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Author Topic: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental  (Read 42259 times)
andybrnr
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #25 on: 02/19/12, 10:52 PM »

Was up at Stevens both yesterday and today. Hiking out the ridge yesterday towards highland bowl, there were strongly wind affected pockets with shooting cracks just out of the boot pack, but aside from easily propagated top inches of surface sluff, bulk of the snow in trees felt good on SE aspect. Caught up with snoholic and TBill towards the end of today, and they reported seeing a crown all the way across the top of Highland Bowl... second hand, I heard one person was caught but self extracted. The 'High' avy rating seems pretty much right on for open terrain at the moment.

Will be interesting to see how the WX this week evolves... the rain event for Tuesday will trigger pretty much anything that hasn't gone under 6k ft, I think, and everything above is going to get such a massive load placed on it (UW WRF-GFS 12km run is putting another 32" of dense snow on top of stuff above 7k-ish) that it'll likely make everything that didn't get rained on go. The 24hrs from Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon is looking like a good time to be anywhere but avy terrain. On the up side, precip with falling freezing levels Wednesday afternoon/night will hopefully yield a consolidated snowpack with the new stuff well bonded and right side up... here's hoping, anyhow.

Thoughts and prayers with the families of those who lost loved ones today.
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Jason_H.
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #26 on: 02/20/12, 08:39 AM »

So sad to hear that 4 of our commuity left us yesterday. From images and what I've heard of them from those I know, they touched many lives and were wonderful people. RIP and my heart goes out to family and friends.
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #27 on: 02/20/12, 09:22 AM »

Condolences to the families and friends of those who were lost yesterday.

I didn't know the victims, but I've been staggered by the scope of this tragedy. I've been trying to process it mentally. I reviewed my notes about avalanche accidents in the Northwest through 2011:

http://alpenglow.org/ski-history/notes/book/logan-1996.html
http://alpenglow.org/ski-history/notes/web/www-avalanche-org.html

Losing more than one member of the skiing and snowboarding community in single day is a horrible shock. It has only happened twice before. In 1999, one snowboarder and one skier were lost in the huge Rumble Gully avalanche just outside the Mt Baker ski area. In 2007, three snowboarders were buried at their emergency bivouac in Union Creek near Crystal Mountain. Yesterday, we lost three at Stevens Pass in a single avalanche and another at Alpental in a separate accident. It was deadliest day for avalanches involving skiers and snowboarders in the history of Washington state.

There have been even worse days in history, but they involved climbing parties. Fatal accidents involving multiple skiers are extremely rare in this state. I think that's why this event seems so overwhelming.
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ryanl
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #28 on: 02/20/12, 09:40 AM »

Like Lowell, I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the magnitude of grief created this weekend. To the friends and family members of those involved, I wish you support, strength, and love in the weeks and months to come. To those that died, R.I.P- you will be missed but never forgotten. 
« Last Edit: 02/20/12, 10:03 AM by ryanl » Logged
snoholic
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #29 on: 02/20/12, 09:50 AM »

Condolences to all family and Friends of the victims. What a sad and painfull day in the Cascades.  I have been skiing in the Stevens sidecountry the last few days and ran into the group of visiting skiers and their local friends and guides on a few occasions.  They were all smiles out there enjoying the incredible gift we received.  Sunday Morning, we were on top of Cowboy ridge at about 11 am discussing if we should drop into the Glory bowls, or not.  Logistics and fate sent us the opposite way.  Ended up skinning up to lake Josephine and on to the Fleur de lis shot where we had a birds eye view of Highland bowl.  It also went big, The crown started near the first clearing you would get to as you traverse into the area from Stevens and ran all the way around to where the convex rollovers are. Basically the entire bowl area. Guessing 300-400+ meter wide crown. Crown seemed to be about  24" deep or so, and about 100'  below the ridgeline but was hard to tell from the distance we we at. Did not see any damage to the trees below so I'm guessing it stop fairly quickly in the basin below the bowl. Only had a phone camera, so I could not get any picts at the distance we were from it.  After all the years of skiing that bowl I had never imagined that it could go like that.  Hard to digest all the events happened yesterday.

