Monday, December 31, 2012

SW Colorado Conditions--Dangerous Persistent Deep Slabs

Colorado continues to suffer from a persistent weak layer at base of their snowpack due to a dry early winter. In this video, our friends at the Crested Butte Avalanche Center show us just how problematic it is down there.

If you are skiing in Southwestern Colorado, watch this video!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Avalanche--Aspen Ski Patroller Swept Off Cliff

An Aspen Ski Patroller was fatally injured today after being swept off a cliff by a small avalanche. This is the first avalanche related fatality in Colorado this season.

The name of the ski patroller has yet to be released. Apparently, the ski patroller was skiing alone in a permanently closed area when they triggered a small slab avalanche that swept them off a cliff. It is unknown whether the ski patroller was buried though the circumstances certainly point to trauma as the cause of death.

A dry early winter in Colorado has produced a dangerous structure to the snowpack--not uncommon in continental areas--where well developed  facets are sitting at the base of the pack.

It is not known whether or not the Aspen Ski Patroller was wearing an airbag or if the victim was even buried. However, this incident should remind us of the dangers of skiing above exposure--cliffs, crevasses, and terrain traps minimize our margin of safety dramatically. Safety equipment is severely limited when avalanche victims come face to face with consequential terrain.  In fact, a deployed airbag will possible force the victim to move faster and further in an avalanche, perhaps making contact with the exposure more likely.

It is not uncommon for me to ski above exposure in my home areas of the Tetons and the Chugach Mountains. This is a vital reminder that even a small slide or sluff can have disastrous effects when coupled with exposure.

Our condolences to the friends and family of the Aspen Ski Patrol.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Valdez Heli-Ski Guides launches Airbag demo program

Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, ( located on Thompson Pass outside of Valdez, Alaska, has upgraded their guest beacon fleet with the Mammut Element for the 2013 season.

Valdez Heli-Ski Guides was founded in 1993 by Doug and Emily Coombs. It was the first guided heli-ski operation on Thompson Pass and is currently the oldest heli-ski operation in Alaska. In 2001 Scott Raynor purchased VHSG from the Coombs'.

Scott Raynor, states, "The Mammut Element beacon provides our guests with a very simple unit which can also be effectively used in the unlikely event of a multiple burial emergency. We believe the combination of simplicity and multiple burial functionality offered by the Element makes this the best technology available for our guests."

Also for 2013, VHSG has purchased RAS Rocker 18 airbags that will be made available for their guests. VHSG will not require the use of airbags. Rather, they are making sure guests have access to all possible safety equipment.

Says Raynor, "Anecdotal and scientific evidence both show that airbags are legitimate safety tools. For 2013, VHSG will make sure our guests have access to airbags. However, like helmets, they will be optional."

Other operators in Alaska providing Mammut/Snowpulse airbags for guests include Chugach Powder Guides and Points North Heli Adventures.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Alpine Meadows Ski Patroller Dies

The Tahoe community has been blessed with a lot of snow over this holiday season. Unfortunately, this has been accompanied with serious avalanche hazard which has resulted in some near misses, minor injuries, the fatality of a snowboarder at Donner Ski Ranch, and now--the fatality of a 28 year veteran of the  Meadows Ski Patrol.

Bill Foster, 53, died yesterday in a California hospital after being involved in an avalanche during mitigation work at Alpine Meadows on Monday. Foster was doing routine avalanche hazard mitigation work when the slide broke higher and wider than he or his team expected.

My deepest condolences to the Alpine Meadows Ski Patrol.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Knox Frank Memorial Scholarship for Avalanche Education

Knox Frank loved the mountains. His passion, combined with his charismatic wit, was simply contagious. The only thing that made the mountains better for Knox was sharing them with friends, of which he had many.

Knox died in an avalanche while skiing with a group of friends in the spring of 2012. To honor the memory of Knox and share his love for the backcountry experience with others, Crested Butte Mountain Guides is offering the Knox Frank Memorial Scholarship.

This scholarship honors Knox’s memory as a skier, community member, mentor and friend. It provides an opportunity for a backcountry enthusiast to take an avalanche course in Crested Butte, Colorado. This scholarship is unique in that it offers the chosen participant to walk in Knox’s shoes, in his beloved backcountry community of Crested Butte, where his memory is still strong and alive.

