We all know we should practice avalanche rescue more, but making it happen can be a sizable hurdle. Sometimes we try to bust out a couple laps in “search mode” at the beginning of the season to dust off the cobwebs. Other times, we’re lucky enough to have access to a beacon park at the local resort, presenting a chance to practice our skill set before heading to more dangerous terrain.
Picture this: You’re skiing across low angle terrain, but need to traverse below a steep open face with no cover. Your avalanche awareness bells start chiming, “Danger!” so you decide to ski out of your way to remain clear of the possible slide path. But there are no trees around to give clues about where you’ll be safe if it slides. So how far is “far enough” from the suspect slope?
Spacing is the tactic people think they are most comfortable with, which leads to the answer, “One at a time.” The variable students forget to consider is the size of the hazard.
It’s no secret that even good things go stale—from relationships to that loaf of bread you forgot about in your cupboard. The same applies to our understanding of avalanches: how we analyze and approach them has changed dramatically over time.
Chamonix. Hokkaido. Portillo. Certain locations are synonymous with international ski travel, meaning resources for trip planning are as plentiful as some places can be crowded. But what about planning a trip to Kosciusko, Aoraki, Vielha or some other little-spoken-of locale with limited beta, few available maps or no guidebooks? Where do you start?
We lose fluids through perspiration (sweating) and respiration (breathing). While ski touring, high elevation and drier air make this even more dramatic. And during the spring, warm weather further exaggerates the amount of fluid lost. Dehydration leads to a drop of performance—in stages from slowing down to bonking to needing medical attention.
As spring approaches, the days get warmer and the snow on the ground changes; the daily cycle of snow warming and freezing heals many of the deep instabilities that persisted throughout the winter; typical instabilities become easier to predict. And while wet avalanches—either slab or loose—are easier to predict and run more slowly, they can still pack a punch. Therefore, getting off a slope before it becomes dangerous is important.
Teamwork in the mountains is paramount, but it can take many years to develop relationships with trustworthy backcountry partners to the point where you form a routine that serves as a backcountry safety net. Jeff Dostie, my Tour Camp co-guide for Points North Heli-Adventures (PNH) in Cordova, Alaska is someone I have grown to rely on. Through our relationship, we have developed a routine that we use to keep our clients and ourselves safe.
Early last winter I was skiing some sheltered powder on a treed slope near Teton Pass in a group of three experienced backcountry skiers. We assessed the snow, discussed safe zones, and dug a quick, hasty pit to confirm prior observations. Feeling good about the slope, the first skier dropped in and made a quick […]
Relatively speaking, airbags are a new tool in North American avalanche safety. Yet they’re proving to be a great tool in any backcountry kit. It’s important, however, to keep them classified as just that—a tool; something that may improve your chances of surviving an avalanche, depending on the circumstances. In the past few years I’ve […]