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Author Topic: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche  (Read 106803 times)
bc_skier
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #50 on: 02/27/14, 07:06 AM »

Great trip report.

From what I see most of the comments are not negative but honest comments on how others assessed the avalanche hazard for that day/storm cycle. Everyone is trying to learn and apply what they learn in future ski trips. One thing is for sure, we had a huge storm cycle over that period of time. Huge storm cycles catch people off guard until they see enough of them.

Assessing stability is complicated, but in this storm cycle it was text book if you choose to read the signs.

•   Up to 100” of snow fall in ten days
•   Fluctuating freezing levels and high winds
•   NWAC avalanche report for that storm cycle had fluctuated from considerable too High
•   Other trip reports for that period had indicated many natural and skier triggered avalanches

Here is a great article about deep slabs…
http://www.avalanche.ca/uploads/decisionmaking/DM_AvalProbEssentials_DP_V1.0.pdf
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CookieMonster
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #51 on: 02/27/14, 07:34 AM »

Assessing stability is complicated, but in this storm cycle it was text book if you choose to read the signs.

Cookie, I'm sure you only intended the best by your post, but it really strikes me as more of a indictment of the state of avy education then this particular party.  Your list is basically the "checklist" of criteria that AIARE and others have been pushing towards.

What you're saying is that the common thread of fatal avalanches is that parties involved appeared or believed they were following best practices of avalanche education.

You are exactly, exactly, exactly, exactly right. The parties involved appeared or believed they were following best practices of avalanche education. When in fact they most certainly were not following best practises at all. The point of my earlier remarks is that best practises cannot make up for fundamental errors, such as poor choice of objective. Best practises are put in place to help you avoid choosing an objective that is unsuitable for conditions. Everything else is just damage control.

Some people who posted trip reports in the same time frame clearly foresaw the potential for large avalanches and correctly extrapolated information from the public avalanche bulletin, along with their own observations, toward the worst case scenario ( Which is exactly the advice given in The Avalanche Handbook, AIARE, et al. ). With this information in mind, those parties demonstrated significant skill in both recognizing these conditions and having the discipline required to find appropriate terrain that included a generous margin of safety.

On the other hand, the reporter of this incident made sure we were all aware of his skills, education, and experience even while he described to us a trip that nearly resulted in three fatalities, a trip in which he took two novice backcountry skiers into alpine terrain known for producing large, destructive avalanches during a time when there was a reasonably foreseeable potential for large, destructive avalanches.

The description of this accident is sadly very typical: "we knew what we were doing; we're educated; we're experienced; our risk tolerance is different". If the purposes of this thread is to spread knowledge, then I feel perfectly comfortable saying that tour, as described, is an example of what not do, and there are other trips ( as I've noted ) that are great examples of how to tour safely in adverse conditions.

All of these things (except perhaps the last two) are also mentioned in a large number of trip reports where there is no avalanche or injury.  I'm not sure how I would use those to differentiate a non-threatening situation from a threatening one.

My example was designed to show that many safe trips and unsafe trips sound the same until you look at the choice of objective and the attitude of the participants. Very often those two aspects are what differentiate threatening and non-threatening situations. I should have made that clearer. Smiley
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aaron_wright
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #52 on: 02/27/14, 07:39 AM »

^^^This is what I've been trying to convey but I lack Cookie's smarts.
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Troy
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #53 on: 02/27/14, 07:55 AM »

^^^This is what I've been trying to convey but I lack Cookie's smarts.

I'd also like to chime in and say that Cookie's last post seems very constructive and also seems to lack malice.  I hope we all can read this type of post and take in the wisdom without being defensive.  All of us make mistakes.

Thanks to all for many wise words on this thread and others.  I've learned from a lot from the TAY community.
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Gregg_C
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #54 on: 02/27/14, 08:14 AM »


It hurts every time I read of severe injury or death where accustomed behavior directed the risk assessment and route choice.  Call it quarterbacking or "WTF" but I always appreciated being told bluntly by my peers or mentors that I had screwed up.   