This is an incredible opportunity for someone to further his/her backcountry education while experiencing a memorable time in a true ski town community.

The chosen winner will receive a FREE Avalanche Education package in Crested Butte, Colorado (an estimated total value of $1000 - $1500 depending on type of course chosen) and would include:

• Enrollment in any scheduled AIARE Level 1, Level 2, or Refresher Course with Crested Butte Mountain Guides,
• Lodging from Irwin Outfitting,
• Breakfast/lunch food supplied by Izzy’s Deli, and
• Evening food and beverages provided by the Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub.

Scholarship qualifications:

Applicants are required to submit a short video (no more than 5 minutes) or essay (no more than 1000 words) describing who you are and why you love skiing and the climbing in the mountains. This is easy - we are looking for people like Knox who love adventures in the mountains. We also need to know:

• Where you live?
• What skiing and spending time in the mountains means to you?
• How do you integrate a passion for being in the mountains into your daily life?
• What course you are interested in?
• Your age?

Upon completion of the course, the scholarship recipient will be required to provide the following:

• a 5 minute video about what they learned
• 5 pictures from the course
• a thank you note to scholarship sponsors

To apply please send in your essay or video application by January 15, 2013 to: Crested Butte Mountain Guides, ℅ Knox Frank Memorial Scholarship, PO Box 1718, Crested Butte, CO 81224

The winner will be announced on the Town Of Crested Butte’s Official ‘Knox Frank Day’: January 26, 2013.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tragedy Strikes Tahoe: Inbounds Avalanche Takes the Life of Tahoe Man

Tragedy has struck at Donner Ski Ranch where a Tahoe man died today in an in-bounds avalanche. Our condolences to the family of Mark Anderson of Hirschdale, California.

Photo: Sierra Avalanche Center

Over three feet of snow has fallen since Friday. During this cycle, a long-time Alpine Meadows ski patroller was injured when the avalanche he intentionally triggered during avalanche hazard mitigation fractured higher than anticipated. His condition is unknown.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Inbounds Avalanche at Squaw Valley Captures Three

As crazy as this sounds, this avalanche blew a skier off of the lift. Read a first person account of the avalanche here:

Three snowboarders triggered an inbounds avalanche off of the KT-22 ski-lift on Sunday. The snowboarders were caught but avoided burial. One victim was treated at a nearby hosptital for a shoulder injury.

This is the second reported in-bounds skier-triggered avalanche in the United States in one week. The Tahoe area has received up two feet of snow in the last 24 hours.

From the Sierra Avalanche Center's website:

The bottom line:
December 23, 2012 at 7:00 am
The avalanche danger is HIGH at all elevations on the NW-N-NE-E-SE aspects on slopes steeper than 33 degrees due to wind slabs and heavy snow loads accumulating on an already weak snowpack. Large, destructive human triggered and natural avalanches will be widespread today. Very Dangerous avalanche conditions exist, and travel in or below avalanche terrain is not recommenced.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Conditions Report: Manti Skyline, Utah

Wow. Things look touchy in Utah.

The Greater Salt Lake Area continues to have an active avalanche cycle due to deep slab instability.

If you are going skiing in the Wasatch, keep your avalanche eyeballs open by reading the daily report at:

Photo: Brett Kobernick

This photo, of a human trigged avalanche in the Skyline area, shows just how sensitive things are in Utah right now.

The local paper warns of the heightened risk here:

The Utah Avalanche Center put together this video to illustrate the danger:

Friday, December 21, 2012

TECH TIPS: 457 kHz Frequency Deviation

457 kHz, right?
We all know that our avalanche beacons transmit at 457 kHz. Unfortunately, older beacons--or a beacon that has sustained damage--may be transmitting +/- 180 Hz. In order to account for these deviating signals, we build our beacons to receive at a wider range. Think of it like when you are listening to the radio--you may be able to listen to your favorite channel even when you turn the dial a little bit up or down. Of course it may be scratchy and intermittent, but it still works.

