Avalanche kills five snowboarders in Colorado today

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hossjulia

Trad climber
Where the Hoback and the mighty Snake River meet
Topic Author's Original Post - Apr 20, 2013 - 08:54pm PT
http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/20/17842135-avalanche-kills-five-snowboarders-in-colorado-sheriff-says?lite

Avalanche kills five snowboarders in Colorado, sheriff says

GEORGETOWN, Colo. -- Five snowboarders were killed Saturday afternoon in a backcountry avalanche on Colorado's Loveland Pass, authorities said.

Clear Creek County Sheriff Don Krueger said in a statement that six snowboarders were caught in the slide. The condition of the lone survivor was not released, and it was unclear if the victims were still buried.

Saturday's deaths bring the total number of avalanche fatalities in the state to 11 this year, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Spencer Logan, forecaster for the center in Boulder, said there have been weak layers in Colorado's snowpack since early January.

"Our last series of storms made them more active again," he said. "Over the last week and a half, that area got over 18 inches of snow, so if you melted that that would be 2 inches of water, so that is a heavy load."

Loveland Pass, at an elevation of 11,990 feet, is popular area among backcountry skiers and snowboarders. The Colorado Department of Transportation closed U.S. Route 6 as many skiers were headed home from nearby Arapahoe Basin ski resort.

The area is just south of Interstate 70, about 60 miles west of Denver.

On Thursday, a 38-year-old snowboarder died in an avalanche south of Vail Pass. Eagle County sheriff's officials said the man and another snowboarder likely triggered the slide after a friend on a snowmobile dropped them off at the top of Avalanche Bowl.

Nationwide, 24 people now have died in avalanches this season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center statistics.

On April 13, two snowshoers were killed in separate slides near Snoqualmie Pass, Wash.

U.S. avalanche deaths climbed steeply around 1990 to an average of around 24 a year as new gear became available for backcountry travel. Until then, avalanches rarely claimed more than a handful of lives each season in records going back to 1950.

    The Associated Press


5 at once, on today of all days. So sad.
RyanD

climber
Squamish
Apr 20, 2013 - 08:59pm PT
That is sad, careful out there- esp. late season. Condolences to family & loved ones.
BurnRockBurn

climber
South of Black Rock City (CC,NV)
Apr 20, 2013 - 09:08pm PT
Ugh horrible
Shawn
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Apr 20, 2013 - 09:11pm PT
hey there say, hossjulia... :(

i get so sad hearing these... just when hope is there, that the season
is over and all is well, new snow comes, :(

i do know, that there are areas in the world where still is always there (though hopefully folks live in that awareness, growing up and living in such on-going caution areas??),
but:
these mountain-ski etc areas, where so many folks come and go, to use the snow, we hope folks can get warnings, so,
these situations are what seems doubly sad...

it makes you feel that they may have had a chance
"if only" :(

very very sad to hear this, :(

condolences and prayers to the family and loved ones, :(
Cragman

Trad climber
June Lake, California....via the Damascus Road
Apr 20, 2013 - 09:12pm PT
Grim.
PAUL SOUZA

Trad climber
Central Valley, CA
Apr 20, 2013 - 09:21pm PT
Sad.

I wonder what the Avy forecast was for that day.
Ron Anderson

Trad climber
Soon to be Nipple suckling Liberal
Apr 20, 2013 - 09:21pm PT
new snow on old.. Condolences to all....
hossjulia

Trad climber
Where the Hoback and the mighty Snake River meet
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 20, 2013 - 09:22pm PT
Yeah, very grim. Oh I feel so bad for their families and friends. And the rescuers, that's really rough.

avy.org ought to have a report up in a few days

crusher

climber
Santa Monica, CA
Apr 20, 2013 - 09:24pm PT
More and more of these. What are these folks thinking...it's really worth the thrill of a little backcountry this late in the season? Really sad. Condolences.
hossjulia

Trad climber
Where the Hoback and the mighty Snake River meet
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 20, 2013 - 09:27pm PT
Avalanche Danger (for today, 4/20)

The avalanche danger for the Front Range zone is CONSIDERABLE (Level 3) on N-NE-E-SE aspects near and above treeline. On other aspects the danger is MODERATE (Level 2). Cautious route-finding, conservative decision-making, and careful snowpack evaluation are essential for safe travel.

http://avalanche.state.co.us/pub_bc_avo.php?zone_id=1
TwistedCrank

climber
Dingleberry Gulch, Ideeho
Apr 20, 2013 - 09:59pm PT
Most people aren't qualified to go into the backcountry. It's too easy to get away with it though and the modern equipment just makes it even easier and offers a false sense of invulnerability. I doubt these victims looked at the snow pack or read the avalanche caveat emptor.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Apr 20, 2013 - 10:10pm PT
This is an enormous tragedy and a significantly unusual event to have such a late season snow load. It's the worst avalanche fatality event since 1962 with an 8 foot crown according to a report I read. Please withhold your judgement, there will be much information forth coming, those killed were someones daughter or son, sister or brother, aunt or uncle. My sincerest condolences to the families and love ones of those taken today.

Charlie D.
Fletcher

Trad climber
The great state of advaita
Apr 20, 2013 - 10:17pm PT
Sorry to hear this. Very sad. I know the Aspen/Snowmass Twitter feed has been reporting that it's been dumping all week. Lots of snow and layer potential. Will definitely wait to see the actual report from those on site.

Eric
thebravecowboy

Social climber
Colorado Plateau
Apr 20, 2013 - 10:47pm PT
oh no. kind thoughts to those involved. i hope my kindred in frontrangia were not involved!
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Apr 20, 2013 - 11:29pm PT

Oh sh#t. My sincere condolences to the victim's family and
friends.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
moving thru
Apr 20, 2013 - 11:40pm PT
How transient life..... As always my heart aches for those who lose the ones they love. My prayers go out to the loved ones, families and friends for comfort and healing. It will take time. God it is hard to lose those you love.

I hope this does not sound insensitive, but dying doing what you love....it could be so much worse. Still, I know those left behind will hurt no matter what. Peace, Lynne
Snowmassguy

Trad climber
Calirado
Apr 21, 2013 - 12:15am PT
Lots of new snow for what seems like weeks now. Lots of high moisture content snow too. Heavy stuff on many levels. Truly sad. Love how 9 News in Denver actually listed the MMJ strain the skier that died in Vail was supposedly smoking the day he died in he article. I am sure the sensationalistic media will somehow tie this to 4/20.
RIP
Captain...or Skully

climber
Apr 21, 2013 - 12:19am PT
As it ever was or ever will be. You wanna live forever? Am I the only one that thinks this way? F*#k it. You live, you die. When? I dunno. Does it really matter?
It's not cold. It's Life. Life & Death are Linked. One needs the other.
BTW, I don't think there are any "good" ways to die.
Big Mike

Trad climber
BC
Apr 21, 2013 - 02:15am PT
Horrible. My condolences to family and friends. Special shout out to the survivor. That is a rough road to follow. Having been lucky several times, i can say for certain this is not a fun way to die. Choking on snow while feeling stupid for ignoring warnings for snow lust is awful.

