March 11, 2006

"Locked in darkness, so solidly entombed in snow that he can't move a finger."

A description of getting caught in an avalanche:
One moment a skier is dancing down a mountain. The next, the snow begins to buckle and break, sending him tumbling at greater than freeway speeds. Battered like a log in surf, his mouth and nose clogging with icy particles, he can snatch only a few ragged breaths. And then he is locked in darkness, so solidly entombed in snow that he can't move a finger. There is a 50 percent chance he will die within 30 minutes.
And it's nearly always the skier's own damned fault.


Dave said...

It's only the skier's fault if he skis off trail.

Slocum said...

I love to snowboard in fresh, untracked powder, but I don't do the back-country thing. Not worth the risk. I know people who do that and who claim they're careful and it could never happen to them, but I don't believe it.

Anonymous said...

Locked in darkness, so solidly entombed.... Habeas Schmabeas (Warning: link goes to This American Life, a production of pinko WBEZ)

Peter Hoh said...

I am not a troll, he screamed at the people passing by. I am not a troll!

Yeah, I'm pissed. I waas just going to ask how long it would be until quxxo tried to connect the avalanches to Bush. And he went and stole my thunder.

On the other hand, he proved my point.

chuck b. said...

"The number of people killed in snow-related accidents reached 100 on Monday evening, NHK national television said, the highest in more than 20 years." Link.


Bruce Hayden said...

We got our first in-area avalanche death last year in a very long time at A Basin off of the Poli lift. And, yes, it was a screw up - ski patrols, etc. are now looking more closely at spring snow. But this was one death among the hundreds we have had over the years in the CO backcountry.

The rest have been outside the ski areas - sometimes fairly close to them, but often any more quite aways away. Thurs. I skied Silverton (CO), the first area I remember skiing where we were required to carry beepers, shovels, and probe poles, and go through avalanche orientation before getting on the (one) lift. But if you ever see the area, you would understand - easiest trails, with optimal snow, are probably single diamond black. Most are quite a bit worse.

I have spent a lot of time in the backcountry avoiding avalanches, and carrying the requisite safety gear. By now, we all have multiple beepers, poles, and shovels, and have trained in how to use them, and, to some extent, how to avoid avalanches.

But, we have been doing this for upwards of 35 years. I think back to when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and at where we skied. In retrospect, it is amazing that none of us died, though a lot of us (not me) got caught at least once. For skiers and boarders, it seems that most of the deaths were fairly young, inexperienced, and overly adventuresome - often skiing or riding places that those of us with more experience won't come close to.

Which brings me to the latest avalanche problem - snowmobilers. I don't know the figures right now for this season, but a month or so ago, for the first time, CO had more snowmobile deaths than skiers and snowboarders combined, due to avalanches. It was bad enough when we would watch them jump cornices and outrace the resulting avalanches. But the latest craze is high pointing (it also goes by other names), where the snowmobiles go higher and higher up under cornices before stalling out, and heading back down. Well, a lot of avalanches don't start from cornices, but, then again, a lot do. Never mind that snowmobiles are heavy and noisy, and far liklier to start an avalanche than a skier skiing over the same snow.

Finally, back when I was 15, I was working as a Jr. Ski Patrol at a local ski area, and saw my first avalanche victims. They were blue/white. One died that day, another a month later, and the third had permanent brain damage. Not pretty - anytime I think about venturing across questionable snow, I think about that sight, and then don't.

Bruce Hayden said...

There are a lot of saying about avalanches. One is that there are no old avalanche experts. Another is that avalanches don't know who is an expert and who isn't.

That said, if you work or play in the backcountry, esp. here in CO, where we have the mountains for avalanches, you can reduce your chances of dying significantly. One thing is to have the proper safety gear and know how to use it. Secondly, you should make sure that only one person at a time is exposed. Third, you can train to recognize where avalanches are more likely, including both terrain and snow conditions. Fourth, you should know what to do if caught in an avalanche. This doesn't eliminate the hazard, but does minimize it quite a bit.