In 2002 Karl Birkeland was researching a new stability test, the Stuffblock, and needed willing participants to try it and record their data. Since Karl sits in the cubicle next to me, I was an easy recruit. All that season I filled a stuff sack with ten pounds of snow and dropped it from ever increasing heights, dutifully recording the results in my yellow Rite-in-the-Rain book along with other pit information. It was a relatively easy task.
Spring riding can be some of the best of the season. Good snow coverage, warmer weather and more predictable snow stability (at times) can lead to unmatched riding conditions. Riding ability also improves after a full season which allows riders to push the envelope in avalanche terrain. While spring riding can be the best, it can also hold avalanche hazards not encountered during the colder parts of winter.
There were 15 avalanche fatalities in the western United States in January, 2016, the deadliest January in over 20 years. Five of the fatalities were snowmobilers, one was a snowbiker, six were skiers, two were snowboarders and one was a climber. Avalanches are an equal opportunity killer and do not discriminate. To avoid becoming a statistic follow three simple rules of backcountry travel and learn to manage terrain and snowpack carefully.
By: Doug Chabot
Over the last ten years the US has averaged 27 avalanche fatalities a year. This season is on track to easily meet that. This January there were 11 fatalities in the west, one of the highest Januarys on record. Statistically, February is no better so brace yourself for more tragedy. Here in southwest Montana there have been two avalanche fatalities so far (as of February 1) with an additional 32 close calls reported.
This winter’s snowpack has been described in the avalanche advisories as bad, poor, weak, unstable, dangerous, and tricky. The reason is simple: the early snows in November transformed into sugary grains of angular facets that do not bond to each other and are exceptionally weak. These facets are the foundation of our snowpack. This foundation is weak, crumbly and poorly supports December’s snowfall.
The snowpack is a record of weather events that take place during the winter. Heavy snows, wind, even long dry spells, help to create unique layers in the snowpack. The order in which these weather events occur determines both the structure and stability of the pack.
The first turns of the ski season can be dicey: the snowpack is thin, avalanche skills are rusty and we are itching to get out and play. This is a recipe for avalanches and injury, not success. Fortunately, our stoke and motivation can make us ready for better, deeper times. We wax skis, tune sleds and rip tags off new gear to get ready, but we are not done. What causes avalanches? You! More than 90 percent of fatal recreational avalanche are triggered by the people involved.
Snowmobiling in the mountains is risky business. Once a rider leaves the groomed trail and enters the uncontrolled and unpredictable realm of the backcountry, they immediately become exposed to a variety of hazards. One of the most inherent risks a backcountry rider confronts is the possibility of triggering or being caught in an avalanche since avalanche prone terrain often offers exciting riding opportunities.
Spring skiing can be some of the best of the season. Good snow coverage, warmer weather and more predictable snow stability (at times) can lead to unmatched conditions. While spring skiing can be the best, it can also hold avalanche hazards not encountered during the colder parts of winter.
As snowpack and weather transition into a warmer and wetter spring pattern, there are a number of avalanche variables to pay attention to.
The snowpack changes from year to year, even day to day but, the terrain on which snow falls remains constant. Understanding and recognizing avalanche terrain are critical tools for safe decision making in the backcountry.
During stable snow conditions, riding in avalanche terrain is safe and acceptable. When snow conditions are unstable, avoiding steep slopes and avalanche run out zones is key to avoiding avalanches.