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2016 Backcountry Trip Reports => February 2016 Backcountry Trip Reports => Topic started by: tabski on 03/01/16, 11:57 AM



Title: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: tabski on 03/01/16, 11:57 AM
Skied Crystal lifts and sidecountry yesterday. Southback opened around 11am, my group of three was among the first pack of people on top of Silver King. My two partners skied chutes left of Pinball (I believe called Toaster). One of our members headed that way as he said "it looks really fat, more filled in the other aspects." I dropped into a gully further left of my partner's tracks, cutting the top edge of the slope and pulling up on a dividing ridge skier's left. I looked behind me as the slope avalanched. Appx. a 10'' - 15'' crown, 50' wide. Though it was more of a large wind pocket than a full-width avalanche, the consequences could have been very serious. The chute goes into a bit of a gully before hitting the apron and the avalanche accelerated at incredible speed, with a very dry, high energy storm slab sliding on the firm ice crust from the previous warm spell. One of my partners was watching me from the bottom of the slope -- he saw a powder cloud explode into the air on the leading edge of the slide and was luckily able to quickly turn and ski to safety. The debris pile was substantial, not quite reaching the flats but definitely piling up deep enough to bury someone. Plus the definite possibility of severe trauma from taking a 70mph ride down a bumpy, firm base surface. The avalanche was significantly larger than anything triggered by patrol during their control routes with explosives before opening.

I just wanted to post this as a reminder to not get complacent when skiing Washington's (or anywhere's) near-resort terrain. Though Southback is controlled for avalanches, it still should absolutely be treated as a backcountry area. I find it disconcerting that a lot of skiers go out those gates without backpacks, especially following a new snowfall. Its crucial to still practice backcountry travel protocols in these areas.

I love our Washington ski areas and the surrounding terrain they can get us to, and I personally appreciate the way (at Crystal in particular) the patrol hustles to get huge areas of terrain open quickly for the public. I wouldn't suggest terrain, avalanche or boundary management needs to considerably changed. I think the onus is on the public to treat the areas in question with more respect and act accordingly with gear and travel choices.





Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: MattT on 03/01/16, 12:22 PM
It may be my reading comprehension, but to be clear - the slide was indeed in Toaster, but just on the left side (or at least to the left of your partners tracks)? I skied Toaster in the afternoon I was surprised by the scratchy bed surface on the left, which I couldn't see scouting from the top with the flat light. Bailed over a rib into Pinball. Just curious if it was the same slide I encountered, as yeah the debris pile was impressive. Glad all are okay.

Thanks for the beta and good reminders.


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: tabski on 03/01/16, 03:27 PM
MattT, sorry for the unclear description. Partner 1 skied skier's right side of Toaster and then down the middle with no issues. Partner 2 skied closer to Pinball. I entered on the far skier's left side of Toaster, triggering most of the top face of snow undisturbed by Skier 1.


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: wcurchin on 03/01/16, 03:29 PM
Was up in silver basin on Sunday and boy was it a crazy rapid-cycle of weather change. Noticeable loading kept us off of the upper parts of 3way.

Could not agree more with policy comments. I'm always wowed by people who tell me they've been skiing the terrain for years and years and that they can handle it. I see it even more at Alpental. Although much of the back bowls terrain poses less risk than some of the open higher angle terrain on the king and surrounding zones, it still requires caution. The Blue-Jean Back Bowls pose lots of threats of their own. In my opinion, Baker's policy is much more effective and actually enforced.

Glad you weren't swept.

*I wish I could share my appreciation for the Alpy patrol's timely opening of terrain.  