Beacons are similar. International norms require that we build our beacons so that they can still work even if a transceiver is sending a couple kilohertz off. If we knew that all beacons in the field were transmitting precisely at 457kHZ, then we could build our beacons on a narrower band which would provide greater accuracy. Unfortunately, because of the number of old or slightly damaged in the field, this is not possible. This is yet another reason to make sure you and your friends are using modern avalanche beacons.

So, owning and using a modern beacon not only makes the search easier, but it makes a potential search for you more accurate.

The Mammut Pulse and Element beacons test the frequency during the start up self test. A properly functioning PULSE will transmit at 457 kHz (+/- 80 Hz). Additionally, Mammut recommends that you have your PULSE run on our TESTER unit for a full diagnostic test every three years.

The international norms require that beacons receive +/- 180 Hz of 457 kHz. If the Mammut PULSE recognizes that a beacon that it is searching for has a frequency far out of the norm, it will recommend "reduce search strip to 25m." This narrow search strip will optimize your chances of finding a beacon that is transmitting outside of the norm.  As stated in the Reference Manual:
If your Barryvox® detects that the signal search stripwidth needs to be reduced due to a device trans-mitting far apart from the normative regulation, thereduced search strip width will be indicated.

Take Away Points
Modern beacons provide you with the ability to search for multiple victims and "mark" their locations (after you have found them with a probe.) More importantly, modern beacons do a much better job of transmitting an accurate 457 kHz signal. Will your Barryvox Opto 3000 work? Yes. But retiring older technology will help the entire industry provide greater search accuracy.

Additionally, it is important to test the accuracy of your signal. Mammut beacons do this during start up as well as recommending more detailed examinations every three years (done at the Mammut offices in Burlington, Vermont.)

Crystal Mountain Avalanche Victim Recovered Alive: Buried for 10 Minutes

Sources confirm victim was in an in-bounds area, did not have a beacon, and was found with a probe strike.

The avalanche apparently occurred in the "Northway" area, an in-bounds area that is open by patrol when deamed safe.

A map of the area can be found here:

Details are a bit unclear regarding the Washington State woman who was buried in an avalanche on Thursday. What is clear is that she was buried for over ten minutes before being dug out alive. The main points that remain unclear to me include: Was this inbounds? Was the victim found with a beacon? As an aside, it does look like the type of accident in which an airbag may have helped expedite the rescue. I am just glad she is ok.

A story in the Oregonian can be found here:

An video interview with Paul Baugher, Crystal Mountain Patrol Director, can be found here:

And finally, a video taken by one of the rescuers can be found here:

I am still unclear whether or not this is an in-bounds avalanche. News reports refer to it being in-bounds, but the video certainly makes it appear that a ski patroller is opening a gate.

The video account of the rescue certainly illustrates the importance of strong leadership and organization during a rescue. Having been involved in a large scale rescue myself, I can attest to the fact that it is not easy to get all involved to turn off their respective beacons, or turn them to search. Obviously, this also begs the question, is it safe to do so? Please see my last blog post on auto-revert considerations. Mammut PULSE 3.2 recently introduced a "RESCUE-SEND" function which provides an added degree of safety and organization for rescuers. See my last post for details.

Great job to all the rescuers involved including the witnesses that responded immediately and the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol.


On December 29, 2008, along with three of my partners, I was partially buried in an avalanche while doing avalanche hazard mitigation during an deep-slab cycle. Among the four of us, we had over 75 years of experience--we never thought we would have been part of a multiple burial scenario--but it taught us a lot about doing complex rescues.

During the rescue that ensued, we were at first uncertain as to how many victims were caught in the slide, so we proceeded under the assumption that there were more victims. As the search continued and people were accounted for, it became unlikely that anyone else was buried. After a thorough search of the area with our beacons our incident commander deemed the area clear of any transceiver signals. Just then, someone yelled, "I have a signal!"

The cursed "auto-revert" function had switched a rescuers beacon to SEND. Another rescuer picked up the signal, and we were off to the races. Moments later, it happened yet again, but we were on to the beacons tricks this time.

Auto-Revert modes, while providing a necessary level of safety while performing a rescue beneath secondary avalanche paths, can complicate a already complex situation.