You just have thicker skin Todd:)  My belief is that a large majority of the people involved in avalanches already know that they made a mistake.  The place for bluntness should come later, after there is an analysis of the incident.  "What happened" should take priority over "you screwed up" and "what were you thinking". 
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #55 on: 02/27/14, 08:33 AM »

Last Saturday's forecast for Snoqualmie Pass actually didn't call out a persistent weak layer as a concern (wind slabs and storm slabs were).  Persistent weak layer was called out as a concern east of the crest.
http://www.nwac.us/avalanche-forecast/2014-02-22/cascade-west-snoqualmie-pass/

Thanks for pointing that out, Susan.

The NWAC bulletins have been talking about weak layers quite a bit, but mainly with respect to the eastern Cascades. It points to how limited our knowledge was following that big storm cycle and how cautious we have to be in "compartmentalizing" risks to a specific region.

It's interesting to look back at this thread from last Friday (2/21):

http://www.turns-all-year.com/skiing_snowboarding/trip_reports/index.php?topic=30842.0

The subject was the special avalanche warning for British Columbia. That warning and Karl Klassen's blog post that Charlie referenced went into much more detail on the potential for deep instability:

http://blogs.avalanche.ca/this-beauty-is-only-skin-deep/

It seems clear that in this case Klassen's advise was spot on. The excerpt that kerwinl pulled out is especially apt:

Quote
"Wait. Wait longer than usual before moving onto larger, more aggressive terrain. Some runs might have to wait for a couple of weeks or more. Some might be out for the rest of the season. This is especially important for all you folks in the coastal ranges where you’re used to waiting a few days to let things settle down, then going for it. The snowpack you’ve got out there, especially the south coast, is like nothing many of you have dealt with before. Don’t use your coastie tactics and expect them to work this season. You need to think more like the Interior or even the Rockies guys right now."

Klassen was absolutely right, and even NWAC wasn't entirely on top of this.

I have to say ALL OF US have been very lucky have this hazard demonstrated so vividly without anybody getting hurt. shawnskis should be thanked for bringing this discussion into the open by reporting his party's experience.
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Bird Dog
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #56 on: 02/27/14, 08:38 AM »

FYI for those reading this thread:

Last Saturday's forecast for Snoqualmie Pass actually didn't call out a persistent weak layer as a concern (wind slabs and storm slabs were).  Persistent weak layer was called out as a concern east of the crest.

http://www.nwac.us/avalanche-forecast/2014-02-22/cascade-west-snoqualmie-pass/

Chair Pk is not technically east of the crest. However due to Chair's position, topography, notches in the surrounding ridge, and it's summit; it assumes to the characteristics of being east of crest. IMO opinion, the conditions matched exactly with nwac's forecast. RE: the discussion of Chair vs. The Slot; the east side of Chair would more than likely be far more wind loaded than the Slot given the recent weather (wind)  patterns.

To to OP: Thanks you for having the balls to write this up. It is a valuable learning experience for all. Glad you made it back safe.

I think cookiemonster's post is right on.
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Jim Oker
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #57 on: 02/27/14, 08:55 AM »

I have to say ALL OF US have been very lucky have this hazard demonstrated so vividly without anybody getting hurt. shawnskis should be thanked for bringing this discussion into the open by reporting his party's experience.
Indeed. I hope we can still say this a week or three from now!
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JoshK
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #58 on: 02/27/14, 09:02 AM »

CookieMonster's analysis seems spot on to me. It probably reflects well what several of us have been trying to convey, but he communicates it much better.

His same analysis seems applicable to what I remember from the incident and analysis of the near-fatal event on Kendall from April, 2010.