I know that every time i've ended up in a avy, i've ignored obvious warning signs that i should have seen if i wasn't so gung ho. I'm not saying that is what happened in this incident, just that people need to play safe if they want to live to play another day.

Once again, not judging as i don't even know what happened. Just relating personal experience.
Rick A

climber
Boulder, Colorado
Apr 21, 2013 - 09:47am PT
Photos here:

http://photos.denverpost.com/2013/04/20/photos-avalanche-kills-5-snowboarders-on-loveland-pass/

Preliminary report of Colorado Avalanche Information Center here:

https://avalanche.state.co.us/acc/acc_report.php?acc_id=505&accfm=rep

So sorry for the family and friends of those killed.

Spanky

Social climber
boulder co
Apr 21, 2013 - 10:00am PT
Its so sad but these accidents are totally preventable. There was an avy fatality on thursday on a similar aspect on vail pass and a slide on the same aspect on 4/18 on loveland pass. Based on the reports available on the web they were on an east face above treeline which is specifically where the avy reported unstable snow. If they had done their homework they never should have selected that terrain to ride.

Super grim and my condolences go out to the friends and family.
maldaly

Trad climber
Boulder, CO
Apr 21, 2013 - 11:25am PT
Here's a photo of the slide area:
View looking west. Loveland Pass is just visible at the top of the pho...
View looking west. Loveland Pass is just visible at the top of the photo. The hairpin turn is the one just at the top of the lift at Loveland Basin Ski Area.
Credit: maldaly
Be safe out there
Mal
Patrick Sawyer

climber
Originally California now Ireland
Apr 21, 2013 - 11:37am PT
Condolences.
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Apr 21, 2013 - 11:43am PT

It's a wonder that the bodies were recovered, looking at
the debris field. The conditions to dig out the victims
looked horrendous.
steve shea

climber
Apr 21, 2013 - 01:20pm PT
That thing looks massive, huge crown. Right down to the brush. Seems like passes give that altitude advatange. So many people ski and ride off of passes that I think a false sense of security abounds. Now awareness, clinics, beacons, probes, shovels and ABS packs have dumbed it down instead of making people more cautious.
I know that area well. When Attending Denver University the Pass was the only way west, pre Eisenhower Tunnel. We skied Little Professor's and other routes many times over my time at DU. But only in spring snow. We were so cautious that it never occured to us to ski POW. Ignorance was truly bliss in this case and not knowing snow dynamics kept most to ridge tops and firm late spring conditions.
That aspect in the photo is also subject to wicked wind loading. The prevailing is sw and even a breeze gets venturied through the pass to transport massive amounts of snow to to lee side. That slope!
I was skiing Loveland one day years ago and while booting up at the summit parking lot, heard on the car radio of the avalanche death of Buddy Werner. US ski icon from Steaboat Springs. That made us more aware. But avalanches were a big part of the winter landscape in CO. We were used to seeing them just never ventured out to that terrain. Too afraid.
Condolences to the famlies and friends of these riders!
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Apr 21, 2013 - 01:39pm PT
looked horrendous.

1+

Ron Anderson

Trad climber
Soon to be Nipple suckling Liberal
Apr 21, 2013 - 02:18pm PT
U.S. Snowboard Hopeful Found Dead in Mammoth


MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. (AP) - Snowboarder Chelone Miller, the younger brother of Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller, died Sunday in the area of Mammoth Lakes, Calif. He was 29.

The Mono County Sheriff's Office confirmed his death Monday in a statement. The cause of death is being investigated, but authorities say foul play is not suspected.

Chelone Miller, of Easton, N.H., was hoping to make the U.S. squad in snowboardcross for the 2014 Sochi Games. Nicknamed Chilly, Miller recently finished fourth at the 2013 U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix in Canyons, Utah.

In addition to competing, Miller also did some filming with Warren Miller and other production companies.

Bode Miller is a five-time Olympic medalist in alpine skiing. He sat out the 2012-13 World Cup season while recovering from a knee injury.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




Rough weekend for snow folks...
rottingjohnny

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Apr 21, 2013 - 02:31pm PT
False sense of security is the key phrase...There are greater numbers of boarders and skiers marching into the back country with brand new clothing and gear and i sometimes wonder if their appearance reflects their avalanche awareness..yesterday i noticed snowmobile tracks leading off into the local wilderness back country bowls....Are the snow machines enabling the less experienced easier access to these dangerous slopes...? I'm sure the pressure of getting first tracks or only having the day off plays into luring the boarder-skier into these dicey situations...Tragic...
Snowmassguy

Trad climber
Calirado
Apr 21, 2013 - 02:46pm PT
Having been nearly obsessed with backcountry skiing for 15+ years of my life, I have pretty much given up the desire to find powdery backcountry descents. Snow science is such an inexact science even for those who are extremely knowledgable. Backcountry terrain is so variable from aspect to aspect and even hour to hour. Having been fully buried in AK plus numerous close calls in what professionals would call LOW avi risk opened my eyes big time. I have see an avi triggered while skiing with a guy that holds a degree in snow science. crazy stuff. Spring corn is about all I am willing to risk anymore. Im certainly not afraid of death but have pretty much decided that is not the way I want to go. Condolences to all parties involved.
RIP
rottingjohnny

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Apr 21, 2013 - 02:54pm PT
For sure...! I know some veteran , avalanche-control experts that have gotten rolled and battered while getting freshies....Is there such thing as an avalanche expert...?
Mimi

climber
Apr 21, 2013 - 02:59pm PT
Really awful. So much experience yet it sounds like mistakes were made. Sincere condolences to family and friends.

http://xgames.espn.go.com/article/9196383/colorado-authorities-identify-5-riders-killed-loveland-pass-avalanche
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Apr 21, 2013 - 02:59pm PT
...I have pretty much given up the desire to find powdery backcountry descents...

Me too, for the most part. I'll still search for some good tree skiing, but the back bowls will have to wait until it's corn season.

I resolved myself to buying lift tickets to A-Basin for the winter, and waiting for the roads to open over Independence and Pikes Peak every spring before heading into the backcountry.
John M

climber
Apr 21, 2013 - 03:53pm PT
From Mimi's link

Colorado authorities have identified the victims of a backcountry avalanche on Saturday as five experienced snowboarders and skiers who were participating in a community event promoting backcountry safety and gear.

Some of these people were very experienced. I wonder if the same thing that happened on the backside of Stevens Pass Ski area happened here. No one spoke up because everyone was thinking that it must be safe because so and so wouldn't go here unless it was.

Here is the story of the Stevens Pass avalanche. If you haven't read it.. It is worth it.

http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=tunnel-creek

My condolences to those who lost someone. This has to be tough.
tom woods

Gym climber
Bishop, CA
Apr 21, 2013 - 05:21pm PT
Wow- that thing slid off the ground layer. Scary.