With the PULSE Barryvox's 3.2 firmware update, Mammut has introduced a new function: RESCUE-SEND. In this mode, the beacon does not send or receive a signal, thereby allowing a designated prober or shoveler to essentially turn their respective beacon off. However, if the built-in accelerometer does not recognize significant movement for 4 minutes (the default auto-revert time on many beacons) then the PULSE will revert to SEND.

To initiate this mode, switch the beacon directly from SEARCH to SEND. After the 5-second confirmation-countdown (which allows you to switch back to search without losing the saved burial list if you accidentally switched to SEND), a "RESCUE-SEND" prompt will appear on the bottom of the screen. Press any button and you are in RESCUE-SEND.  A full-screen prompt and a 3-note descending tone will confirm your selection.

The PULSE 3.2 also has updated the standard Auto-Revert function. Normally, the beacon will revert to SEND after 4 or 8 minutes in SEARCH (depending on what you choose in your settings.) However, you can also choose, "No Revert in Motion" in the settings.  Now, if your PULSE identifies adequate movement, it will never revert to SEND.

Using the built in accelerometer (motion sensor), PULSE 3.2 has introduced these functions in order to avoid confusion during rescues--often caused by Auto-Revert.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The New York Times--Tunnel Creek Avalanche

An informative Q and A with the author of the NYT Tunnel Creek story.

The New York Times did an incredible job with this multi-media presentation on the tragic avalanche at Stevens Pass last year.

Though it is a year past, our condolences to those left behind.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dutch Draw Avalanche--Near Miss

The Wasatch Mountains currently have a tricky snowpack with a considerable amount of snow sitting on a faceted base. Check out these impressive photos captured by a skier that witnessed one hell of a near-miss.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Loveland Ski Patrol Adopts Mammut Avalanche Airbags

Joining a growing number of avalanche hazard mitigation workers in the United States using avalanche airbags, Colorado's Loveland Ski Patrol recently purchased a fleet of Mammut Pro 35 RAS packs. With this purchase, Loveland joins the ranks of Snowbird, Telluride, Vail Resorts, and Jackson Hole already using airbags. Snowbird and Telluride currently use Mammut/Snowpulse systems.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Avalanche Danger Scale

In this post, Crested Butte Avalanche Centers' Josh Hirshberg reviews the meaning of Considerable Avalanche Danger (3/5). More people are caught in avalanches during Considerable Danger than at any other time.

click to enlarge

During the second week of December 2012, back to back storm cycles renewed the promise of a deep and snowy winter in the Elk Mountains of Colorado. For back-country skiers, epic faces-shots were punctuated with boot shaking signs of instability. During this period, I found myself pondering the exact definitions in the Avalanche Danger Scale. Paying close attention to the differences between, "probable", "possible", "isolated", and "specific" can help you be certain that you understand the forecast.

While the differences between these words may sound like inconsequential semantics, they are anything but. It may surprise you that the forecasters at the Crested Butte Avalanche Center read the definitions of the Avalanche Danger Scale almost every morning. There are days when we may spend fifteen minutes mulling over the specifics of a danger rating before issuing a forecast. This attests to the importance we place on the danger rating. 

Starting December 9th, the Crested Butte Avalanche Center witnessed the most prolonged period of Considerable avalanche danger so far this season. Backcountry travelers who were skiing during this period will recognize that conditions varied greatly from location to location. So, why all the “Considerable?”

First, some basic criteria would say that “dangerous avalanche conditions” exist under a Considerable rating, and “careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making” are essential to staying safe. Though there may be some inherent risk to backcountry skiing and riding, it’s not often that it’s “dangerous” per say. During times of Considerable danger you really have to be on your game.  The conventional way of thinking about Considerable would tell us that “natural avalanches are possible” and “human triggered avalanches are likely.” This isn’t a time for that romantic picnic lunch you’ve been planning in the middle of your favorite avalanche path.

During Considerable danger there’s a good chance you will see natural or human-triggered  avalanches if you are travelling in the backcountry. You want to minimize the amount of time that you are in any avalanche paths to minimize your exposure. 

According to the size and distribution, during Considerable danger you could see “small avalanches in many areas, large avalanches in specific areas, or very large avalanches in isolated areas.” In case there’s some confusion with the terms, a large avalanche is something you definitely don’t want to be caught in. This could be big enough to break trees or bury a car. Meanwhile, a “small avalanche” could still be big enough to bury a person. “Specific terrain” is a generalization, ie. it could be something like "most east aspects", while “isolated terrain” is less generalized, ie. perhaps rocky, convex start-zones above 35-degree convex slope. 

