from shredding a couple classic couloirs in the region.
Here are six informative and sobering reality checks on the danger of avalanches. These videos depict skiers and snowboarders getting caught in potentially fatal slides. The clips include POV shots of skiers getting buried and dug out, successful airbag deployments, a “what-not-to-do” in a rescue scenario and a massive step-down slide in AK that the skier survives thanks to luck alone.
Seeing is believing so watch these videos and learn from the mistakes of others. Video above depicts a skier getting caught and breaking his back in an avalanche in Engelberg, Switzerland.
Here’s the infamous clip of Meesh Hytner getting caught in a massive slide in the Snake River backcountry near Montezuma, Colo. Meesh pulls her BCA airbag and stays on top of the slide.
This is a gripping POV from a skier who gets caught in a slide in Haines, AK. The skier manages to get his avalung only halfway into his mouth but survives thanks to an incredibly fast rescue for the size of the slide – 4:30 minutes.
A skier is filmed getting caught in a slide in the Lake Tahoe backcountry. His ill-equipped family members come to the rescue…kind of. You might find yourself tearing at the screen trying to help the rescue in this video. Watch and learn what not to do.
Here is an interesting video from Verbier of a skier triggering a slide after several others have already ripped the slope. This skier also successfully deploys a Snowpulse airbag.
From the TGR archives, here’s a clip of skier Will Burks triggering a massive step-down slab avalanche in Alaska. Luck was definitely on Burks’ side this day.
Learn more about the Women’s Solution and Karakoram split bindings in this gear review video from Liz Daley for Epic TV.
Check out more cutting edge Epic TV action sports content at www.epictv.com
Check out this trip report from Liz Daley about her recent snowboard descent of the NW Couloir of Mt Shuksan:
Words and Photos By Liz Daley
It has been FIRING the last month in Washington as you may have known. Mt. Baker has the second largest snowpack in the world right now at 157.9 inches, not very surprising, right? After the entire Mt. Baker ski area closed for 3 days during the snowpocalypse we’ve had epic blue-bird days for the past week or so. I taught a backcountry splitboard course through AAI last weekend in Mt. Baker’s backcountry and was tormented, looking up at Mt. Shuksan for three days straight. The NW Courloir was looking so irresistible with the stable snowpack we’ve had with only further stability projected. I was hoping to get up there before the weather/stability shifted or I’d surely loose my mind!
Here’s a zoomed in shot of the route from the BD website:
The NW couloir is a 50 degree, super exposed line. It starts with the blind roll-over at the top which can be pretty intimidating, then you get to the choke which is a short section of 50 degrees. At the base of the choke you make a sketchy exposed skiers left traverse, above some cliffs, out of the couloir onto the face. After this you enjoy a steep slide down 2,500 +/-, which gradually turns into a less gripped free-riding frenzy down to the Salmon Creek drainage. We shredded from the col at the top of the Crystal Glacier at about 8,600ft down to Salmon Creek drainage at 3,000ft. Making this about a 5,600 ft line! STOKED!
Blaine and Rhett, Pro patrol watch out! We left Bham at 2:45am, leaving the Mt. Baker parking lot at 4:45am. None of us had been up Shuksan before so we were playing it safe time-wise. A 4:45am departure proved to be more than enough time.
Rhett dropping. Since none of us had been on Shuksan or knew exactly where the entrance to the NW Couloir was, we dropped in far skiers right against the rocks in a well defined steep couloir. We descended about 400 ft when it turned to blue ice and cliffed out right above the NW Couloir. We could see down the entire line but there was no way to get down safely with 4,000 feet exposure below. I anchored myself into the blue ice, carefully changed over to crampons and we all hiked out. When we dropped in again we stayed more skiers left and dropped over the blind roll-over to a steep face with no crevasses that led directly to the entrance of the couloir. Ya live and learn...
We began hiking out of the drainage at 1:30pm, had a 700ft climb then skin/ski back a cat-track to the White Salmon Lodge. Plenty of time for champagne in the parking lot staring up at Shuksan as the sun went down. Good times had by all! Thanks Blaine and Rhett for a great day!
Check out this video of Mitch Toelderer riding the elevated tracks of the historic Hungerburg railway in Austria.
One of the biggest evolutions in evaluating backcountry travel and avalanche safety is the frequency and ease of getting your local avalanche report. With a smart phone you can pull up the report including a video of a snow pit dug by an expert that same day in under fifteen seconds.
Your local forecast is an amazing tool and should be used every day you head out into the backcountry. Here are some of the things that I think about as I read the report and then decide where to go ride based on the danger rating:
LOW – Late afternoon wet slides are the only avalanche risk with this rating. I will ride over secondary exposure in this rating. My main concern is hitting undetected white ice on a steep slope and not being able to hold my edge.
“Spooky” MODERATE - (moderate rating with a deep persistent weak layer)
You won’t find the word “spooky” on an avy report but I call it this because moderate is the most dangerous rating there is in my mind. Moderate means that it is unlikely something will slide but if it does, the slide will be massive and probably kill you. This is the rating that kills the experts (Craig Kelly and Steve Romeo are two examples.) I pretty much treat moderate as considerable unless the weak layer is not that deep and I am not worried about large propagating slides. I expect all convex rolls and anything over 45 degrees to slide.