The analysis, to my eyes, read largely as "we are guides, we are educated, this is what we did and why it was logical." It then ended with the smug  conclusion that "I seriously doubt that a normal, recreational group would have been able to pull off this rescue.", followed by a secondary admission that "They might not have continued above the trees either." (http://www.nwac.us/media/filer_public/ff/e5/ffe5bef7-d3de-42ce-8f5c-c798e363cf3c/kendall_peak_avalanche_accident_4-9-10.pdf)

I point this out because I think it's a good example to how much Cookie's list, just as he said, reflects what almost all accident reports seem to read as.

I'll also point to it as another example of my earlier point, that being a guide means little, and it means nothing to the mountains. It's a job title, nothing more. Put faith in the observations, logic and decision making of others, be them a guide or a McDonald's employee, at your risk.
« Last Edit: 02/27/14, 10:31 AM by JoshK » Logged
blackdog102395
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #59 on: 02/27/14, 09:16 AM »

Bottom line is we all make decisions on what's possible.  Backcountry touring is in many ways an exercise in probability.    Given the higher than normal possibility of a deep slab some will choose to ride low angle or clean their gutters.  Others will feel comfortable that possible, but not likely probable makes it "good to go."  I am in the first camp, but I understand those in the second camp.
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T. Eastman
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #60 on: 02/27/14, 09:29 AM »

Quote
The place for bluntness should come later, after there is an analysis of the incident.

Gregg, this is for all purposes, the analysis of the accident.  A formal report will be issued by folks that will write a dry, "what went down" set of observations.  The real deal is going on here in TAY where people are saying what they think, admitting to their own near misses, and describing their logic in their choices for dealing with deep persistent crap (DPC).  

There is a range of experience among the posters reflected in the comments.  Some of these people have considerable (I use the term with irony) experience with DPC.  This includes me.  From my perception, the message regarding travel during times of DPC here seems not to be as clearly understood as in in regions where it may dominate entire winters.  

Why is this? It is contained in the literature.  It is noted in conferences.  But, is it clearly and loudly proclaimed in this region's avi courses?  The ski community in this region is excellent at dealing with the upper layers that are where the hazards usually lurk, but dealing with DPC forces travel choices to occur well before being in the field and well before digging holes in the snow.  

TRs may also play an interesting role in the travel decision.  TRs for the most part are proof of not proving the negative in an environment where hazards exist but the skiers simply did not trigger an incident.  TRs are rarely formal reports but rather a mix of fun pictures, a few snow observations, and narrative crafted to reflect the writer's sensibilities.  TRs are fun but do they influence peoples ski plans?  Do TRs place an approval on a particular destination?  I don't know but as behavior is the issue in safe winter travel, such questions could be considered.

Interestingly we may see a relationship between the number of postings on threads in TAY and the probability of large catastrophic snow slides...
« Last Edit: 02/27/14, 09:36 PM by T. Eastman » Logged
Jim Oker
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #61 on: 02/27/14, 09:51 AM »

That question about TRs and how it influences people's sense of the risk level is an interesting and good one. And my thoughts on it are what led me to quote Lowell just above. It is a gift to the community to share info about the negatives in addition to the positives, including that it's a reminder that lack of negatives does not mean people weren't just getting lucky this time.

Bottom line is we all make decisions on what's possible.  Backcountry touring is in many ways an exercise in probability.    Given the higher than normal possibility of a deep slab some will choose to ride low angle or clean their gutters.  Others will feel comfortable that possible, but not likely probable makes it "good to go."  I am in the first camp, but I understand those in the second camp.
If you truly understand the risks then that's a choice that puzzles me a bit, but it's yours to make. I believe some of us are seeing signs in this TR that the author did not really see the risks. E.g.
Quote
The snow seemed incredibly stable. On the switchbacks up to the saddle there was no sign of slide danger, nor any other slide debris. The snow layers seemed to have great cohesion. We realized NWAC’s forecast was very different from what we were observing. There was no sign of natural or human triggered slides. While not completely ruling out the persistent slab, we felt comfortable pressing on.
and
Quote
This leads me to discuss the information available on NWAC. The information provided by NWAC didn’t seem consistent with what we observed that day. NWAC forecasted human triggered slides as ‘considerable’ while from our account, they were extremely difficult to initiate. Also, naturally occurring slides weren’t mentioned in the NWAC forecast although we know that there was at least one.
The Considerable rating definition states that human triggered avalanches are likely and natural are possible. Some exceprts from the forecast discussion for the day (issued 8:35AM):
Quote
West northwest winds and light snow showers are decreasing on Friday. No new natural or human triggered avalanches have been reported so far on Friday. But winds on summits and ridges are locally strong enough (for example at the top of Crystal or White Pass) to build local wind slab on lee slopes on Friday.
and
Quote
It will have been many days since there have been many people in the back country so conditions are a bit uncertain. Careful snow pack evaluation and caution should still be essential on Saturday.