Size and distribution help explain how different types of conditions can all fall under Considerable. Additionally, forecasters strive to match the conditions with a danger that best describes it as a whole.  The overall conditions and size and distribution are just as important to consider as whether we expect natural versus human triggered avalanches. Unfortunately, backcountry riders don’t get to choose which flavor of Considerable they want, but the forecaster often emphasizes the most pertinent elements of a given day’s Considerable.  This helps explain why during mid-December we had so many days that were Considerable. Some days we expected human triggered slides and maybe some naturals, but we new they would be small. Other days we didn’t think there would be lots of activity, but we knew anything that ran it could be big. Some days were really heads up with many small avalanches everywhere and a few large slides on specific slopes.

Forecasters consider the Danger Scale to be an exponential scale. One step up on the Danger scale could mean that you’re 10 times more likely to trigger an avalanche. There are lots of times when we can get great powder in the backcountry and even shred some pretty steep slopes. It’s critical that we learn to recognize when it isn’t safe and how to modify our terrain choices to not get caught in dangerous conditions.  If you take some time to review the danger scale, you’ll start noticing how much the CBAC forecasters incorporate the definitions into the daily forecast. Like most readers, the CBAC forecasters are excited for a powder-filled winter. We dream of endless fresh tracks, but most importantly we strive to keep our community safe while enjoying the backcountry.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wasatch Current Conditions: December 15, 2012

A few words about the current situation in the Wasatch Backcountry by American Avalanche Institute instructor Jake Hutchinson:

"As the snow begins to pile up in the Wasatch the skiing just keeps getting better-- while the avalanche stability just gets trickier. Yesterday, the storm snow and wind slab problems were fairly easy to identify and manage although the speed of these slides may be problematic. The Persistent slab problem is the tricky one. A variety of faceted layers lie buried near a variety of crusts (very elevation and aspect dependent). These layers are producing a variety of test results and a few concerning avalanches here and there. This is a case where stability tests may give a false sense of security and the poor snowpack structure demands respect and attention. Keeping the big picture in mind, paying attention to what has been going on on similar slopes and not ignoring cracking, collapsing and avalanches are key. With another big storm knocking on the door, keeping the slope angles down and managing your terrain will be key in the coming days."

Check out Jake's video in a pit on the Park City Ridgeline:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Jackson Hole Dec 8-9 Avalanche Cycle: Lessons Learned

Winter was slower to arrive than most of us like in Jackson Hole. Rain fell on the valley floor for much of late November and early December. However, while the valley rain was hard to endure, weather above 7500' was another story--by December 8th there was 60" (152cm) of settled maritime snow at the base of Rendezvous Bowl (9580') at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

Things started changing the first week of December as a strong, cold storm system from the SW hammered Jackson from December 5th-8th giving us about up to 32" of dry, right-side-up powder as well as snow to the valley floor. Winter had finally arrived. Wind slabs formed promptly during the storms outgoing wind event with winds reaching 60+mph out of the SW.

On December 7-9th, I was teaching an avalanche course.  Our field day on the 9th proved to be a very educational experience.

We began the day at the top of Teton Pass at 7:15am. A strong westerly wind was honking through the Pass. These winds diminished shortly after we arrived. We immediately reviewed our findings from our tours to Olympic and Avalanche Bowls on the the prior day. For our intended tour (25-35 degree, east and north facing slopes between 8000-9000'), we rated the danger as moderate (2 out of a scale to 5) our main concern was windslab on north and east facing at or around 9000'. No known avalanches had been reported at this time in the backcountry, though the ski patrollers at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort had been able to trigger many slides in the storm snow at the upper elevations of the forecast zone (from 9,000-10,400'.) Our intended tour would remain in more protected, lower elevation terrain than where the patrollers were getting results.

The day before we had also seen evidence of a deep slab instability. This deep slab instability is comprised faceted October snow that is sitting on the ground (HS at 9000' is 90-120cms.) The only reported avalanche on this layer to date was on a slope above 10,000' on an steep, unsupported, rocky, NE facing slope--extreme terrain by any standard.