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: silaswild on 03/01/16, 04:35 PM
Quote from: wcurchin on 03/01/16, 03:29 PM
In my opinion, Baker's policy is much more effective and actually enforced.  

http://www.theinertia.com/mountain/there-is-no-sidecountry-its-all-backcountry-riding/


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: savegondor on 03/02/16, 08:55 AM
let's not kid ourselves, even in bounds should be treated with more respect.  i set off a large slide on exterminator last Spring.  clearly crystal is a very large area and wind loaded aspects right in the middle of the area aren't always controlled.  Exterminator has gunpowder all over the top.  didn't stop me from setting off a wet slab three feet deep and 50ft wide that wend 200ft. 

same thing happened on Cowboy to me a couple years back.  I'm not an asshole for dropping in an open area that was controlled..but I felt bad.  Our ski areas on WA are STEEP and have many cliffy areas that cannot be controlled perfectly, even in bounds. 

I think we are going to see a general uptick in side country and in bounds deaths as people without knowledge get more daring and skilled at skiing but not at backcountry knowledge.


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: natefred on 03/02/16, 09:30 AM
Another consideration is that the majority of control work is done early morning and it often warms up throughout the day, sometimes dramatically. Also with wind transport on a storm day, patrol has to monitor and decide when to close areas that are loading up faster than they're getting skied, there are human factors... There's a balance struck between closing avalanche prone in-bounds & side country terrain and getting it open and keeping it open so it gets skied up.

Also with rapid warming even after a period of melt-freeze, we all know it is difficult to judge when a slope will destabilize. 

It is pretty easy to imagine that most resorts that have terrain requiring extensive control work have at least a few post-control releases each season, that was the case the few seasons I was able to ski every day.

Just like the 10th skier might trigger a slope, control work offers reassurance but no guarantee.


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: AlpineRose on 03/02/16, 12:57 PM
Quote:
control work offers reassurance but no guarantee.


Another way of putting it is control work decreases risk but does not eliminate it.  I find it useful to eliminate the concept of "safe" from one's mental landscape, replacing it with "continuum of risk".


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: T. Eastman on 03/02/16, 07:39 PM
Skiing steep terrain is not more difficult than skiing lower angle terrain, but it can be more hazardous.

If you want to use risk as a measure of skills...

... well good luck.


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: Norseman on 03/03/16, 06:15 AM
Quote from: tabski on 03/01/16, 11:57 AM
I just wanted to post this as a reminder to not get complacent when skiing Washington's (or anywhere's) near-resort terrain. Though Southback is controlled for avalanches, it still should absolutely be treated as a backcountry area. I find it disconcerting that a lot of skiers go out those gates without backpacks, especially following a new snowfall. Its crucial to still practice backcountry travel protocols in these areas.




Yep. Crazy how regular it is to see gapers and their children out there without any gear.


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: flowing alpy on 03/03/16, 06:27 AM
Quote from: wcurchin on 03/01/16, 03:29 PM
I'm always wowed by people who tell me they've been skiing the terrain for years and years and that they can handle it. I see it even more at Alpental. Although much of the back bowls terrain poses less risk than some of the open higher angle terrain on the king and surrounding zones, it still requires caution. .

Glad you weren't swept.

*I wish I could share my appreciation for the Alpy patrol's timely opening of terrain.  

Please share.


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: cascademystic on 03/03/16, 02:29 PM
I watched you drop in and stop on the high side. Glad you're ok :) After both triggering and witnessing a few 100-250 foot-long fast moving, storm slabs this winter in Niagaras, Southback - and even directly under the gondola - I always ride with avy gear at Crystal post-storm. All best with the FWT!


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: kamtron on 03/09/16, 01:16 PM
Cuttin' slabs in Crystal turned out to be pretty good training for Fieberbrunn!


Title: Re: Feb 29, 2016, X-tal, Silver King danger obs
Post by: skykilo on 03/10/16, 02:06 PM
I cut two pretty decent wind deposits at the top of Diamond Bowl off Spanky's Ladder at Blackcomb one afternoon last week.  It was snowing and blowing and I couldn't see squat and it was slightly unnerving.  Decided it was time for the hot tub.  Lift skiing can be sketchy too!

So ditto for BC, Glacier Chair danger obs.


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