Condolences.

I talk to a few old timers who say that they wouldn't ski back-country until spring conditions.

My take is that the powder is too hard to resist once you hike to the top.
FGD135

Social climber
Boulder Canyon Colorado
Apr 21, 2013 - 05:27pm PT
Ironically, this was during a sponsored snowboard event to benefit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center that day at Loveland Valley. I don't know if the snowboarders involved in the avalanche were participants, or sales reps, etc.:
http://snowboardmag.com/stories/dont-miss-the-rocky-mountain-high-backcountry-gathering-at-loveland-april-19-20

Another 10-20" of snow forecast up there for Mon-Tues.
briham89

Big Wall climber
san jose, ca
Apr 21, 2013 - 06:04pm PT
Those pictures are gnarly. That is a huge fracture and slide. So sad
SCseagoat

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Apr 21, 2013 - 07:58pm PT
Very sad. Condolences to family and friends. Heart break.

Susan
Bldrjac

Ice climber
Boulder
Apr 21, 2013 - 08:36pm PT
Hate reading about this kind of thing. Condolences to all who knew these guys........
Pam
tom Carter

Social climber
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:51am PT
Terrible.

The CAIC has been cautioning skiers and riders throughout the winter with statements like this:

Deep persistent slabs still lurk under the new snow layers. These avalanches are difficult to trigger, but very large and dangerous.

dave729

Trad climber
Western America
Apr 22, 2013 - 01:24am PT
Credit: dave729

Very very sad.

The victims probably did snow pit tests before but did they dig that deep?



Big Mike

Trad climber
BC
Apr 22, 2013 - 01:36am PT
Pwl. Persistant Weak Layer. These things are harsh. They go quiet for awhile, but never dissipate. You think they are quiet and then they hit. Snow lust is a horrible thing. You convince yourself it's going to be ok, by hitting smaller stuff first, then it isn't.
T H

Boulder climber
bouldering
Apr 22, 2013 - 01:49am PT
... wouldn't ski back-country until spring conditions.
I'm not a skier or anything, but I have seen fairly big slides well after any snow has fallen in the Spring/ early Summer.
TwistedCrank

climber
Dingleberry Gulch, Ideeho
Apr 22, 2013 - 10:23am PT
I'm not a skier or anything, but I have seen fairly big slides well after any snow has fallen in the Spring/ early Summer.

You can't generalize about snow pack - anytime, anywhere, ever.

You dig a hole or 10, you jump up and down on it, you run your finger up and down the profile, you poke at it with a shovel, you look at it here, you look at it there. But most importantly you look at it. It's not high energy plasma physics after all.

So much of it is just common sense that most backcountry skiers lack once the powder gives them a chub.
John Mac

Trad climber
Littleton, CO
Apr 22, 2013 - 10:55am PT
It's an inexact science with a lot of spatial variability thrown into the mix. The only constant is terrain. Finally, the avalanche doesn't know that your an expert!

Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Apr 22, 2013 - 11:23am PT
I was on some long flight. The plane had one of those in-flight video systems where you could choose from a variety of videos. I went through the 'extreme sports' vids and watched some bit about 3 strong, sponsored skiers who went to the Chugach range to do some heli skiing.

Conditions were bad. Avi's going off left and right.

These f*#king fools continued to ski and shoot video, despite the obvious danger and their local guides warning them off and trying to find safer aspect.

They each were caught in avalanches. They each BRAGGED ABOUT IT. They each continued to ski after getting caught in slides. One of them, unbelievably, was caught in a 2nd slide.

They called it a day. But the whole vid presented a definite lack of respect for avalanche hazard, start to finish. Some 16-year old kid watching that might be left with the impression that getting caught in an avalanche is simply part of the normal back country experience.

Keep in mind these were industry-sponsored skiers. Doesn't matter by whom, but logos were prominent.

Its easy to blame the victims. And we skiers certainly love the image of the BC and that playground even more. So we're all complicit in this - but there is no question that modern gear and safety equipment, coupled with the Mountain Dew GoPro Watch Me Die Movement (of which I am a part, don't get me wrong) has opened the BC to many (most) people who do not belong there and don't have the good sense to survive on their own, long term.

Oh, but I have an avi-lung!

(I don't)

DMT
Handjam Belay

Gym climber
expat from the truth
Apr 22, 2013 - 11:41am PT
This slide wasn't in the BC backcountry, the flat runout at the bottom is the pavement of I-70...
rottingjohnny

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Apr 22, 2013 - 11:46am PT
Avy forecasting seems to be more art than science...A large slab cut loose on one of the local BC bowls suprising everyone ...Our winter started out with heavy snowfall and colder than normal temps which i guess contributes to unstable snow...? The local , so-called avy- guru rolled with the incident by pointing out after the fact data that contributed to the fracture...Where's my go pro..?
Todd Eastman

climber
Bellingham, WA
Apr 22, 2013 - 11:48am PT
Handjam, the runout gets close to US-6, not I-70.

Not exactly flat there...
steve shea

climber
Apr 22, 2013 - 11:54am PT
I think DMT's BC reference is to any area nonlift serviced or controled by snow safety or ski patrol. ie out of bounds is out of the safety net of ski area boundaries and OB, side country or back country.
In my 35 ski seasons here in Jackson Hole we have had three avalanche deaths in bounds well after snow safety completed control and bomb routes. Sadly all three were ski patrol. Snow science is educated guess work.
Todd's correct, that is hwy6.
BTW a bc skier was recently killed in Little Cottonwood with a deployed ABS bag. DEPLOYED! Everything worked as it was designed but did'nt work. ABS...a lot of bs.
I'm tellin' ya arcing GS turns on groomers at a rapid rate is big fun too.
Betty Uno

Mountain climber
Alti Plano
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:01pm PT

My dh said they were pros getting the first of the last of the last of the season.
It often happens that just as the areas close down, we get a series of blizzards that bring as much in three days as have fallen in the previous month.

It's irresistible.

Reportedly they were all wearing pieps and shovels, but none of them were wearing what I like to call exploding backpacks, the new deals that pop out into airbags and keep one on the surface of the slide

I am very sorry for this loss.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:04pm PT
Yeah yeah nomenclature! Off piste, out-of-bounds, back country, whatever.

Got some other hairs to split?

DMT
rectorsquid

climber
Lake Tahoe
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:16pm PT
So much of it is just common sense...

Apparently not or people who have detailed knowledge in the subject would not get killed.

As for a false sense of security, that's what most of us felt getting into our cars today. It's pretty crappy to blame people without having been there to see what went on. Maybe their hole wasn't deep enough? Would anyone else have dug deeper? Would anyone else at all have been safer?

Dave
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:18pm PT
This is an enormous tragedy and a significantly unusual event to have such a late season snow load.

Yes this is an enormous tragedy, but the weather event that probably led to it is not that unusual, at least to the degree that most of our weather patterns here in CO are seemingly in the process of changing. We have had several major dumps in the last three weeks or so, and getting big spring dumps is the annual norm in this part of the Rockies.