So there were two key things I assumed when going into the backcountry on Saturday:
1) wind loading particularly on E and SE aspects up high would be a concern, but there could be other aspects loaded depending on local winds and terrain (e.g. cross-loading). Skiing on or below such areas could be dodgy. I should add that a few miles to the SE, the ongoing wind transport during the day on Saturday was apparent.
2) despite the apparent stability of the deep snowpack, the confidence in that assessment was still not high (which is what led us into a very mellow choice despite all the green lights we were seeing en route)

Not to overly pick at shawnski's report, but those quotes raise a few questions for me. Was he concerned about potential for natural slides starting from wind loaded terrain far above his party, and did he discuss this with his partners? Given that they were on a very large known avalanche path, this would be an important realization for them to be truly aware of the risk they were entering into. Did he/they think about the possibility of something starting in the wind slab layer or a cornice drop up there and managing to get the deep slab going? (I'm just guessing this is what happened, though I suppose they may have remotely triggered this slide too...) They did not fully rule out the deep layer, but did they have confidence that the probability of it going was low, or did they believe that the probability was unclear (which is how I, conservatively, read the snowpack analysis from both Friday afternoon's report and Saturday morning's; and our group did not feel confident in our ability to really fully assess the risk level and thus reduce this uncertainty with an incredibly deep pit or two)? This question of understanding that we had a high degree of uncertainty about the probability of a slide (which is quite different from a low probability so if you happen to be in a slide we all say "you just happened to be in the wrong place" or "your number came up" or whatever) seems important for this day/period.
« Last Edit: 02/27/14, 10:20 AM by Jim Oker » Logged
Gregg_C
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #62 on: 02/27/14, 10:07 AM »

Gregg, this is for all purposes, the analysis of the accident.  A formal report will be issued by folks that will write a dry, "what went down" set of observations.  The real deal is going on here in TAY where people are saying what they think, admitting to their own near misses, and describing their logic in their choices for dealing with deep persistent crap (DPC).  

There is a range of experience among the posters reflected in the comments.  Some of these people have considerable (I use the term with irony) experience with DPC.  This includes me.  From my perception, the message regarding travel during times of DPC seems not to be as clearly understood in regions where it may dominate entire winters.  

Why is this? It is contained in the literature.  It is noted in conferences.  But, is it clearly and loudly proclaimed in this region's avi courses?  The ski community in this region is excellent at dealing with the upper layers that are where the hazards usually lurk, but dealing with DPC forces travel choices to occur well before being in the field and well before digging holes in the snow.  

TRs may also play an interesting role in the travel decision.  TRs for the most part are proof of not proving the negative in an environment where hazards exist but the skiers simply did not trigger an incident.  TRs are rarely formal reports but rather a mix of fun pictures, a few snow observations, and narrative crafted to reflect the writer's sensibilities.  TRs are fun but do they influence peoples ski plans?  Do TRs place an approval on a particular destination?  I don't know but as behavior is the issue in safe winter travel, such questions could be considered.

Interestingly we may see a relationship between the number of postings on threads in TAY and the probability of large catastrophic snow slides...

