Avalanche kills five snowboarders in Colorado today

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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.


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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