(Last Updated On: December 30, 2008)
Avalanches have been a hot topic this month. I can’t stop thinking about them. It’s not because I’m obsessed with avalanches or something. It’s because avalanches have been all over. The news on television, newspapers, the Internet, Internet forums… avalanches are all over the country and this year there seem to be more avalanches than ever.
The bad vibes started with two in-bounds avalanches: one in Vail which buried a skier, but he was recovered 2) The other was an in-bounds avalanche at Snowbird which buried and killed a skier. This was followed by another in-bounds avalanche and death at Squaw, then yet another in Jackson Hole. People expect to hear about avalanche deaths here and there in the winter. But, these deaths usually happen somewhere in the backcountry- or even on a road. Since when did post-controlled, open-to-the-public ski slopes at ski areas become such an avalanche risk? In-bounds avalanches like this have happened on rare occasion, but to have FOUR of them happen in a season, let alone in the same month, is completely insane. This is a sign about the season’s snowpack. It’s shaping up to be very unstable, not only for Colorado, but for much of the nation.
In-bounds avalanches like this are making the Crested Butte ski patrol work even harder. They are bombing like mad. They are ski cutting, bringing out the bootpackers, and doing what they can to open up the terrain that Crested Butte has come to be known for. But, with avalanches at ski areas all over the country, Crested Butte doesn’t want to become one of the growing statistics. So, closed these slopes remain, and I fear they will remain closed for a long time this season. Still, I do commend the CB ski patrol for their hard work, trying to keep our slopes safe to ski. Hopefully, we will ski these slopes soon.
Jackson Hole was hit another blow yesterday when the ski patrol was doing control work. They triggered a gigantic slide which buried some ski patrollers and went through the wall of the ski lodge below. The snow went through the lodge, forcing tables and chairs to go through the windows on the other side. Jackson Hole has announced that all patrollers and workers in the area are fine, thankfully. Here’s some pictures of the scene below:
Taken from a web cam:
Inside the ski lodge
I won’t begin to talk about all of the avalanches and resulting deaths that have happened in the backcountry. There’s already too many for me to mention here. But I do want to focus on one avalanche that has caught my attention because it’s been all over the media this past week- an avalanche on Gravel Mountain caused by 3 snowmobilers, resulting in two of them dying. These snowmobilers were “high-marking’ (a practice that is known to cause avalanches) on a slope that is known to avalanche every year. They were doing this when the CAIC reported the avalanche danger to be high (likely to avalanche naturally) and considerable (human-triggered avalanches likely). The news article says the snomobilers were “well-versed in snow conditions”, yet none of them had beacons, shovels or probes. Following this, a few days later, the TV media interviewed the wife of Kopp (one of the victims), she said something to the effect of, “It was just an accident. There is no way something like this could have been prevented.” Is this really how the public feels? What part of high-marking on a known slide path on a high avy danger day without avy gear makes it sound like an accident?
With this last scenario in mind, it has become evident to me that the general public has no clue about avalanches and avalanche danger. Unfortunately, many of the general public can find themselves in avy terrain, be it skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, climbing, or snowmobiling. As more and more people venture this way, we need to educate them. We at least need to educate them not to be out in avy terrain on days rated High or Considerable. But, I don’t know how to educate these people.
One company, Rocky Mountain Sherpas, is doing their part in trying to bring avalanche education to the public by releasing a movie called The Fine Line. You can view the teaser here: http://rockymountainsherpas.com/ftp/FineLine_Teaser1.mov
Frank and I have both seen most of this movie during the CBAC avalanche awareness presentation earlier this month and the movie is quite good.
With this plethora of avalanches this month, I’m officially “avalanched-out”. I want people to be safe. I want the snow to stabilize. I want to be able to enjoy the backcountry. And I want to enjoy my playground at the ski area. Here’s to hoping the New Year will bring us better luck!