  I was referring to when the party has not published anything and folks weigh in without consideration for the groups need to digest the event free of negative feedback.  I have no trouble with this discussion.
I taught 5 courses this winter and all the instructors I was with definitely talked about the persistent layer and the potential for an event on this layer.  We emphasized dialing back the terrain considerably in the face of a difficult to interpret snowpack. 
Having worked with Karl K. over thirty years ago, I have a lot of respect for his insights and advice.  Given that I was out last weekend and had a great time with three clients while keeping the terrain well within my comfort zone.

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2014/02/deep-snow-skiing-on-modern-equipment-by.html

I was shocked to see all the tracks on the north side of Table however.  The skiing looked amazing but there was no way I would tread on that dragon's back given the uncertainty I felt about the snowpack.  (I feel about this snowpack the same as I did in 98/99)

Great discussion...love all the input.
« Last Edit: 02/27/14, 05:50 PM by Gregg_C » Logged
r1de
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #63 on: 02/27/14, 10:34 AM »

When I saw the report from the Slot, 2 things crossed my mind:

1) Those lucky *****s! I bet the skiing was awesome.
2) That was not the kind of terrain I chose to be in on Saturday.

The Slot, more than any other serious tours I know, tends to get hit early after the storm. I think people are "getting away with it" more often that they might know. However, when we hear about the tours like this that go well, I think most of our reactions are first in category (1) because we know that everything went okay, and we wish we had gotten after it, too. People aren't going to be critical (especially on a forum like this) when things go well, because they don't want a reputation as a nay-sayer weenie-pants. I think the _lack_ of responses to the Slot post probably is due in part to the conflicting feelings people have between congratulating the party and wanting to warn them about the dice game their decision was.

Just wanted to highlight the above post, as I think it's a gem of truth.  At least, it read exactly like my thoughts.
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BillK
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #64 on: 02/27/14, 10:36 AM »

Simply put:  

The leader made a conscious choice to put their party in a big slide path, underneath a massive loading zone soon after a huge snow/wind event, despite warnings.

This doesn't seem to be a matter of risk tolerance/acceptance; just recklessness, inexperience or ignorance.

I wonder if he/she would have made a similar choice if the hazard was more apparent and observable...such as the risk of avalanche due to springtime daily warming.
« Last Edit: 02/27/14, 11:00 AM by BillK » Logged
T. Eastman
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #65 on: 02/27/14, 10:58 AM »

Gregg, thanks for you thoughts.  The winter landscape is so dynamic and at times inscrutable, but it keeps pulling us back...

... so off I go to ski.
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Good2Go
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #66 on: 02/27/14, 11:48 AM »

So as it turns out the forecast DID NOT mention any deep instability at Chair Peak, but all of you wanna-be avalanche experts are castigating the OP for ignoring that guidance?  As I recall the NWAC forecast was "considerable" that day (just like it is pretty much every day there is good pow to ski).  There were no other natural slides in the area, and sluffs weren't stepping down.  Seems like a case of bad luck to me, as opposed to an obvious result of decision making errors, as presented by finger waving, self-righteous TAY mob.

You guys need to check yourselves. All of you have gotten lucky plenty of times.  Attributing your safety to your superior skills is the king of all heuristic traps (and pathetic).  Seems to me the point of the TR is to illustrate how even when you are doing "everything right" there can still be a substantial risk.  Thank you shawnskis for posting.  I appreciate the reminder. 
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Bronco
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #67 on: 02/27/14, 11:55 AM »

Nice report, glad everyone survived.

I'm not sure if this was mentioned, please forgive me if it was.

1. What is the avalanche education and BC Skiing experience level of the individuals in the group?  Maybe an opportunity to take some additional education?
2. Was there discussion of crossing the North aspect of Chair Peak with your guide friend or did the conversation only include the original and shorter plan?

Something new I learned from a short "refresher" avalanche course a couple of years ago is to read not only the current advisories but the previous 7-10 days of advisories when planning an outing, especially if there is a lot of new snow. This helps one to develop a better understanding of if there are deeper instabilities.

