Sunday, January 20, 2013

Avalanche Report: Western Uinta's, Utah.

Craig Gordon from the Utah Avalanche Center describes the events leading up to the tragic deaths of 2 children in Utah last week.

It is a good reminder that even benign looking hillsides can be dangerous, especially if there are terrain traps below.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Avalanche Fatality: Raspberry Creek, Marble Colorado

Little information is available at this time but it is confirmed that someone was killed in the Raspberry Creek drainage outside of Marble Colorado on Sunday January 13, 2013. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center  had warned of "Moderate" (2/5) hazard.

Colorado, along with much of the Western United States, is suffering from deep slab instability due to the early winter drought in October, November, and early December.

According to the CAIC website:

The recent storm snow and the wind slabs are sitting above older persistent slabs in the middle of our snowpack. These persistent slabs are your main concern today. They are most problematic  on slopes facing northwest through east at all elevations. Depth hoar and faceted snow near the ground are the weak layers of concern. The weak layers are more widespread near  treeline. Lower elevation southerly aspects generally lack these deeper instabilities, and many lower elevation northerly slopes have a deteriorating and nonreactive slab. On these low elevation northerly aspects in many areas of the Aspen zone, loose snow avalanches are possible on steep slopes.

The CAIC's incident report can be found here:

Local news covered the accident here:

Our condolences to friends and family of the victim.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Avalanche Report: Close Call in Utah's West Porter

Avalanche Victim Recovered After Full Burial By Partner

Late Saturday afternoon a skier triggered an avalanche and was fully buried in the West Porter drainage of Millcreek just outside Salt Lake City. The skier lost her skis, poles, and one ski-boot. Given the time of day and the recent frigid temperatures, this obviously could have ended differently. However, the victim was recovered by her partner who was carrying the proper rescue gear and knew how to use it. The skiers were then assisted by another ski touring party who stumbled across the avalanche. The third party was able to assist in the jury-rigging of a boot and was able to provide direction to local search and rescue who transported the victim to a local hospital where she was treated for a head injury.

The Crown of the West Porter Avalanche 

A shout out needs to go out to the local skiers in the Wasatch who were prepared to assist another party in need and to the local Wasatch Backcountry Rescue ( of the finest mountain search and rescue outfits in the country.

If you have been skiing in the Wasatch or watching their snowpack in cyber-space, you know that there are persistent weak layers in their snowpack that need a lot of respect. Experienced parties are getting caught and buried! Skiers are also remotely triggered large avalanches throughout the area. (

Every area in North America has to deal with persistent weak layers in their snowpack from time to time (even California this year) and these problems are difficult to manage because of their unpredictability and their ability to behave outside of the norms--high crowns, remote triggers, avalanches on low angle slopes, etc.

Avalanche on Mt. Aire, remotely triggered from the ridgeline

At this point, the persistent problems in Utah's Wasatch Mountains are so well known and well documented, that the only thing that is very difficult is controlling your own urges if you are a skier there. As Utah Avalanche Center's Brett "Cowboy" Kobernick states in this morning's forecast: It is up to you to control your urge to ski the steep and deep.  He goes on to point out that,  Persistent weak layers are called that because they persist long after the new snow itself has stabilized. They pose the greatest threat to backcountry travelers and are responsible for almost all of the avalanche fatalities that occur in Utah.

Unpredictable, persistent, and responsible for most fatalities. Enough said. Maybe it is time to buy a plane ticket to Chamonix where they are having all-time deep, stable powder skiing?

The local news covered this accident here:

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Conditions Report: Alyeska

Alaska, known for it's deep, maritime snowpack, is in the midst of a deep slab avalanche xyxle more commonly associated with Continental areas like Colorado. South-central Alaska suffered from a very dry October, November, and early December. A total of 80 inches of snow fell during early winter. These advanced facets were then quickly loaded with 190 inches of snow in late December/early January. Needless to say, things got sketchy fast--and they will be for some time to come. This Wednesday, a skier triggered a deep, large avalanche on Tincan, a popular run on Turnagain.

John Fitzgerald recently wrote a synopsis of this skier triggered avalanche on Tincan--a run often skied by those looking for somewhere "safe." It averaged 8-10' deep and ran nearly a 1/4 mile wide.

His report can be found here:

Deep slab instabilities are extremely unpredictable. Deep slabs also have the ability to break unpredictably higher than soft slabs which usually break at steep, convex rollovers--therefore, traditional start-zones and safe-zones do not necessarily apply. These avalanches tend to defy historical patterns, a complication that contributed to the death this year of a seasoned Alpine Meadows Ski Patrolman, Bill Foster. It was also a deep slab instability, due to similar weather conditions, that killed Jackson Hole Ski Patroller Mark "Big Wally" Wolling in January of 2010.

If you are skiing in Alaska right now, please read this post by Andy Dietrick from the Alyeska Ski Patrol:

The Alyeska Ski Patrol has posted a You Tube video showing the dramatic results at the ski area during avalanche hazard mitigation.

Adding to their complexity, deep slabs have the ability to lie dormant for long periods of time before being re-activated by rapid warming or heavy loading. As Fitzgerlad points out in his report:

Unfortunately, this problem will likely linger for a long time, with alternating periods of dormancy and reactivation. Other events like this are possible for the foreseeable future.

The best solution as a skier or rider is patience, which powder hounds are not famous for. Nonetheless, maritime areas like Alaska do usually heal with time. In my 10 years working for Valdez Heli-Ski Guides I have never seen a deep slab instability persist into March. I will certainly be hoping, for the sake of Alaskan locals, that is heals long before that, but it will be interesting to see.

Mammut PULSE wins Editor's Pick: "Much faster than Tracker 2"

Outdoor Gear Lab recently awarded the Mammut Pulse "Editor's Pick."

Notably, the testers found the Pulse to be the fastest beacon in both single companion rescue and multiple burial scenarios!

Outdoor Gear Lab states, This is our Editor's Choice winner because it got us to the victims the fastest. In multiple burial situations, the Pulse was much faster than the Tracker 2...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Airbag Cartridge Refill Instructions and Parts List and Diagram

A new detailed set of refill instructions is now available that should serve as an aid to both users and refill locations.  These instructions are very detailed in an effort to address common questions.  Instructions can be found here:  CLICK HERE FOR REFILL INSTRUCTIONS.

When talking about various parts on the airbag cartridges, it's a heck of a lot easier if we all use the same name for each part!  The link also has an exploded parts diagram.