Many years ago, as a Jackson local, I tenaciously skiied Teton Pass with a group of friends, perhaps as many as 70 days per year. We never skiied things like Glory Bowl until we got the stable spring corn conditions. Never. Now, I hear that Glory and other big, avalanche prone areas routinely get skiied in winter conditions. I think what has changed more than the weather patterns is peoples' attitudes about what is safe to ski.

The avalanche danger during this accident was rated and posted on the C.A.I.C. site as "considerable". Colorado's snowpack is almost always dicier than say, the Teton snowpack because of the enormous quantity of temperature gradient snow that accumulates in the snowpack each season. Most avalanche accidents here occur during "considerable" danger, a time when human-triggered slides are likely.

What is not normal is the fact that these recent storms we've had have been more like winter storms, with cold temperatures and relatively dry snow. The weak layers will persist until they melt or avalanche out of the snowpack. It is an extremely fragile situation right now with the recent loading, and people really need to take that "considerable" risk seriously.
TwistedCrank

climber
Dingleberry Gulch, Ideeho
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:21pm PT
Would anyone else at all have been safer?

Only the folks who chose not to enter that terrain on that day.
gnarlydog

Mountain climber
Concord,Ca
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:26pm PT
This is a total bummer. It's dreadful to think people's families are without their loved ones, as a result of having a killer time. But this is reality. Everyday we go out our doors we risk this same judgement. Luckily for them they were able to experience something they loved, to the most of their natural ability. Yes info gathering may help in decision making, but not always. This could happen to anyone, anytime, in the mountains, in traffic or crossing the finish line. My thoughts go out to the families of those lost, and to the souls of those lost as well.
John Duffield

Mountain climber
New York
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:29pm PT
Man.

Every day is a gift.

+ 1
steve shea

climber
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:48pm PT
WBW Glory, 25Short, Stuart's Draw etc. can have bumps by Jan. It is a false sense of security engendered by many sucessful days in the mts. as well as the gear and knowledge. But it only takes one, once. If you push it the odds will get you. Steve Romeo, Jared Spackman mid winter on nasty terrain. What were they thinking? I do not like to revisit anyone's decision but a fact is a fact.
BTW the deposition in that slide looked almost like a serac avalanche. It must have been a bad ride.
SCseagoat

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Apr 22, 2013 - 12:57pm PT
Man.

Every day is a gift.

Yup, that's why it's called the "present"

Susan
John Duffield

Mountain climber
New York
Apr 22, 2013 - 01:03pm PT
The secret to out running an avalanche, is a well-timed backflip.

Start @ 1:30

Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Apr 22, 2013 - 01:28pm PT
Thanks wbw for the perspective on conditions there in CO and yes I agree much of what gets skied today was purposely avoided in the past, there are many examples.

I think we can and often do become victims of our own success and flirt with the voids' edges knowingly or unknowingly. Every day is a gift and don't think for a minute that you're wiser or better than to be caught either by subjective or objective danger. What we do as skiers and climbers is full of hazard, some of the best of us have paid the highest price for this game we play on mountains.

Again my sincerest condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives.

Charlie D.

wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Apr 22, 2013 - 02:27pm PT
I try not to judge others' decisions when accidents happen. (I certainly have been guilty of digging a pit, seeing instability but not quite enough to justify going home, and then getting first or second tracks down one of many of the best runs of my life. Then I moved to CO and found the snowpack to be creepier than the snowpack I experienced during many winters in the Tetons.)

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center website has been warning against this exact scenario for months. Hard to judge stability (due to thick hard slabs sitting on thin layers of TG snow), relatively small chance of setting off a slide, but if it goes it will go big and will be destructive. (As Mr. Shea pointed out upthread, the debris almost looks like that of a serac avalanche. This thing was a monster.) They have been preaching that conservative terrain choice is the only way to keep a margin of safety.
Snowmassguy

Trad climber
Calirado
Apr 22, 2013 - 02:35pm PT
Yeah I know it sounds cliche but I think "climate change" has generally made the snow pack more unstable than it was decades ago. An inexact science is now more inexact in my humble opinion.

The Wedge

Boulder climber
Santa Rosa & Bishop, CA
Apr 22, 2013 - 03:08pm PT
I out visiting CO and drove by the slide yesterday. It really is the "slackcountry" or just out of bounds of the ski area. The crown/flanks of the slide is easly visable from I-70. Skiied Vail Sat and Breckenridge Sun and drove back to Denver area. We stayed the night in Silverhorne Sat night one of the people who died in the avalanche, family was staying there since their car was left at the hotel while they went out snowboarding.

I dont think I would have dug that deep either, if I was skiing that terrian.
But I also would not have subjected 5 people in avalance terrian, (all at the same time), this is a huge impact/weight upon the snowpack.

CO to pick up another 7-10 inches tongiht, added to the 3-5 that comes today. There will be more avalanches to come.

Im in the process of making/putting together a trip report of my climbing/skiing vacation, since passing my nursing boards.

-Eric Owen AIRIE level 3
ydpl8s

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
Apr 22, 2013 - 03:11pm PT
I've skied that exact slope several times (long time ago) both on skinny skis and downhill equipment. I did a lot of back country skiing in my days and often felt like I was rolling the dice. I often (quite falsely) would feel more of a sense of security when I was doing so in an area that was close to the road and near the top of a lift (like this is to the top of Loveland Valley). I've lost good friends to avalanches, been lucky enough to ski out of several (in Crested Butte and on the 7 sisters), but luckily I was never caught in such a thick slab as this one.

My heart goes out to all involved and I would encourage all who engage in this activity to take several classes from respected experts in the field. My watchword became, if you have ANY reservations, don't risk it, the slope will be there later.
The Wedge

Boulder climber
Santa Rosa & Bishop, CA
Apr 22, 2013 - 03:18pm PT
Here is the link to the colorada avalance center and the 5 deaths...
https://avalanche.state.co.us/acc/acc_report.php?accfm=rep&acc_id=505&view=public
Spanky

Social climber
boulder co
Apr 22, 2013 - 03:20pm PT
climate change has nothing to do with snow stability. they operate on completely different time scales. Climate change works on the span of centuries and snowpack is a day to day timescale. There is no doubt that people are skiing gnarlier stuff but this accident was the result of poor terrain choice, travel techniques, and the fact that they ignored the avy bulletin. It would be nice to blame something else but this was clearly human error as tragic as it is.

my deepest condolences go out the the families and friends of the victims

rip
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Apr 22, 2013 - 03:49pm PT
That's true Spanky. But huge temperature variations have a lot to do with snowpack stability, and those seem more dramatic now (at least on the Front Range) than two decades ago. Whether those variations are due to climate change, is anyone's guess. .
stevep

Boulder climber
Salt Lake, UT
Apr 22, 2013 - 04:09pm PT
Condolences to all involved.
These were very experienced folks by anyone's standards. And there was a UDOT avalanche forecaster killed in a slide here in the Wasatch a little more than a week ago. No one should think that experience gets you a free pass.
It will be interesting to see the comparisons between this and the Stevens Pass slide mentioned above. In both cases a large group of folks that should have known better.
Spanky

Social climber
boulder co
Apr 22, 2013 - 04:41pm PT
Big swings in temp do destabilize the snowpack but the snowpack is a unique entity which occurs as a result of the weather patterns each season. Colorado has always had huge temp swings this time of year (I have lived here for over 20 years) The real issue is that bc skiers/riders need to know the snowpack every season and this requires checking the snowpack consistently and actually listening to the warnings in the bulletin.
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Apr 22, 2013 - 05:25pm PT
Yes those swings in temps are common here, but didn't we have the all time high temp. record for a recent date, and almost an all time low temp. for a recent date during the same month?