Zack
« Last Edit: 02/20/12, 02:29 PM by snoholic » Logged
zenom
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #30 on: 02/20/12, 10:11 AM »

Yesterday was really bad. Condolences.

In the backcountry near Crystal, we triggered two slabs one 80-ft wide with 12 inch crown. No burial. The one strong warning we observed.

Then later triggered a 250-ft wide 24 inch crown. Brought down the whole small (what we thought was mellow angle) bowl, on us as we were skinning up. All of us were buried. Two partial, chest +/- deep. One burial a full 4-ft deep. Beacon and probe and quick (5-6 min.?) uncovering of the 4-ft deep burial saved a life. We all skied out with no major injuries.

A crazy day indeed.
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runningclouds
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #31 on: 02/20/12, 11:16 AM »

Very sad day indeed. R.I.P. I hope you will find endless powder wherever you are now.

More info, including eyewitness accounts, on the avy:
http://www.powdermag.com/stevens_pass-news/tragedy-hits-ski-world-again/
http://espn.go.com/action/freeskiing/story/_/id/7593035/avalanche-washington-stevens-pass-kills-three
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Alan Brunelle
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #32 on: 02/20/12, 11:29 AM »

Very sad day.

I was at Stevens Saturday and Sunday and I wonder what the thought processes occurred to ski backcountry yesterday.  My perception of the heavy snow that fell the many hours before was that the start of the ppt Friday afternoon and into early Saturday was a heavy wet snow, with some wind effects.  Not so easy to ski.  However as the day proceeded, the temperature seemed to drop with new accumulations being progressively dryer and lighter.  Of course there was a lot more to come overnight.  It certainly did not seem like an upside down snowpack.

In any case, from the many charges dropped by patrol and the many craters seen along the road, I would have to say I had seen a lot more propagation of slides in the usual areas than I saw from the work done that morning.  Only saw a little propagation from the work all along Cowboy ridge into the north side and these did not seem to run particularly far.  This is usually the wind loaded side?

The reports of shooting cracks and other releases would suggest a less stable snowpack than displayed by the avi work in the AM.  I expect that my limited view of the area may mean that my observations are far less than complete, so I hope those who work that area will be able to offer important information to the rest of the community.

The Seattle Times story this morning stated "a fracture 200 yards wide and 20ft. deep".  Also, the skiers (at least some) noted a three foot crack before it let loose.  I can see a slide stepping down to deeper layers, but if this fracture did let loose full depth, then it may have involved weaknesses that the normal depth snowpits, etc. would not be expected to find.  I know news agencies get this stuff wrong all the time.

Snoholic's observations would not support such a deep fracture.  On the other hand he was not able to see that the slide went all the way to the valley floor.  The news description and John Gifford's description of the event and locale last night made it clear that it did travel all the way to the valley floor, at least 1500ft.  From the description from those there in the Times was that it funneled through a drainage and therefore likely did not involve much in the way of trees visible to Snoholic, though the victim did describe hitting trees all the way down.

My deepest condolences to those families of those lost in this tragedy.  
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cbcbd
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #33 on: 02/20/12, 11:45 AM »

It really wrenches at the heart. My deepest condolences to the loved ones left behind.

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ccwaskier
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #34 on: 02/20/12, 12:28 PM »

Yesterday was really bad. Condolences.

In the backcountry near Crystal, we triggered two slabs one 80-ft wide with 12 inch crown. No burial. The one strong warning we observed.

Then later triggered a 250-ft wide 24 inch crown. Brought down the whole small (what we thought was mellow angle) bowl, on us as we were skinning up. All of us were buried. Two partial, chest +/- deep. One burial a full 4-ft deep. Beacon and probe and quick (5-6 min.?) uncovering of the 4-ft deep burial saved a life. We all skied out with no major injuries.

