Tis the season

It’s been distinctly autumnal ever since I got back from the Bob, but we’ve had cold rain in town numerous times this week, and snow overnight the day before last. All of which means that ski season is on the way. Hopefully a little sooner than last year.

In fact, last weekend two duos from town managed to get themselves avalanched out of a couloir on Trapper Peak. The writeup is admirably candid, and a timely reminder. Missoula Avalanche is doing their usual free lectures in the coming month, and there are two avy one classes in town in January. All that, and I need a beacon.

(I struggle on this issue, as I’m a novice skier and backcountry snow traveler, and thus am properly hesitant to open my mouth. That being said, the attitude which seems to pervade a lot of chatter about avy safty bugs me. It’s good to have a good beacon, and even more important to be intimately familiar with it’s use, but above all the very use of any avy equipment beyond the preemptive and prophylactic strikes me as an admission of failure. The classes and clinics I took last winter gave me the impression that avalanches are for the most part quite predictable, and that getting your party into one means that you fucked up pretty big. This video, commented on here before, shows that well enough.)

Knowledge is power. (I should also say that the general elitist gnarnitude that pervades skiers. Resort skiing is like golf with dumber clothes.)

We should also pause, now, and remember the fun which snow holds for us, soon:

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4 thoughts on “Tis the season

  1. I know it is just the impact of the avalanche to the microphone but those muted sounds from the buried skier are powerful to listen to. Quick team, got him out in like 5 minutes, not bad. I never plan on being in the pit myself and that often means not skiing where I want and with certain people. Predictable? Yes, just stay off anything that look fun. Most avalanche terrain is the terrain we would like to ski….something like 25-42 degrees, correct?Any affective Avie courses are now focusing on the "human dimensions" of prevention in Level I courses. They have found the personal decision and heuristics often play a more powerful role in decision making than environmental factors? Interestingly, the accident curve from no course exposure to "Expert" is one worth looking at. A classic case of little information can be dangerous.Admission of Failure? Yes, but not just personal. The fact that the backcountry community ignored these human dimensions for so long is sad. How often does the adventure community teach people to walk away from an objective? How many of us succumb to peer pressure in the field? How many of us are taught to use past success as a justification for current/future risk? How many of us ski alone ( I do, and vast justifications lined up for its "relative" safety)?We need older, experienced mentors in the backcountry to help balance out the zeitgeist of modern ski culture. Until then, "YAMs" are going to keep learning bad habits and dyeing in disproportionate numbers. All in the name of good ski porn. (I guess I have strong opinions about the majority (at least the well published and discussed) of backcountry ski culture).

  2. I believe (and I want to be able to speak with more authority on this) that getting a slope below 30 degrees to slide requires very rare conditions. One of the benefits of sucking like I do is that a 25 degree slope can be challenging enough to be interesting, especially if you add some trees. I skied a slope with the aforementioned attributes a bunch solo last winter, once the 'pack had settled in. Am I fooling myself by thinking that was safe? I don't 'think' so.Agree totally on the walking away bit. If anything, the net makes that situation worse.

  3. The 25-30 degree is labeled as rare, though they do occur. From what I know they occur in early season, but it has been a while. Most of the terrain I have skied in the 20-25 degree realm involved roll-overs or transitions from much steeper terrain. But I must be honest, I rarely carry an inclinometer to accurately measure a slope. And from what I have learned it is hard to accurately distinguish the difference of such low angle slopes. This has often left me running very conservative lines. Unfortunately, the slopes I find enjoyable are right smack in the middle of the dangerous realm, 30-40 degrees. This also seems to be the range that most of us settle into as backcountry skiers, at least when we focus on runs and not exploration.The online ski culture of most sites is very gnar and extreme oriented. Which is a shock because I don't know many people who actually seek that out. That said, it has an effect on the way we judge our ski ability and in many cases, sense of "masculinity". Wonder when we shifted from developing a sense of place to a sense of "feat"? Seems only natural that as we focus on pushing bigger and better the more accidents we will see. Guess I don't have much desire for escalation anymore. Back to the original statement about predictability…I think it can be but I doubt most of us spend enough time in the backcountry to develop a true knowledge of its factors. Doesn't matter as much if you intentionally avoid the terrain with avalanche terrain…but a scary proposition for those enough with the interest but deficit in skill. I love first tracks and exploring on my teles but I find my propensity for sloppiness unnerving. I have the feeling that I will slowly defuse my desire for true backcountry adventures (that involve a focus on descents). I think I have seen the edge of my capabilities and I am backing away to a comfortable and safe place.

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