Avalanche kills five snowboarders in Colorado today

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Charlie D.

Trad climber
Western Slope, Tahoe Sierra
Apr 22, 2013 - 10:28am 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 - 11:27am 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 - 11:35am 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 - 12:08pm 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 - 12:11pm 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 - 12:18pm 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 - 12:20pm 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 - 12:49pm 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 - 01:09pm 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 - 01:41pm 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 - 02:25pm 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 - 04:20pm 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 - 05:52pm 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 - 06:17pm PT
Were they high lining?
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
Apr 22, 2013 - 07:49pm 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 - 08:09pm 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 - 08:52pm 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 - 08:57pm 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 22, 2013 - 09:01pm 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 - 06:48am 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.
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