A crazy day indeed.

Wow.  Scary.  Glad to hear you are ok.  I skied in area out south most of the day on Sunday and discussed touring options but didn't end up going.  Would you mind sharing where you triggered the slides?
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haggis
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #35 on: 02/20/12, 02:12 PM »

http://today.seattletimes.com/2012/02/snowboarder-killed-in-alpental-avalanche-was-devoted-father/

Details about the boarder in Alpental.  Memorial fund link also in this link.  Very sad indeed with a young daughter.
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snoholic
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #36 on: 02/20/12, 02:18 PM »

I was describing the slide I Saw in Highland bowl that is NE of Southern Cross chair, on the way to Big Chief Mt. from the ski area. Not the slide on the SW side of Cowboy Mt. where the Avi deaths took place. Sorry if I confused you. The Highland bowl slide was skier triggered (second hand knowledge), luckily with out injury. The Highland bowl area had been skied by many skiers on Sunday including my wife and friends. Could have been different outcome with different timing.
« Last Edit: 02/20/12, 02:28 PM by snoholic » Logged
mc
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #37 on: 02/20/12, 05:51 PM »

@ zenom--- curious where you were at crystal yesterday and the aspects of the slides you kicked off?  i'm trying to make sense of these accidents and the conditions we observed in the field.  yesterday we were riding the west aspect of east peak.

we chose crystal as they had rec'd the least amount of snow.  we saw no propagation w/ only a little bit of soft slab.  mostly the snow was falling in on itself.

i guess i'm trying to determine whether the accidents and observed slides were happening on the lee slopes and totally loaded as forecasted.  not trying to second guess anyone's decision other than my own.  i'm looking for clues to help determine whether we made good decisions and didn't just get lucky.  probably both, but knowing more about slides is always good information.

thanks,
mc
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fwb
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #38 on: 02/20/12, 06:47 PM »

I think the news reports are best taken with a grain of salt.  Listening to reporters, I hear and read they are trying to talk about something they don’t know about.  One reporter obviously did not have basic knowledge of skiing. Minor details like the difference of being off a groomed run and being outside the resort.  And reports of the slide running 3000' vs at 3000'.  simple math rules that out.  I saw many shots from helicopters focused on the snow and dug up area where the highway dept snow cat made a ramp up from teh highway.  One reporter even made comment on how the snow had come down over the roadway...   I'd have liked to see an air image of the scene

I believe the 20’ is the depth of the runout/debris pile. 
« Last Edit: 02/21/12, 12:34 PM by fwb » Logged
CookieMonster
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #39 on: 02/20/12, 07:59 PM »

What a sad story. I hope to increase the skill with which I armchair my own decisions.
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Alan Brunelle
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #40 on: 02/20/12, 08:13 PM »

Snoholic, my misunderstanding on your description.  Yes I had heard about that slide you describe very early in the rumors going around in my group Sunday afternoon.  It was confusing not knowing what and where early on in the rumors going around.  In fact I had assumed that the skiers caught were at that site since I believe someone said that they had shut down the Southern Cross/Double chair for a while.  And yes, it makes perfectly good sense that that slide would have stalled at the trees there, since there seems to be a considerable bench right at treeline.  (Probably why there is a treeline there to begin with.)   

fwb, I also figured that the news must have been talking about the debris field, but it gets a bit confusing in these later stories since the information is often couched in quotes from individuals who were at the site.  That and the press' propensity to exaggerate.  It is tough to get a 20ft. fracture with a 12ft snowpack.  But, of course the reporters can only write accurately to the extent that they actually understand what they are told.