CONSIDERABLE – I tread very lightly in this rating. Depth of slab and the chance for large propagating slabs change this rating to high for me. Having a safe route to the top is also essential as you’re often climbing through the same terrain you’ll ride down. On the descent I look for terrain with lots of islands of safety and stay away from big bowls and faces. I expect everything over 35 degrees to slide.
HIGH – With a high rating I am most likely riding a resort. I will go on a below 30 degree tour in terrain I know very well and does not have any avalanche terrain above me. Tours like these are more like going cross-country skiing then snowboarding…which is why I usually ride a resort.
When there has been a lot of fresh snow or there is a buried weak layer I also bump up the danger rating. Here are a couple red flags that I look for:
Persistent weak layers – This is a major red flag on a report. This means there is a bad layer deep within the pack that is not healing. In some cases this bad layer never completely goes away. It may lay dormant for weeks at a time but if triggered in the perfect spot it can result in a massive avalanche.
Depth of Slab – Avy danger ratings are based on the likelihood of an avalanche happening and do not take into account the depth of slab. There is a huge difference between a 10” slab and a 3’ slab. A very small avalanche, 1/2 a volley ball court, is very serious when it is a 3 ft deep slab or deeper. When the size of the slab is deeper then two feet I bump the rating up a notch. High = Extreme, Considerable = High, Moderate = Considerable. Low always stays low.
The snowpack is always guilty until proven innocent in my mind. Unless the report is low I always ask myself, “what happens if the face I am on slides?” Picking clean lines and avoiding terrain traps/secondary exposure is always the name of the game no matter what the report is.
Ride to live another day!
The goal of Jones Snowboards’ Avalanche Awareness Month is to bring attention to the realities of avalanche danger and help backcountry snowboarders clue into new means of continuing education. If you’re ready to get schooled on some of the latest avalanche awareness media and research here are some fascinating videos and articles by Backcountry Access, University of Calgary, The New York Times and Outside Magazine.
Colorado based gear manufacturer Backcountry Access has been helping lead the charge in continuing avalanche awareness education for the last decade. Recently they have produced informative videos about beacon searching and shovelling techniques as well as publishing several research papers about the influences affecting dangerous backcountry decision making.
Under the Radar:Exploiting “New School” Media to Capture Unreported Avalanche Incidents by Bruce Edgerly
Surveys dozens of unreported avalanche accidents and highlights the conclusion that shovelling, not beacon searching, is often the most difficult part of an avalanche rescue.
Talking the Talk: Human Factors, Group Communication, and the Next Frontier in Snow Safety by Bruce Edgerly
Discusses how lack of group communication causes more accidents than any other factor.
Details the new recommended rescue shovelling techniques. For more Backcountry Access research papers go here.
The University of Calgary Applied Snow and Avalanche Research Center produces some of the most cutting edge avalanche research in the world. To spread the word about their research to the backcountry ski/shred world they have begun summarizing their research in video form. Check it out:
Vulnerability: Caught in an avalanche. Then what are the odds? By Alan Jones.
Considerable Avalanche Danger: How much riskier is it? Some calculations of risk for skiing at various levels of avalanche danger.
How do you stress the snowpack? By Scott Thumlert.
Tunnel Creek Avalanche Media:
The February 2012 Tunnel Creek avalanche in Stevens Pass was one of the most tragic stories of last winter. The incident brought significant mainstream media attention to the rising number of avalanche accidents and the science behind avalanches in general. The New York Times and Outside magazine have recently released captivating new media about the Tunnel Creek story. Both articles are extremely gripping and a must-read for anyone who often ventures in the backcountry with a large group. The six part, 16,000 word NYT piece is also a stunning example of multi-media including animations, video interviews and slideshows. Set aside at least an hour to give it a thorough read. Here are the links:
Red Flags In Reality is a Jones Avalanche Awareness Month article series by Seth Lightcap detailing live-from-the field stories about five of the most common signs of avalanche danger-the Red Flags.
In breaking news, Jones team rider Ryland Bell reports in about a storm day inbounds avalanche underneath Squaw Valley’s KT-22 chairlift that blew a 16-year-old skier off the lift and partially buried another skier on December 23, 2012.
Here’s the lowdown of what happened at Squaw that day from Ryland:
“There was easily four feet of fresh on KT that morning. They hadn’t opened KT the day before so the snow was really unconsolidated. It was so deep you couldn’t really turn. All you could do was bomb it. You could tell patrol had gotten a few things to slide, but not everything. I rode ‘Diagonal Chute’ first lap and there was a big bomb hole in it, but the chute had held.