Again, I'm thinking of the difference between the Colorado snowpack, and another snowpack that I used to play in all winter (NW Wyoming) , which was a consistently cold snowpack. I moved to CO more than 25 years ago as a backcountry skiing fanatic. I've never really felt the love for it here; the turns aren't as sweet, and the risk assessment is more difficult.
Decko

Trad climber
Colorado
Apr 22, 2013 - 07:20pm PT
I learned a phrase years ago in a safety training class that has forever stayed with me.




Complacency kills........

Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Apr 22, 2013 - 08:52pm PT
I dont think I would have dug that deep either,

Me neither, as I would suspect most anyone out for a recreational spin on the hill. Fortunately, for all practical purposes, we don't have to. The avalanche hazard bulletins offer a good generalized assessment of the hazard and recommended travel advisories based on numerous professional observations for any given area. These high value advisories should be the starting point for any backcountry mission, no matter who is involved.

I am not intimately familiar with this particular accident but I understand the local bulletin identified both the deep persistent instability and with reasonable accuracy nailed the hazard advisory. Which raises the question - why were they there? I have no idea but I can comment on a couple of things that typically lead to such situations.

Of course like any forecast there exists a possibility that it will be in error to some degree but generally speaking these hazard forecasts are pretty accurate. There are only a couple of legitimate reasons to stray from the advice given:

1) your risk tolerance is much higher than what is considered the cultural norm. No need to get into that - there are no laws about being an either an idiot or a genius.

2) The other is that you have your own good quality observations and assessment that would to a high degree of confidence allow you to make your own independent assessment. We all often do exactly this but the key factor in weighting the significance of our own observations is QUALITY. As a general rule, it is often fairly difficult even for an expert to acquire enough quality field observation to start making significant changes to the hazard rating you start with in the morning. The only thing that will ever change this ability is if someone were to invent some sort of X Ray vision for detecting unstable snow. Pits and shear tests help, but they are not X Ray vision by any stretch.


Of course there are a zillion other reasons to ignore the relevance of the public avalanche hazard bulletin but none of them are actually legitimate, unless you are under the spell of "Powder fever", ego, pride, an inflated sense of your own magic powers of snow science wizardry.... then anything is possible!

With these comments I don't mean to cast judgement on this particular incident which i know little about. It is more an observation on many other incidents and much research by others into what is often the significant causal factors of avalanche accidents. The Public Bulletins are exactly where all of us should start our trip planning and there should be no variation from their terrain and travel reccommendations without significant good quality contra-indications.

For some reason this dosn't often happen. I blame Obama.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Apr 22, 2013 - 09:17pm PT
Were they high lining?
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Apr 22, 2013 - 10:49pm PT
hey there say, hossjulia and all,
i can't stay on line tonight, so this is fast:

the one that posted the link to the story about the
avalanche that had the 16 members, in group...

well--i sure wish anyone that going skying, or snowboarding,
etc, would READ all that first, and then make decisions
as to where, when, and such, to ski, etc...

whewwww, it speaks very clear about very many things... :(
thank you for sharing... i i KNEW folks that did more
snowstuff, i would and will, share it... :(
Todd Eastman

climber
Bellingham, WA
Apr 22, 2013 - 11:09pm PT
Colorado is a whole nother ball of wax compared to Coastal and Intermountain snowpacks...
hossjulia

Trad climber
Where the Hoback and the mighty Snake River meet
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 22, 2013 - 11:52pm PT
Big reason I moved from Colorado was the avy danger. Anyone who thinks spring conditions are safer ought to think twice. Got turned around by obvious warning signs in April too many times after driving a long way and making plans for weeks.

And yes, the weather patterns have changed, and this HAS affected the snow pack all over the world.
Captain...or Skully

climber
Apr 22, 2013 - 11:57pm PT
It's true. We've weird new patterns at our High Peaks.
I'll learn them, if I don't die. If I do die, then I'll be dead.
I AM sorry about yer friends. I'm just awash in keeping up, though. Gotta keep up. Or get trod under.
Peace.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Apr 23, 2013 - 12:01am PT
The mountain environment is beautiful, envigorating, life giving and life taking.....answer the siren song and have no regrets.
steve shea

climber
Apr 23, 2013 - 09:48am PT
BITD, the early 70's, we used to call San Juan co, Co the avalanche capital of North America. What would be rare occurences in other ranges were the norm. in SW CO. We saw some unbelievable slides in areas that just should not go. We climbed near Telluride and skied, Silverton area, a lot. And always with an extra measure of caution. The CO snowpack was/is different. Check out Chris Landry's CSA site. I think they are based out of Silverton and doing some serious snow dynamics research.
Also, myth or fact, there was a popular story going around. The Glen Canyon Dam was relatively new and the result of Lake Mead created a suface high pressure that split weak lows. This radically changed the snowpack in SW CO because more moisture all of a sudden started to fall in that area. SW CO ski ares were all of a sudden getting hammered early and often. We'd go down to Wolf Creek to ski pow sometimes in Nov. Deep pow! Silverton was just snowed out. Myth or fact or some other reason the weather and snowpack did change after Glen Canyon. We saw it first hand.
10b4me

Ice climber
Happy Boulders
Apr 23, 2013 - 10:31am PT

The Glen Canyon Dam was relatively new and the result of Lake Mead created a suface high pressure that split weak lows. This radically changed the snowpack in SW CO because more moisture all of a sudden started to fall in that area. SW CO ski ares were all of a sudden getting hammered early and often. We'd go down to Wolf Creek to ski pow sometimes in Nov. Deep pow! Silverton was just snowed out. Myth or fact or some other reason the weather and snowpack did change after Glen Canyon. We saw it first hand.

That is a bit of a stretch
steve shea

climber
Apr 23, 2013 - 10:52am PT
Coincidence then?
Kalimon

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
Apr 23, 2013 - 10:53am PT
A stretch for sure as those conditions do not exist every year.
SCseagoat

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Apr 23, 2013 - 12:12pm PT
Can't believe it, one of the dead is from Santa Cruz and I worked with his Mom for many years. He has an unusual last name and when I saw it on a previous article I just really didn't think it could be her son.


http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_23083395/santa-cruz-county-native-dies-colorado-avalanche

Big ouch.