In the end, with analysis, I believe that there will be something about the south facing exposures on this day that were somewhat unique here.  I do not know what the bedding structure of these slabs was, but I will bet that there was something about those south facing slopes that set things up badly.
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JKordel
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #41 on: 02/20/12, 08:33 PM »

So sad!  My most sincere condolences to all the families and friends involved.

This one strikes close to home. Jim Jack was one of my earliest ski buddies from high school. My first trip to Whistler was with him and a group of other classmates. We had loads of fun and got into a bit of mischief - that was always the way with JJ. Brings back a wave of fond memories. You could not find a more passionate alpine slider than Jim - he revolved his whole life around the sport. He brought joy and enthusiasm to everyone he met and had friends all 'round the world.

Interestingly, my family and I spent the last couple of days flat tracking in Leavenworth, Jim's hometown. I just heard the news actually.

Backcountry skiing gives so much but it takes too - sometimes for keeps. So many friends and friends of friends have paid the ultimate price over the years. Its a small community and it hurts every time.

Be careful out there - but live each day with passion too. It can be a fine line.... think of those who've lost their lives and don't be ashamed to step back and live to ski another day.
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ski_photomatt
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #42 on: 02/20/12, 08:40 PM »

These are sad incidents that I have been struggling with all day.  It is hard to grasp and understand.  We tried to get out into the mountains today and find some peace but they were on our mind.  We talked a lot about the people and the events.  We turned around a short distance out because it just didn't feel right.
My heart goes out to the friends and family of those lost yesterday.
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oftpiste
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #43 on: 02/20/12, 10:54 PM »

Last night I had a few drinks alone toasting these guys and all the rest of my turns this year will be in their spirit. Jim was an enormous part of what we know as free skiing today. And an all around good soul, always good for more stoke than anyone else and always ready for a few beers and good conversation. Things will be very different without him around. We had a great day at Alta last spring, and I always considered it an honor to hang with him.
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Andy Hill
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #44 on: 02/21/12, 07:50 AM »

This incident like all before continues to haunt my thoughts in everything I'm doing right now.  The waves of pain it sends though those familiar and not to the victims speaks to the unfairness of it all.  We should all die doing what we love to do.  Let's make it living and die of old age.  Please except my below reflections for their intentions: to keep others safe.  My sincerest condolences to all suffering through this tragic loss.  These were all passionate brothers in snow to me.  I know their love all to well and the need to spend it with others in the snowy mountains.

This was the message I sent to my patrols after the incident.  I send it to this community now as it's the one that has the most influence in our bc access.  This forum is the goto place in helping others to plan, share, and learn from our collective experiences.  Agree with me or not, let's come together to continually find ways to allow our passion to be a safe recreation for all.  Especially those that need our instruction, mentoring, and guidance in the BC.