Third lap up KT I noticed a big debris pile below the ‘Fingers’. It was crazy timing to see the debris because as soon as we got to the base of the Fingers we felt the ground start shaking and heard a big rumble. Right after hearing the noise the lift swung to a stop. I looked up with just enough time to see the avalanche blasting off the top of the Fingers. Couple seconds later the powder cloud rocked our chair again. As soon as the cloud settled the people in front of us started yelling, ‘Man down! Man down!’. All I could see was a ski sticking out of the debris below the Fingers and then the chair started moving again.
Turns out, a kid two chairs in front of us got sucked off the lift and into the avalanche by the powder cloud. He was directly above the ‘Ice Fall’ and must have taken a direct hit by the blast. When his chair got hit, the lift went in reverse which caused it to auto-stop. Pretty wild, not what you’d expect to see inbounds, especially since ski patrol had bombed the Fingers three hours earlier and there was already a crown line visible just above the cliffs. The pocket that slid came from above the Fingers though. It looked like a 3-foot crown that ran from just below the chair to the looker’s right side of the face above the Fingers.” – Ryland Bell
Yellow line is the crown line. Red ‘X’ is where the kid got blown off the chair by the powder cloud. Blue ‘X’ is where Ryland Bell was on the chair when the avy hit. All locations approximate, photo not from day of incident.
Squaw Valley reported 29 inches in the last 24 hours and a storm total of 39 inches the day of the avalanche. Squaw ski patrol had done substantial avy control work in the zone that morning and had put up a closed boundary keeping all shredders out of the Fingers. The avalanche was supposedly set off by a group of riders traversing above the closed boundary.
The fact that the slide ripped from a traverse above the slope after previous bombing and control work is a testament to the danger of fresh storm snow. Of all the Red Flags, heavy snow in the last 24 hours is the most dangerous of all the warning signs. During and immediately after a storm, avalanche danger is at it’s highest because the snow pack has not had time to adjust to the new load. The more snow that falls and the faster it falls, the more dangerous it gets.
This incident also highlights the reality that no matter how much you bomb or ski cut an avy path, there is still a chance it could slide if you hit the sweet spot of a weak layer in the snowpack. Chances of this happening within the first 24 hours after a storm are much greater than if several days have gone by since it last snowed.
Thankfully, the 16-year-old skier that got swept off the lift was not buried and sustained only an injury to his shoulder. A female skier who was traversing below the Fingers at the time was also caught in the slide but was not injured.
It is also interesting to note that the 16-year-old, a Squaw Valley ski team member, was wearing a beacon at the time of the accident. Let that be a lesson to all those in the world enjoying a chest deep shred session at a resort right now. Beacons aren’t just for the backcountry. When the snow seriously stacks up, a beacon should be mandatory equipment regardless of where you ride, inbounds or out.
Yellowstone is home to some sick terrain, just watch out when it warms up. Photos by Ralph Backstrom.
Red Flags In Reality is a Jones Avalanche Awareness Month series detailing live-from-the field stories about five of the most common signs of avalanche danger-the Red Flags. Next up we’ll learn about the dangerous effects of rapid warming from an experience Ralph Backstrom had in Yellowstone National Park.
“A couple years back I went on a spring splitboard mission to Yellowstone National Park with Bryan Iguchi, Alex Yoder and Jeff Hawe. The first day of the trip we rode some smaller lines close to the trailhead. The snow had gotten really warm that afternoon so we bailed early hoping to come back the next morning and ride some of the bigger objectives we had scouted. On the way out we noticed small roller balls and point release slides but nothing too out of place for spring conditions. The spring snow just felt sticky and slow as usual.
So we left the park that night with the plan to come back early the next day. We never made it back in the park. Half-hour after we left the park gates a massive slide came down and buried the road to the park entrance! For more reasons than one, the slide caused by rapid warming was a trip ending red flag.” – Ralph Backstrom
Rapid Warming is one of the most prominent causes of snow instability and a major avalanche danger red flag. Warming causes instability in the snowpack due to a process known as ‘Creep Tension’. When the temperatures spike, the top layers in the snowpack go through a process of viscous deformation and become a separate layer that’s effected by gravity differently than the rest of the snow pack. The warm layers will ‘creep’ down the slope as they are pulled by gravity faster than the rest of the snowpack. This difference in motion between the surface and the base introduces tension.
This diagram shows the effects of gravity on a snowpack. The red arrows are ‘creep’, the blue arrows are ‘settlement’ and the black arrows are the movement of the entire snowpack at its base, known as ‘glide’. Diagram by www.avalanche-center.org
When the warm surface layers start to ‘creep’, this added tension in the snowpack makes it easier to set off weaker under layers. Surface loads and stresses also penetrate deeper into the snowpack when the surface layers are warm making skier-triggered avalanches more likely.
Convex features are especially prone to ‘creep’ as they are already under tension. If you detect any signs of rapid warming such as roller balls, point release slides off rocks, trees shedding snow or an obvious temperature swing, convex slopes and other known avy paths should be carefully avoided. One of the other important things to remember about the rapid warming red flag is that it might be the only red flag you see that day. Unlike the other red flags that tend to appear simultaneously (new snow, winds, natural avalanches), rapid warming may be the only red flag observation you make before the avalanche danger increases significantly.