Susan
Chaz

Trad climber
greater Boss Angeles area
Apr 23, 2013 - 12:21pm PT
I'm still not clear how the Glen Canyon Dam affects the water in Lake Mead, unless the water sent down-stream from Lake Powell is colder than it otherwise would be.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Apr 23, 2013 - 12:21pm PT
all this talk of climate change offers a perfect analogy. Both subjects (climate change and avalanches) are best understood as sciences examining wildly variable natural processes and materials, which have direct impacts on our lives.

The public (bless their pointed little heads) has other ideas. In the case of climate the natural world is expected to behave in a manner which supports a variety of predetermined and often unwavering world views based on culturally developed myths and illusions that have been developed over time immemorial. When these notions are challenged by our ever increasing awareness and understanding of reality our first reaction (and for some people, only reaction) is to deny the reality in defense of our world view.

Avalanche hazard is handled similarly. How we behave in avalanche terrain often has much more to do with how we want things to be, not necessarily how they are. Much of how we want it to be has to do with the myths and illusions peddled by our own minds and fed by the drug peddlars and bible thumpers of the ski industry. Nothing wrong with that - unless the less savory realities are ignored, down played or more insidious, mythologized into a whole other spin engineered to perpetuate our world view.

Someone up thread mentioned the Tunnel creek NYT article. This was widely heralded as a insightful enquiry into the human behavior causes which led to the accident. I generally agree with one glaring exception. There was one theme constantly presented with no substantiation - that the people involved were "expertly" qualified to be where they were. It is assumed by our ski culture that kicking around the block for a number of years is all that is necessary to expertly contradict the public avalanche bulletin based on an assumption that by now they must know what they are doing. I don't doubt that many of the individuals involved were expert skiers, or expert ski magazine marketers, or even had a reasonably well developed background of back country skiing but none of that will qualify one as an "expert" in avalanche safety. From what is known of the Tunnel creek accident it could be well argued that the only people who should have been anywhere near the Tunnel creek avalanche path would be a true expert - and a true expert would certainly not have actually been in it under those conditions!

Fortunately, like climate science, we have a well established system of true expertise that provides guidance for the general public in the form of the public bulletin. True, we should all endeavor to increase our own abilities but it must always be recognized that to overstep our abilities in such a hazardous environment (like global climate change for instance) is to court disaster. Whatever their faults, the public hazard bulletins provide the best baseline understanding of reality upon which to start your day. Climate science is the same. Only an idiot would presume to contradict the prevaling wisdom without the required tools to do so.

There is a reason that the subject of expertise is deftly avoided by the so called investigative journalists. The whole ski industry promotes the notion that we are all eminently qualified to be out there in tiger country, making our own decisions in a world of beautiful danger. It is an awesome mythology, one I buy into as much as anyone - i mean who dosn't want to be a master of their own destiny in such a fantastic environment? Hell thats what its all about.... until suddenly, it isn't.


Todd Eastman

climber
Bellingham, WA
Apr 23, 2013 - 12:36pm PT
I am generally more comfortable ski touring with skiers that have lots of mountaineering experience than skiers whose primary background in the mountains comes from skiing.

The risk analysis in mountain terrain takes time to develop as a skill. Mountaineers (climbers) usually spend more time in the Alpine zone.
dave729

Trad climber
Western America
Apr 23, 2013 - 01:42pm PT
bad news good news. We all have a disease called risk taking but its treatable.

http://www.livingsober.com/mental-health/risk-taking-behaviors/




Snowmassguy

Trad climber
Calirado
Apr 23, 2013 - 01:49pm PT
Group think and desire to ski the goods scares me. I am certainly not going to judge the folks tragically impacted in this case but why would you not space out and expose 5 people to a slide path. Seems like fairly simple protocol but I have personally made poor decisions based on the " stoke" factor of the day and group think.

If another highly avi educated person thinks it is safe, does this mean I should contradict him/her? Often it does but we can get lured into these traps fairly easily. How about if 3 of the 5 in the group think it is stable? You know someone in that group was apprehensive about making that traverse. I have seen stuff slide that should have never ever slid using the standards that are taught in avi classes. I have also seen a totally stable day go to completely unstable when the temp reached XX degrees in the sun and then back to relatively stable all over the course of an hour or two. Such an inexact science with sooo many variables. These days I am so overly cautious as I probably should have met the reaper a long time ago when I was less experienced with more testosterone.

Colorado has a nice dust layer in the snowpack right now too. Another variable that may or may not be related to climate change. Scary stuff right now.

steve shea

climber
Apr 23, 2013 - 02:09pm PT
Big slide on Nez Perce here in the Tetons. No one dead but once again triggered by humans. Local BC "experts".
Splater

climber
Grey Matter
Apr 23, 2013 - 02:14pm PT
Bruce,
I think your point is actually agreeing with the NYT article. He calls them expert and experienced skiers, leaving it a little more up to the reader to figure out what that might mean in terms of "avalanche hazard expert." Some of them did avoid the direct descent thinking it was too risky.
Big Mike

Trad climber
BC
Apr 23, 2013 - 02:47pm PT
true expert would certainly not have actually been in it under those conditions!

+1 MILLION! the people who chose the safer route in the tunnel creek incident made it out safely, even if it was by the skin of their teeth. They knew they shouldn't have been there, i'm sure they would rather have avoided that expedition all together if they could do it all over.

Truth is even if the Colorado party had followed proper procedure it would have been unlikely that anyone caught in the slide would have survived. The snow most likely killed them before the avy even stopped. The one survivor was extremely lucky.

Digging them out would have been a nearly impossible task, with that amount of snow and how hard it sets up.
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Apr 23, 2013 - 03:14pm PT

Splatter - interesting point. There is much layering and nuance that is left to the reader to interpret and to an extent, there's only so much stuff you can cover in any magazine article so maybe its a reasonable strategy. It would be interesting to discuss it with the author.

Still, I think there is a reason that some subjects are avoided being directly confronted. One is out of consideration of the reputation of those involved. I think this is a perfectly valid consideration and one worthy of care. The risk however is avoiding a significant truth. My observations and assertions are not just based on just this one article but a general pattern of how we as a culture determine expertise and the liscence that that provides. Bear in mind that we are discussing the concept of expertise in a non professional context. If that particular group was professionally guided they most likely would not be there at all and if they were, the guide would have a very big job explaining how it was justified. The explanations offered in the Tunnel creek article would not go over well in court.

A group of recreationalists is certainly not held to the same standard of accountability, but that dosn't make the need for quality decision making any less necessary, as the potential for disaster is just the same. In other words, in some situations the demand for expert level decision making is required, yet it is assumed that non experts have the chops to carry on. This is a cultural assumption that I think is significant and deserves addressing directly.

