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Old 01-20-2011   #1
Avon, of mind?
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 46
Snow can kill you.

I'm not the most experienced backcountry rider posting here, but I'm far from the least. Going out into the back/side/unpatrolled snow is dangerous. Having all the gear is not a substitute for education, and there is not substitute for practice. Having fun in the "real snow" is all about decision making, and so far this season I've seen some horrendous decision making going on.

From the CAIC website: "The morning of Monday, January 17 2011, a pair of snowboarders, and one dog, left Berthoud Pass and traversed northeast below the "High Trail Cliffs." (We initially reported them traversing above the cliffs.) The pair triggered an avalanche. One boarder and his dog were caught and buried. His partner was not caught. He did a hasty search, found no sign of his partner, and descended to the road to summon help. Neither were wearing avalanche safety equipment."

On Monday the avalanche danger was listed as "high" for the slopes these guys were on. A simple check of the website could have cautioned them, and maybe they would have made a better decision. It's the information age; you should have a pretty good idea about the snow conditions in the zone you want to ride WAY BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE HOUSE! When you get to your spot you should be constantly evaluating, constantly asking if you and the people around you are being safe. Ask what motivators are pushing you toward unsafe decisions, how hard are they pushing? Is that next ridge, next run, next turn worth risking your life (especially if you've already observed signs of suspect snow in your area).

If you read the accident summaries it is rare that you wont find a mistake made by the victims. In this sense a mistake is something that you failed to prepare for, failed to notice, or worse, noticed and chose to ignore.

The snow speaks to all of us. I hear that powder calling me downward into amazing turns at blazing speed as well, but I listen to the softer, deeper voice of the snow that cautions me, that tells me that it is hiding secrets, secrets that are always changing and evolving. Some of those secrets carry you to high peaks, steep slopes, and open powder fields, some of those secrets carry you to a pitch black grave of frozen snow. This voice is quite, but it speaks with great power, listen.

Keep it simple. :)
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Old 01-20-2011   #2
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 57
Originally Posted by Beav212 View Post
On Monday the avalanche danger was listed as "high" for the slopes these guys were on.
I'm not debating your post, but actually the avy forecast for those slopes (NW aspect) was Moderate on 1/17.

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Old 01-20-2011   #3
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1994
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 325
Its easy to be a Monday morning quarterback on these things...I do it all the time. And I try to learn from the incidents so that I don't repeat them, though from your account it appears these guys had no business at all in the backcountry. The ones that really scare me are when those involved in an accident, especially a fatal one, are educated and at least trying to make safe decisions. Such as the accident in dry gulch earlier in the season.
In Bruce Tremper's book, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain (which I think is a great book and great compliment to hands on professional training), he does an actuarial analysis and determines that for backcountry travelers who spend 100 days a year in the backcountry, and who in a normal day must travel through/across/etc 3 avalanche prone aspects, they must make decisions 99.9% of the time to not get killed in an avalanche over the course of a ski career (think professional guides). Granted, I'll personally be lucky to get 100 backcountry days in 3-5 years. But the point is well taken that you have to be almost flawless in your decision making. Scary shit. Long stroy short, I agree, snow can kill....and CO's snowpack is a shity as it gets (fuck you depth hoar!)
Chris Morrison
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Old 01-20-2011   #4
rockinRio's Avatar
Thornton, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 231
I think it comes down to poor risk management. Every decision made should be towards eliminating controllable or foreseeable risk.

In the activities we do, the inherently dangerous environment means there are Uncontrollable and/or Unforeseeable risk. As you can do nothing about these risks your best defense is to manage that which can be managed.

Equipment, training, observation, education, judgement (not in any order, they are all important). These are your tools in risk management and you have to know how to use all of them.

It sucks when you hear/read an accident report that has obviously poor risk management. It sucks when people do everything right and still have an accident.

As a community, we should teach those around us, we should learn from those around us. We should encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. People will make good and bad decisions. In the end some will live despite their bad decisions, and some will die despite their good decisions. But I'd rather die knowing I did everything I could to manage what I could.
You ARE a soul, you HAVE a body.

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Old 01-20-2011   #5
Park City, Utah
Paddling Since: 1985
Join Date: Oct 2006
Posts: 700
I have turned around more this year

than in the last 3 combined. After the rain event this weekend out here, I fear for the worste this weekend. That said it looks like the snow that fell yesterday is all we have on tap. If we take a heavy hit on this ice, it could be very ugly. Of course it could set up and bind.

I feel for this young man. I hope he did not have kids.
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Old 01-20-2011   #6
The OC, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2009
Join Date: Jun 2010
Posts: 56
Yep, we passed on a slope above our hut last week and watched a couple of guys ski it with their headlamps that night. We had two seperate groups from our party make the same decision on different days after looking at the slope from above. What made us pass was the slope, right at 30 degrees, and some probing with our poles into the snow pack, which was bullet-proof windslab on top of what felt like 2' of sugar.

The guys that skied the slope did just fine, but I still think our decision to pass was the right one. We found plenty of good skiing in safer places.
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Old 01-21-2011   #7
castle rock, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 203
It is hard when you are locals in that area to think you could be caught and killed in that area. I have set slides go in that area before but was nothing to crazy. The person who was not caught in the slide looked back and saw his friend and dog after the first slide. Then he looked back later not to see them. He made a few trips up and down looking for them but was getting late and the pass had closed. Both of these riders are my friends and have a lot of skilles in the back country. But just goes to show that no matter how well you know an area you need to take all your safty gear to help save your self or someone else. There is nothing we can do about it now other than learn so everyone can be ready for when Sh!t hits the fan. Be safe out there everyone
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Old 01-24-2011   #8
Lakewood, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 31

Remember: No snowflake in an avalanche ever felt responsible.

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