> Subject: Avy fatality reflections
> From: nandyhill@gmail.com
> Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2012 14:24:46 -0700
> To: spart@phydeaux.net; patrol@cascadebackcountryskipatrol.org
>
> I'm sitting here vacillating between survivors guilt and post rescue misgivings, wondering if things will ever change without a dramatic shift. In one day, we had 4 chair accessed BC avalanche fatalities and I know we're all lucky this number isn't larger. I was skiing Stevens this weekend knowing how bad Sunday was setting up for high hazard (brushed 9" high density snow off the car Saturday that all fell in 3 hours), but the wild side in me wanted to tempt it. Some did. Some got away with it. Some didn't.
>
> I was at the highway ski out of the Stevens Tunnel Creek accident yesterday and watched 15 worn-out, teared up survivors touch pavement after only 2 hours of terror in the snow. Not long before that, four doe eyed teenagers popped out of the same exit thinking they were going to be arrested by highway patrolmen on scene for the call-out. Walking/hitchhiking the highway after skiing the backside of Stevens is illegal, but all tempt it for the chance at chair assisted BC powder. They had no clue what was really at stake. As I was driving away from the incident, I saw several other groups skiing out below the incident command so as not to get 'caught' by the cops. As I hear of the fatality at Alpental, I envision it as yet another rope ducking local wanting a extreme descent from the ski resort.
>
> I know myself to also be at risk. The snow sirens often call me. I seek the thrill of flying down the mountain on my own wings and doing what few others would dare. 2-3 feet of fresh sky and wind transported snow goes to my core of desire and only after learning it's potential destruction do I logic out a surviving decision. It's hard though. It doesn't come natural and it's not how I was brought up among my posse of steep/deep seeking friends.
>
> It brings me to this forming belief: giving chair access to the backcountry during high hazard snow conditions (which always goes hand in hand with high quality skiing), is like giving the liquor cabinet keys to an alcoholic. I only know better myself through intervention (education), self awareness, and experience of getting in trouble.
>
> After the last couple season's of winter backcountry injuries and fatalities, it seemed a public awareness program would help. Avalance signs and beacon check stations at wilderness trailheads could do the trick. I think these can do more good than hurt, but this is for the self propelled traveller that largly knows they are going into wild/untamed snow.
>
> This really isn't the average profile for a resort skier going through upper gates. I've sat on many an upper gate watching caravans of crowds heading out without awareness and equipment to deal with the terrain. Most times it's no big deal. Sometimes it's a real problem.
>
> Yesterday was not the day to let average folks into the bc from the chairs. What a tough call though. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of the perfect line comes into play no doubt when dealing with access to public land. Why not let them access it from the base then when hazard is up? I imagine there are probably a host of solutions that the resort has to weigh against the pressure of 'the customer' but we should get in league with them to help.
>
> This is not meant to second guess the decisions of the people involved in yesterday's tragedy. Involved with the same group of experienced snow professionals and ski athletes, it could have been me there. This is mainly an effort to find the opportunity for learning and methods to protect others with our combined insights and experience. We are part of the community of experts when it comes to protection others from avalanches.
>
« Last Edit: 02/21/12, 04:11 PM by Andy Hill » Logged
Oyvind_Henningsen
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #45 on: 02/21/12, 08:24 AM »

Heartfelt condolences to family, friends, community.  Our community has lost some mighty fine folks.  Let us all be supportive of each other in this time of pain.

Oyvind Henningsen
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shaman
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #46 on: 02/21/12, 08:54 AM »

This is an enormous loss in the ski community.  My heart goes out to all the family and friends.

I hope someone in the party will eventually share the events/thought processes that occurred so we can learn from them.
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mick_scott
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #47 on: 02/21/12, 12:33 PM »

This incident like all before continues to haunt my thoughts in everything I'm doing right now.  The waves of pain it sends though those familiar and not to the victims speaks to the unfairness of it all.  We should all die doing what we love to do.  Let's make it living and die of old age.  Please except my below reflections for their intentions: to keep others safe.  My sincerest condolences to all suffering through this traffic loss.  These were all passionate brothers in snow to me.  I know their love all to well and the need to spend it with others in the snowy mountains.

This was the message I sent to my patrols after the incident.  I send it to this community now as it's the one that has the most influence in our bc access.  This forum is the goto place in helping others to plan, share, and learn from our collective experiences.  Agree with me or not, let's come together to continually find ways to allow our passion to be a safe recreation for all.  Especially those that need our instruction, mentoring, and guidance in the BC.