Additionally, on the previous days' tour, one group had found buried surface hoar down 70cms. I never saw it myself. However, this layer was unreactive to Extended Column Tests and there were no known reported avalanches on this layer.

So, my summary of the avalanche problem consisted of:
1. Wind Slab
2. Persistent Deep Slab (minimally reactive to date.)
3. Buried Surface Hoar (un-reactive to date.)

On the morning of December 9th, we toured south of Teton Pass, feeling quite happy about the new snow and the Moderate danger (2 on a scale of 5) in the backcountry--despite the fact that we had persistant weak layers in a snowpack that had just received over 2' of new snow. Well, all I can say is "hindsight is 20/20."

On the way out to avalanche bowl, I began receiving reports of natural avalanche activity from the last 24 hours--Unski-a-bowl, a NE facing bowl above 10,000 and Teepee Glacier, a SE facing slope above 11,000' had slid during the cycle. Little did I know, Cody Bowl had also slid--six feet deep.

Arriving at Avalanche Bowl (9000', ENE) we chose a location to practice stability tests. We chose a 26 degree slope to minimize our exposure. Soon afterwards, a very experienced skier arrived with similar intentions. This person chose a steeper slope to dig on, a 38 degree NE facing slope. On approach, the skier triggered a small but potentially fatal avalanche (SS-ASu-D1.5/R2-O, down 70cm, 20m wide, ran 150m.) No one was caught.

In retrospect, I knew this surface hoar layer was present. Yet, while I did not have any incident, I still feel I did not give it enough respect--I over estimated the importance of my stability tests which all pointed to mostly stable snow. Additionally, at 7:15am on the 9th, I mistook no reported avalanches to mean no avalanches.

Interestingly, after the slide occurred we finished our stability tests and still got no results on three separate ECT tests (ECTN x 3).

We were eventually able to make the layer respond in a Propagation Saw Test (PST). During this test we got a PST 15/100 end.

Here are some photos which help indicate the size of the slab.

70cm crown in Avalanche Bowl, Teton Pass. The slab was about 70 feet wide and ran for about 400 feet.

Skiers, after tickling the dragon, aborting their mission to dig a pit after triggering SS-ASu-D1.5/R2-O. The slab avalanche may be hard to see in the shaded area of the picture.

In the last few years I have come to trust the Extended Column Test. Karl Birkeland has done research that demonstrates that this test can be administered on low angle slopes, has lower rates of false negatives than other pits, and--of course--the ECT tests for propagation whereas Compression Tests only look for failure in the weak layer. In this case, the ECT did not reveal the instability in three different ECT's in three different locations in Avalanche Bowl. In a fourth pit, the day before, an instructor had found the layer but had found it to be ECTN.

It also is a good reminder that surface hoar commonly surprises professional avalanche workers in the backcountry. When you find it, don't forget about it. So, take note of the spatially variable "12/5 buried surface hoar layer" (the day I believe it was buried.)

When we got back to the car we found out that the Powder Eight Face on Cody Peak slid on the October facets at the ground. The crown was 6' deep in places.

This experience reminds me yet again--safe travel habits that provide you with a margin of safety are the only things that will keep you safe when you underestimate the hazard. One thing that is a gaurantee is that you and everyone else out there (regardless of experience level) WILL underestimate the danger at some point. Having a healthy amount of humility is our strongest defense.

So, ski one at a time. Minimize your exposure to objective hazard. Avoid consequential terrain during or immediately after a storm. Practice your beacon skills. And always, always, always ask yourself, "what if I am wrong this time?"

Crested Butte "Beacon Brush Up."

On December 1, 2012, Mammut Ambassador Steve Banks, IFMGA Mountain Guide, attended the first annual Crested Butte "Beacon Brush Up." The event was presented by The Crested Butte Avalanche Center (CBAC) in conjunction with Crested Butte Mountain Guides and the Alpineer. 

The inaugural "Beacon Brush Up" was a huge success with well over 100 local and visiting attendees. Forecasters from the CBAC as well as guides from CBMG were on hand to give beacon instruction to beginners and experienced beacon users alike. While mother nature did not cooperate to produce enough snow in town to hide beacons in, extra boxes from the Alpineer spread across the ball fields with transmitting beacons inside a few created enough of a challenge for the participants to sharpen their skills.

