“I will never be as confident in my avalanche skills as I was when I was in my early 20s,” Bruce Tremper says with a short chuckle and teeth-showing grin. Tremper has held the position as the Utah Avalanche Center Director since 1986 and is the author of Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain and Avalanche Essentials. In this video, he admits that overconfidence and ego played strong roles in decision making in his earlier days and motivated him to get too close to dangerous cornices and ski terrain he wouldn’t descend today.
Do you always carry a headlamp when skiing in the backcountry? Find yourself using it a little too often? Then you might want to figure out why you’re always late. Understanding how long it takes to travel through the mountains will help you summit more peaks, ski more powder, not be pushing it as darkness looms and get home when your friends and family expect you. Here are some techniques from a hypothetical outing that you can apply to your tours and adapt to your needs.
“We’re really just trying to understand the fundamental process that causes a slope to fail in an avalanche in the first place,” says Tony Lebaron, a PhD Candidate in Applied Mechanics at Montana State University, Bozeman. “No one really knows what happens at a microstructural level.” So at MSU’s subzero lab, Lebaron and David Walters, another PhD candidate, are constructing avalanches in hyper-controlled environments to analyze propagation and microstructure. “In the lab here, we can see everything that’s happen,” Walters says, “We really see the whole story.”
It’s October, and you’ve already booked a hut week in the Monashees, a yurt trip in the Sawtooths or a weekend in the Wasatch. But how will you know what conditions will be like at, say, the end of February? And, more importantly, how can you be familiar with the snowpack and deal with avalanche conditions when you arrive in an unfamiliar backcountry zone?
While backcountry skiing or riding, we tend to spend more time going up than going down. And, simply put, skinning done poorly is not fun. There are three primary ingredients to a good day of touring: establishing a proper pace, setting an appropriate skintrack angle and avoiding kick turns whenever possible. You’ve likely come into the backcountry to escape the rat race, so learn to enjoy the climb up and the whole experience will get a lot better. Here’s how.
If you’re like most experienced backcountry skiers it’s been more than 50 backcountry days and a few years since your last avalanche course. According to Scott Schell, the program director for the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC), that’s not cool. So, in an effort to fill the avy education gap, Schell developed an affordable way for Seattle skiers to keep up on their avy training.
“We’re trying to create a new norm that really embraces avalanche safety skills,” says Tom Murphy, director of operations at the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE), of the Project Zero initiative. Project Zero aims to reduce the number of avalanche fatalities to zero. And the initiative’s latest project is a community-sourced video contest and education campaign called Know The Snow.
Beacons get all the glory. They’re expensive, tech-packed pieces of gear that backcountry users covet for finding partners and getting found. But shovels and shoveling deserve more credit. After all, when avalanche debris sets up like concrete, and your partner is buried deeply, your job doesn’t stop at pinpointing them with a fine search and a probe strike. Here’s a video of how to dig safe and dig fast.