> Subject: Avy fatality reflections
> From: nandyhill@gmail.com
> Date: Mon, 20 Feb 2012 14:24:46 -0700
> To: spart@phydeaux.net; patrol@cascadebackcountryskipatrol.org
>
> I'm sitting here vacillating between survivors guilt and post rescue misgivings, wondering if things will ever change without a dramatic shift. In one day, we had 4 chair accessed BC avalanche fatalities and I know we're all lucky this number isn't larger. I was skiing Stevens this weekend knowing how bad Sunday was setting up for high hazard (brushed 9" high density snow off the car Saturday that all fell in 3 hours), but the wild side in me wanted to tempt it. Some did. Some got away with it. Some didn't.
>
> I was at the highway ski out of the Stevens Tunnel Creek accident yesterday and watched 15 worn-out, teared up survivors touch pavement after only 2 hours of terror in the snow. Not long before that, four doe eyed teenagers popped out of the same exit thinking they were going to be arrested by highway patrolmen on scene for the call-out. Walking/hitchhiking the highway after skiing the backside of Stevens is illegal, but all tempt it for the chance at chair assisted BC powder. They had no clue what was really at stake. As I was driving away from the incident, I saw several other groups skiing out below the incident command so as not to get 'caught' by the cops. As I hear of the fatality at Alpental, I envision it as yet another rope ducking local wanting a extreme descent from the ski resort.
>
> I know myself to also be at risk. The snow sirens often call me. I seek the thrill of flying down the mountain on my own wings and doing what few others would dare. 2-3 feet of fresh sky and wind transported snow goes to my core of desire and only after learning it's potential destruction do I logic out a surviving decision. It's hard though. It doesn't come natural and it's not how I was brought up among my posse of steep/deep seeking friends.
>
> It brings me to this forming belief: giving chair access to the backcountry during high hazard snow conditions (which always goes hand in hand with high quality skiing), is like giving the liquor cabinet keys to an alcoholic. I only know better myself through intervention (education), self awareness, and experience of getting in trouble.
>
> After the last couple season's of winter backcountry injuries and fatalities, it seemed a public awareness program would help. Avalance signs and beacon check stations at wilderness trailheads could do the trick. I think these can do more good than hurt, but this is for the self propelled traveller that largly knows they are going into wild/untamed snow.
>
> This really isn't the average profile for a resort skier going through upper gates. I've sat on many an upper gate watching caravans of crowds heading out without awareness and equipment to deal with the terrain. Most times it's no big deal. Sometimes it's a real problem.
>
> Yesterday was not the day to let average folks into the bc from the chairs. What a tough call though. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of the perfect line comes into play no doubt when dealing with access to public land. Why not let them access it from the base then when hazard is up? I imagine there are probably a host of solutions that the resort has to weigh against the pressure of 'the customer' but we should get in league with them to help.
>
> This is not meant to second guess the decisions of the people involved in yesterday's tragedy. Involved with the same group of experienced snow professionals and ski athletes, it could have been me there. This is mainly an effort to find the opportunity for learning and methods to protect others with our combined insights and experience. We are part of the community of experts when it comes to protection others from avalanches.
>

Well said Andy -
I knew both Jim and Chris - As heavy and wrecked my heart is for our loss I am hopeful that people will take this opportunity to pause, reflect and further educate themselves and others. Pass the torch - Be safe - Blessings
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CookieMonster
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #48 on: 02/21/12, 01:54 PM »

In the end, with analysis, I believe that there will be something about the south facing exposures on this day that were somewhat unique here.  I do not know what the bedding structure of these slabs was, but I will bet that there was something about those south facing slopes that set things up badly.

You might be right.

Tunnel Creek is classic middle ground terrain. Plenty of snow and steepness for avalanches. Plenty of lines that seem like "safer" choices. Tons of options. Seems like a good area to go investigate and maybe push it a little once you "see how things are".

Sadly, "safer" is relative... you know the old game of trading horses... "that line is the safest line here"...

But is it really safe? Is it really a good choice for conditions or is it just the best choice from what is essentially a bad list? Most of us have wandered down this garden path before and ended up far past any reasonable margin of safety.
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aaron_wright
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Re: Avalanches Kill 3 at Stevens Pass, 1 at Alpental
« Reply #49 on: 02/21/12, 02:26 PM »

But is it really safe? Is it really a good choice for conditions or is it just the best choice from what is essentially a bad list? Most of us have wandered down this garden path before and ended up far past any reasonable margin of safety.
Amen, been there a time or two.
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