In addition to the free practice and training, reps from Mammut, Ortovox, BCA, The North Face, and Peips were on hand to demo their new equipment and show off the latest in avalanche safety gear. Steve Srednick, the Cololrado Mammut rep, was busy all day updating people's beacons to the newest firmware (3.2).

When the sun went down, the party started up at the Alpineer. Free food, beer and more information was shared at the local gear shop as people gathered for the raffle drawing. Hats, shovels, probes and even a brand new beacon were raffled off to anyone who showed up to participate in the beacon training. Anyone who wasn't lucky enough to win the drawing was still offered the opportunity to purchase any and all avalanche safety gear in the store at an incredible 15% off retail price!

With such great success in its first year, this is destined to become an annual event in Crested Butte, and will surely evolve into a party atmosphere CB is know for hosting. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TECH TIPS: Alkaline vs. Lithium Batteries

Winter was a little slow to kick in this year with warm temps throughout most of North America. But, now into the first week in December, most areas have enough snow to get even the most reluctant early season skiers into the mountains.

So, if you are just pulling your beacon out of the closet, make sure to have a look at your battery contacts. Did you leave batteries in the unit all summer? I hope not. If you did, your beacon may look like this:

Alkaline batteries can leak over time. If you have any corrosion on the battery contacts of your PULSE or ELEMENT beacon, then it needs to be inspected and tested at Mammut. Corrosion on the contacts can damage the electronics in the beacon. It is not adequate to simply brush the corrosion off the terminals and play through. It is critical that the beacon is tested, repaired, and possibly replaced.

Alkaline batteries should always be removed when the beacon is being stored during the off season. Additionally, a close inspection of the battery contacts should be done each time batteries are replaced. There should never be any visible corrosion and the contacts should always have ample spring to them.

To eliminate the possibility of alkaline corrosion, Mammut developed LITHIUM capability into the 3.2 (and newer) firmware for the PULSE Barryvox,which was released in early 2012. (If you are not sure which firmware you are running, simply look at the display during start-up--it should say 3.2 or higher.) Lithium batteries have several advantages. They last longer and they are lighter--but even more importantly, they do not leak.

However, there is a catch. Lithium batteries present their own problem--they maintain a "full" battery reading until they suddenly die. Electronic devices struggle to determine the battery's strength because of this unusual life-cycle. So, with firmware 3.2, your PULSE can run lithium batteries by using a timer. When the PULSE 3.2 firmware (or 4.0, etc) identifies lithium batteries, it will ask you if they batteries are new. Never put old lithium's in your beacon--the battery reading will not be accurate unless you begin with new batteries and continue with those batteries until the timer tells you they need to be replaced.  If you remove your lithium batteries, when you replace them it will ask if they are the SAME batteries--if you answer "yes", it will restart the timer where it left off, so it's important these batteries are not used in any other devices while they are removed from the beacon or the timer will be inaccurate.

While this timer system is not perfect--user error could create a situation where bad lithiums are not identified--it does eliminate the problem of damaged electronics due to corrosion which we see as a real issue. Some large user groups, like Canadian Mountain Holidays, have switched to lithium to eliminate any possible damage due to corrosion. So, if you opt for lithium batteries, make sure you start with new batteries and continue with those batteries until the timer runs its' course. If you opt to continue using alkaline batteries, be sure to inspect for corrosion regularly.

Note, that the Element Barryvox can not use lithium batteries.  ONLY alkaline batteries should be used in your Element Barryvox beacon.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tech-Tips: Common Questions

Mammut USA's customer service department recently shared with me some of the more common questions about PULSE and ELEMENT beacons, so I'll try to cover some of the questions over the next couple posts.

This week, I'll show you how to open the battery door.  This is easy to do and doesn't require any tools, but some people don't immediately see how to open the door.

So, just a quick tip: do not pry your battery compartment door open--doing so can break the beacon, which is not covered by the warranty. Simply apply downward pressure on the curved fingernail groove located on the side of the door and slide it open as shown in the video--be aware, it opens in the opposite direction many people expect.