Thanks again for the detailed report, hopefully it will deter folks from making the same mistakes.
« Last Edit: 02/27/14, 11:59 AM by Bronco » Logged
T. Eastman
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #68 on: 02/27/14, 11:56 AM »

G2G, if you read the NWAC reports as the final word you would be correct, but there existed plenty of signs that DPC existed in the region (that there was old snow from early season sitting on top of soils and rock upon which boatloads of new snow was sitting...).  

NWAC should be part of a matrix and not depended upon as the sole base of one's decison making.  Regional trends do not count so much at the local level.

"You don't need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows..."
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Jim Oker
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #69 on: 02/27/14, 12:15 PM »

So as it turns out the forecast DID NOT mention any deep instability at Chair Peak, but all of you wanna-be avalanche experts are castigating the OP for ignoring that guidance?  As I recall the NWAC forecast was "considerable" that day (just like it is pretty much every day there is good pow to ski).  There were no other natural slides in the area, and sluffs weren't stepping down.  Seems like a case of bad luck to me, as opposed to an obvious result of decision making errors, as presented by finger waving, self-righteous TAY mob.

You guys need to check yourselves. All of you have gotten lucky plenty of times.  Attributing your safety to your superior skills is the king of all heuristic traps (and pathetic).  Seems to me the point of the TR is to illustrate how even when you are doing "everything right" there can still be a substantial risk.  Thank you shawnskis for posting.  I appreciate the reminder. 

The forecast did discuss uncertainty about the snowpack, as I quoted. We all knew roughly how deep the snow from recent storm cycles was (or should have known!). Yes, I know I've gotten lucky plenty of times. No argument there. I will challenge you on the "superior skills" statement - I can't speak for others but a primary factor in choosing mellow lines for Saturday was due to my sense that my assessment skills are anything BUT superior, so given the high degree of uncertainty, but in my own head regarding how past mental models might apply to this unusual snowpack and given reinforcement by the very specific mention of uncertainty by NWAC, I chose not to push it by pretending I knew enough to get onto bigger steeper lines, let alone a frequently big avy path. This would push my risk level beyond my own comfort zone. shawnski and his group may truly have realized how risky a game they were playing but based on his report I'm left with the questions I noted above.

And was their luck bad or good?? If I put myself in their shoes, I'm thinking, on net, quite good!
« Last Edit: 02/27/14, 12:20 PM by Jim Oker » Logged
BillK
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #70 on: 02/27/14, 12:18 PM »

My first exposure to avalanche risk mitigation was in Colorado.  Such an objective in that kind of snowpack, in midwinter, with a considerable rating, would be considered foolhardy.  

The Cascade snowpack is different, but after the winter you've had, the avy report and the storm conditions of the past week I think the objective was ill-advised.  
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Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #71 on: 02/27/14, 12:20 PM »

We should be cautious working backward from accident narratives to criticism. It's easy to see how this trip report could've been a jubilant one, with great skiing all day long. If the party had started an hour earlier, they'd have missed the slide almost entirely, perhaps not even seeing it until the return from Roosevelt. An hour later, and they'd have cool photos of the big slide and crown that appeared an hour before. Ten minutes earlier, and it'd have been worse.

A question shawnskis seems to be asking with his post is, "We thought we were doing everything right-enough, where in our decision-making did we go wrong? How can we all avoid that sort of error in the future?"  

The biggest thing that kept us from skiing velvety slide paths on Saturday was a feeling that we were out of our circle of competence when it came to instability evaluation. We don't know how to handle slope-scale stability evaluation of this much snow this fast, as much of our bag of tricks and experience doesn't apply at depth. That, along with the knowledge that there had been plenty of big slides and that persistent slabs were a concern a few miles away, if not at the pass, had us choose guaranteed-safe terrain. If I could offer thoughts for the future, it's to nibble at uncertain conditions, keep a margin of safety commensurate with uncertainty,  wait for conditions to be simple, then pounce.

