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Powder Magazine,
Doug Chabot

Winter is in the rearview mirror and spring is gaining momentum but we cannot forget about avalanches. As the seasons change so do the types of avalanches. There are two ways to trigger avalanches: stress the snowpack or weaken it. Dry slab avalanches are common in winter and occur when too much weight (stress) is added to the snowpack. Under a heavy load of new snow, windblown snow or skiers, layers collapse and avalanche from this added stress. In spring the snowpack loses strength and weakens when melting water breaks down snow crystals and provides lubrication between layers.

Carve,
Doug Chabot

In a career of 15 years I have investigated a lot of avalanches. The most interesting ones are unintentionally triggered and are intriguing because they usually involve a series of decision-making failures only obvious in hindsight. This winter has been rich in such experiences. Folks have triggered many avalanches and a few have been caught and one died. Over President’s weekend three skiers were in an avalanche they triggered while skinning up Beehive Basin to the north of Big Sky. Small mistakes stacked up to create a potentially deadly situation.

MSA,
Eric Knoff

I'm dreaming of fresh and stable powder when the alarm cuts through the early morning silence like a buzz saw. I quickly roll over and check my phone.

It's 3:15 a.m.

There is no hitting snooze for fear that I'll fall back into the grip of sleep. I will myself out of bed to start my day.

Carve,
Doug Chabot

I envision that should I ever be buried in an avalanche my partner will locate me quickly, put together his shovel and dig like a maniac. He will be anaerobic, spittle drooling from his mouth, sweat burning his eyes and he’ll be puffing like a locomotive. His heart rate will be in maxxed, his face red and ears ringing. I know this because I carefully chose my backcountry partners. They will give 110% of themselves to save me if I’m buried. They are mentally, emotionally and physically tough.

MSA,
Eric Knoff

From the time snow crystals fall from the sky to time they melt in the spring, the shape and structure of each crystal never stops changing. This is known as snow metamorphism. 

Snow metamorphism determines if individual snow crystals are rounding (becoming stronger) or faceting (becoming weaker). The relationship between snow crystals ultimately dictates what kind of layer, strong or weak, is formed. The interaction between individual layers determines snowpack stability.

Carve,
Doug Chabot

For many resort skiers, the word “sidecountry” has become a standard definition of backcountry terrain adjacent to a ski area. Usually the acreage on the other side of the boundary is administered by the US Forest Service and the ski area becomes a convenient jumping off point to access public lands. In the last few years skiers have overwhelmingly embraced this access as the in-bound crowds ski up new snow at a ferocious pace. Untracked powder is a dwindling resource, an addictive drug, and access gates are the needle in a vein to a quick fix.

Carve,
Doug Chabot

The third week of December provided some valuable avalanche lessons when three people in two separate incidents triggered and were caught in avalanches near the Bridger Bowl boundary. In both cases the parties exited the ski area into the backcountry. The first incident involved two highly experienced skiers on Saddle Peak. Like they have done for years, they rode the Slaschman’s lift and hiked to the top of the peak. The skied at the same time, but had some distance between them. A few hundred feet off the top one skier triggered a slide on a thinly covered, rocky area and was caught.

Carve,
Doug Chabot

I never thought I’d be concerned about my electronics while cruising around the backcountry, but I am. Carrying a cell phone, satellite phone, GPS, avalanche beacon, SPOT Messenger, and a VHF radio means my electronic signature rivals a high tension power line. I hope I don’t have to start lugging around a car battery to keep everything powered. Most people in the backcountry are not as wired as me, but a smartphone and beacon are staples for most backcountry travelers. The beacon is a literal lifeline, the most important piece of electronic safety equipment we carry.

Carve,
Doug Chabot

I never thought I’d be concerned about my electronics while cruising around the backcountry, but I am. Carrying a cell phone, satellite phone, GPS, avalanche beacon, SPOT Messenger, and a VHF radio means my electronic signature rivals a high tension power line. I hope I don’t have to start lugging around a car battery to keep everything powered. Most people in the backcountry are not as wired as me, but a smartphone and beacon are staples for most backcountry travelers. The beacon is a literal lifeline, the most important piece of electronic safety equipment we carry.

SnoWest,
Doug Chabot

Snowmobilers die in avalanches every winter, killed by trauma or suffocation, an extremely unpleasant way to breathe your last breath. In the last 10 years 93 snowmobilers in western America have been killed in avalanches. This is no surprise. We love to ride steep, open, mountainous slopes in avalanche terrain. If you play in the lion’s den you may get eaten, but as riders we don’t have to go into the den when the lion is hungry.