Monday, November 14, 2011

Live Long and Powder Ski

It was a terrible day in the Wasatch backcountry yesterday.  The Utah Avalanche Center reports there were about 10 human triggered avalanches, one leading to the death of Jamie Pierre.  Our thoughts are with the victim's family and friends.  Get well wishes to others who were injured.

In late September, we discussed how early snow usually becomes weak snow.  This is what has happened to the mid-October snowfall on northerly aspects during the past couple of weeks, leaving a weak foundation for the snow that came this weekend.  In fact, the weekend snowstorms put down more than 1.8 inches of snow-water equivalent at Alta-Collins, with the heaviest precipitation rates early Sunday morning as people were venturing out.  Even more water weight would have been added to the snowpack in wind-deposited areas.

I'm thankful I was busy with the Doppler on Wheels as the temptations of powder fever must have been great.  It's early season (we're stoked to ski), there was fresh snow (hard to pass up), there were tons of people out (false-security of safety in numbers), and most of them were skiing in familiar, typically avalanche-controlled terrain at the resorts (but it's really backcountry right now).  As discussed by Fredston et al., such human factors play a major role in most avalanche accidents.

Given that we will likely be dealing with instabilities from the rotten early season snowfall for the next few weeks, we need to channel Mr. Spock and think like a Vulcan.  Give Fredston et al. a read and be aware of these human factors as you head into the backcountry.

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