Exactly the same thing happens with climate change policy. People way out of their field of expertise are driving the policy, licensed by inexpert public opinion. My basic point is that if we are honest about our own expertise / knowledge we would be much more prone to defer to the expert opinion, best exemplified by the public avalanche bulletin.


wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Apr 23, 2013 - 03:28pm PT
I remember that winters in northwest Wyoming typically started with moderate snowfalls, such that by Thanksgiving there was enough snow to ski with your rock boards on Teton Pass. During the winter, in addition to the temperatures generally staying quite cold (with the exception of the annual Jan./Feb. thaw), the snowfalls tended to come in moderate dumps throughout the season. We always listened to Rathole's recorded Bridger-Teton avy on the phone, and used that as a reference, in addition to the observations we made skiing nearly every day while the snow stayed good. I found the snowpack there to be fairly consistent.

I have found the snowpack in Colorado to be very inconsistent, starting with the first day of backcountry skiing on Berthoud Pass many years ago. By that time I had pretty much mastered telemarking in powder due to five Teton winters, and found myself flailing at Berthoud skiing breakable crust on top of a bunch of faceted snow.

In Colorado, in addition to much more wildly swinging temps., the snowfall tends to come more sporadically. At the beginning of fall, it is not uncommon to get a pretty big early dump, but not necessarily followed by the consistent moderate snowfall that I witnessed in Wyoming. The result is that it is common for TG snow to form at the ground level, that remains in the snowpack throughout the winter. With relatively long streteches between storms not uncommon, TG snow also forms at other layers throughout the snowpack, remaining for the duration of the winter. I have seen bigger dumps here in Boulder (not located in the mountains) than I ever saw in Jackson or the mountains around Jackson. Consequently, the snowpack here typically has numerous TG layers that get stressed by sporadic large dumps of snow. I have collapsed TG layers more than one foot thick here in CO while approaching ice climbs in relatively safe places. I never saw anything like that in hundreds of days of backcountry skiing on and around Teton Pass.

I've heard tales of 6 feet of TG snow in the San Juans, which is probably a bit of an exxageration. However, the point is made that the snowpack here truly is a different beast.
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Apr 23, 2013 - 05:51pm PT
Regarding the dust layer in Colorado:

The frequency of dust storms has increased with vehicular traffic upwind on the Colorado Plateau, which is due mostly to two factors: exponential increases in OHV use, and increased roadbuilding to support hydrocarbon extraction. The combination has produced unprecedented disturbance of the fragile desert soils, lots of which end up in the air until they settle out over the CO mountains.

Climate change and brown snow are actually symptomatic of fossil fuel/vehicle use.
dave729

Trad climber
Western America
Apr 23, 2013 - 10:52pm PT
Cannot understand why the avalanche poodles did not work?
Snowmassguy

Trad climber
Calirado
Apr 24, 2013 - 12:26pm PT
A good article profiling those that we have lost

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_23092683/five-victims-colorado-avalanche-led-and-inspired-others
Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Apr 24, 2013 - 12:38pm PT
Really sad. They sound like a great bunch of guys.

WBW - just last spring I was tromping around in a full 2 meter snowpack of depth hoar and facets top to bottom. That was in the northern Rockies of BC where such a thing is not unusual at all. Fortunately there was no slab on top of it, but when the sun came out the stuff started flowing like water! Ultra shitty skiing too

spectacular terrain - too bad about the crappy snowpack!  There's a re...
spectacular terrain - too bad about the crappy snowpack! There's a really good reason there is no heli ski tenure here!
Credit: Bruce Kay
Prod

Trad climber
Apr 24, 2013 - 12:39pm PT
Sad.

Prod.
Fletcher

Trad climber
The great state of advaita
Apr 24, 2013 - 12:51pm PT
The NYT Tunnel Creek article won a Pulitzer recently. It really was well put together.
supafly

Trad climber
vancouver, bc
Apr 24, 2013 - 01:44pm PT
Maybe I missed it - what's the word of the single survivor? Is he still recovering?

Another question in my mind is, given that these guys seemingly knew what they were doing from an avy perspective and the conditions were pretty spicey out there, you would have expected them to have skied the slope one at a time, maybe they had all completed the run and were at the bottom of the slope when the avalanche cut? Any word on where they were when it happened?
Kalimon

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
Apr 24, 2013 - 01:51pm PT
Avalanche Details

Location: Sheep Creek, north of Loveland Pass
State: Colorado
Date: 2013/04/20
Time: 12:00 AM (Estimated)
Summary Description: 6 snowboarders caught and buried, 5 killed
Primary Activity: Backcountry Tourer
Primary Travel Mode: Snowboard


Number

Caught: 0
Fully Buried: 6
Injured: 0
Killed: 5


Avalanche

Type: HS
Trigger: AR - Snowboarder
Trigger (subcode): u - An unintentional release
Size - Relative to Path: R3
Size - Destructive Force: D2.5
Sliding Surface: O - Within Old Snow


Site

Slope Aspect: N
Site Elevation: 12000 ft
Slope Angle: --
Slope Characteristic: --

Accident Summary

PRELIMINARY REPORT

A backcountry touring party of six, on splitboards and skis, were caught in an avalanche in the Sheep Creek area near Loveland Pass. Five of the riders were killed. The group may have triggered the avalanche from below the start zone, low in the avalanche path. The avalanche released into old snow layers and the ground. Approximate dimensions of the crown face of the avalanche are 4 feet deep and 500 feet wide.
supafly

Trad climber
vancouver, bc
Apr 24, 2013 - 02:02pm PT
Yes I have read the report, nothing about the survivor though and the only thing they mention is "The group may have triggered the avalanche from below the start zone, low in the avalanche path" - the survivor would have the answer to this question.

Anyone have any idea what the slope angle is like around there? It wasn't included in the report, Google Earth tells me about 25-30 degrees?
Rhodo-Router

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Apr 24, 2013 - 02:05pm PT
The best discussion out there is at http://www.wildsnow.com/9930/sheep-creek-avalanche-loveland-colorado/#comments
Snowmassguy

Trad climber
Calirado
Apr 24, 2013 - 02:06pm PT
I read that the survivor is at home with family " declining all requests for interviews"
Smart
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Apr 24, 2013 - 02:30pm PT
Supa, I was thinking that the slope (in the picture where the investigators where measuring the crown line) appeared to be less steep than the "ideal" steepness for an avalanche slope. It didn't appear to be 35 degrees, although pictures can obviously be deceiving.

There's a lot of talk on the Wild Snow site about the breakdown of safety protocol during this avalanche. In addition to the group dynamic, I think the "considerable" rating for avalanche danger can be very misleading. If the folks at C.A.I.C. rate the risk as "extreme", the local news (both TV and radio) seem to talk about it, such that the awareness of the average Joe is probably raised. "Extreme" danger sort of speaks for itself.

I think especially for folks who are familiar with the backcountry in winter conditions, when the risk is "considerable", the temptation is to think that because the danger is not extreme, risk assessment can be more accurately gauged once out in the field. Avalanche conditions can be very localized, and I think the term "considerable" leads people to believe a particular slope may or not be dangerous. It is a fact that most backcountry users in Colorado are killed by avalanches on "considerable" risk days.

However, if one actually reads what "considerable" risk is defined as, it is that natural avalanches are possible, and human-triggered avalanches are likely. What is truly disturbing about this accident is not only that these guys were experienced backcountry riders, but that the slope that slid was exactly the aspect and elevation that the forecasters at C.A.I.C. have been worried about for much of this winter: northerly aspect near treeline.

Additionally, one must wonder how much the group-think psyche played a factor in their decision-making, as well as the fact that this slope is very close to the road.
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Apr 24, 2013 - 07:54pm PT
Here's a good summary from the CAIC:

https://avalanche.state.co.us/acc/acc_report.php?accfm=inv&acc_id=505&view=public

"It is easy to underestimate the consequences of getting caught in a deep-persistent slab avalanche, because these slides are often much bigger than most of the avalanches witnessed by backcountry recreationalists. Deep-persistent slabs do not form every year, like storm and wind slab avalanches. The only effective travel technique for this avalanche problem is to avoid areas where deep slabs might release, or if the risk is deemed acceptable, expose a single group member to the danger. Spreading out often does not mitigate the risk to the group because these avalanches are always large and destructive."
steve shea

climber
Apr 24, 2013 - 08:47pm PT
So if what you, collectively, write is in fact what's up, then we are seeing natural selection at work. Low tide in the gene pool. I assume most skiing/riding persons here speak and understand the king's english but choose to ignore or minimize the substantial warnings posted daily by various avalanche groups. What is it in this mindset?

A bad analogy perhaps but here it is. When living in the Massif du Mt Blanc, spent 4 yrs there climbing in the 70's, the meteo was gospel. At the time it was widely acknowledged to be the best mt weather forcasting in the world of alpinism. One could pretty much take to the bank what was predicted. Especially lightning. It was uncanny how accurate they were. Yeah, sometimes we went on the hill when a storm was predicted but never if there was lightning in the forecast. The other significant telltale of doom was the isotherme. The freezing level. Too high no go, low and we were on the way. So every day after a grand cafe noir we'd boot it up to the meteo and live by the forecast. What has changed? Is judgement thrown out the window because of instruments and group think? To me considerable and extreme are not too mutually exclusive. What has changed in the mindset. We wanted to climb as much as anytime we wanted to ski powder. So what is it? Glory, ego, ignorance or just dumb and should have been killed playing in traffic as kids. Seeing regular flights of PGHM helos dangling body bags helped keep us aware. I love powder but if I do not get it during the powder hour in bounds, screw it, ski crud. At least I'll go home at night. The lifts and ski patrol are there for a reason. Powder is fun but not worth dying for.


Bruce Kay

Gym climber
BC
Apr 24, 2013 - 10:37pm PT
Seeing regular flights of PGHM helos dangling body bags helped keep us aware.

Bingo.
and thanks for following up on this drift which i really think is vital, not to mention fascinating.

Also ; personally i don't intend to judge this event in particular as i just don't know enough. In fact it is possible, based on the "triggered from below" observation, that they were at least trying to avoid the worst terrain features, and may have been just trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Anyway, I think your analogy is very good, and I particularly appreciate your above comment as well as your lightening analogy. The thing about lightening is that even if you experiencing it from a safe distance it makes a hell of an impression, as does watching bodies get slung out of the hills. Actually experiencing avalanches ( without dying) is comparatively rare. As well it is not unusual to ski avalanche terrain in conditions of moderate or considerable hazard and actually not trigger avalanches. This creates a psychological assumption of stability based on "false negatives" - if you don't trigger an avalanche, the snow must be stable. This is a misleading assumption, as anyone who understands spatial variation of snowpack over terrain will agree. It commonly leads one to have an optimistic understanding of the true risk, based on no positive indications of hazard.

Unfortunately, unlike the visceral demonstrations of lighting strikes and body bags flying overhead, the real potential of avalanche hazard are seldom demonstrated well until we get tooled by them. I don't think it is possible to really begin to understand anything without direct experience and avalanche hazard is no exception. This leads to developing a misleading confidence in ones ability to judge as well as a misunderstanding of the real meaning of "Considerable".

I think it is interesting that you guys had such high confidence in the meteo forecast. The value was demonstrable. I suspect that the avalanche bulletins have not developed the same confidence as a high value product. The false negative garden path is one possible explanation but i also think the general public dosn't quite understand the huge amount of high value input that goes into the product. and few people really seem to understand the significance of "considerable". Many avalanche professionals think that "High" should be the top end so that "considerable" will be taken more seriously.

When you think about it it makes sense. High means don't go. Extreme means don't even get out of bed... which is another way of saying don't go! By that standard Considerable is no joke.
Decko

Trad climber
Colorado
Apr 24, 2013 - 11:01pm PT

Full report now available

https://avalanche.state.co.us/acc/acc_report.php?accfm=inv&acc_id=505&view=public
steve shea

climber
Apr 25, 2013 - 10:12am PT
Yes and even more analagous is the isotherme which you can't see or really feel til it may be too late. By then the situation is at the least dangerous and at the worst the mts doing their thing. It is insidious like an ephemeral cancer on the mts. What at one moment seems quiet and safe can turn into a hair raising situation that will have you wishing you stayed in the sleeping bag.

I do not mean to judge the deciscions but find out why. I'm sure everyone is aware of the AAC Accidents supplement. Read and heed. Seems not enough heed. As a matter of fact here in the Tetons the most avalanche deaths lately have been the most experienced.

I agree it is fascinating, this mindset.
Big Mike

Trad climber
BC
Apr 25, 2013 - 11:04am PT
It is easy to underestimate the consequences of getting caught in a deep-persistent slab avalanche, because these slides are often much bigger than most of the avalanches witnessed by backcountry recreationalists. Deep-persistent slabs do not form every year, like storm and wind slab avalanches. The only effective travel technique for this avalanche problem is to avoid areas where deep slabs might release, or if the risk is deemed acceptable, expose a single group member to the danger. Spreading out often does not mitigate the risk to the group because these avalanches are always large and destructive.

Sad....
Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Apr 27, 2013 - 10:46am PT
This is an important read for everyone playing this game:

http://www.wildsnow.com/9980/sheep-creek-avalanche-site-visit/

Again condolences to the families and friends of those taken. Safe travels everyone.
10b4me

Ice climber
Happy Boulders
Apr 27, 2013 - 11:15am PT
In my early mountaineering career(pre avalanches training), the lure of the summit, in retrospect, put my friends, and I in some precarious situations.
The camaraderie of being in the outdoors with a group of friends lulls us into a sense of security
Big Mike

Trad climber
BC
Apr 27, 2013 - 01:27pm PT
1. As soon as you open your car doors and start down the access trail, you are in a spot where on that particular day you absolutely should not have been a place where others have died. And that fact would have been no mystery to these guys if they had anywhere near the level of collective experience they are said to have had. Hence, I continue to wonder if our avalanche education system is functionally flawed.

From the Wildsnow link charlie posted.


Sobering.
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