Furthermore, NWAC stated greater-than-normal uncertainty in the discussion for the day -- nobody had enough information about the backcountry. Considerable was the right rating for Saturday - natural slides possible, triggered slides likely.




As "risk tolerance" has appeared above, a quick trip to the soapbox:

Risk tolerance requires acceptance of the downside outcome. It's a fact that you can do everything "correctly" and still get hurt, at any level of risk.

When we say that the upside is worth the downside, or "It's worth it", I don't think people understand downside risks until they've been experienced.

A certain tolerance for the outcome of disaster is required in the mountains, and in life.
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DaneBurns
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #72 on: 02/27/14, 12:37 PM »

Excellent TR.  Thank you for making the effort.  Glad it wasn't any worse than it was for everyone involved.

Couple of thoughts.

"Firstly, I learned that very well respected guides, were skiing with their clients on similar terrain last Saturday."

Which should make one realise no one has a perfect handle on this stuff.

I have been skiing Crystal and Alpental almost every day for the last two weeks. Some of it BC but not much intentionally.   Simply the amount of snow we have had recently and the extremely complicated terrain in the Alpental back country should make one extremely cautious. 

I think it is really hard to make your own snow safety decisions from the Internet and limited access to on sight field inspections.  Doing so in a huge storm cycle like we just saw is beyond most anyone, either from lack of experience or lack of education.   "Professional" or not.

There is an answer here.  Most just don't like it.  Including most of my partners.  Stay off complicated terrain until things settle down. (with all that implies)

Silly as it sounds, your life may depend on it.



 
« Last Edit: 02/27/14, 12:53 PM by DaneBurns » Logged
trees4me
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Posts: 509


Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #73 on: 02/27/14, 12:51 PM »


Klassen was absolutely right, and even NWAC wasn't entirely on top of this.

I have to say ALL OF US have been very lucky have this hazard demonstrated so vividly without anybody getting hurt. shawnskis should be thanked for bringing this discussion into the open by reporting his party's experience.

Absolutely!

Whether or not the Chair Party did things right or wrong, there trip has largely benefitted the PNW.  The writing is on the wall: 

THE CASCADES HAVE A VERY REAL DEEP PERSISTENT WEAKNESS THAT SHOULD BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.
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chill people, skiing is fun
kerwinl
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Re: Saturday February 22, 2014 Chair Peak Avalanche
« Reply #74 on: 02/27/14, 01:12 PM »

You are exactly, exactly, exactly, exactly right. The parties involved appeared or believed they were following best practices of avalanche education. When in fact they most certainly were not following best practises at all. The point of my earlier remarks is that best practises cannot make up for fundamental errors, such as poor choice of objective. Best practises are put in place to help you avoid choosing an objective that is unsuitable for conditions. Everything else is just damage control.

Some people who posted trip reports in the same time frame clearly foresaw the potential for large avalanches and correctly extrapolated information from the public avalanche bulletin, along with their own observations, toward the worst case scenario ( Which is exactly the advice given in The Avalanche Handbook, AIARE, et al. ). With this information in mind, those parties demonstrated significant skill in both recognizing these conditions and having the discipline required to find appropriate terrain that included a generous margin of safety.

On the other hand, the reporter of this incident made sure we were all aware of his skills, education, and experience even while he described to us a trip that nearly resulted in three fatalities, a trip in which he took two novice backcountry skiers into alpine terrain known for producing large, destructive avalanches during a time when there was a reasonably foreseeable potential for large, destructive avalanches.

The description of this accident is sadly very typical: "we knew what we were doing; we're educated; we're experienced; our risk tolerance is different". If the purposes of this thread is to spread knowledge, then I feel perfectly comfortable saying that tour, as described, is an example of what not do, and there are other trips ( as I've noted ) that are great examples of how to tour safely in adverse conditions.

My example was designed to show that many safe trips and unsafe trips sound the same until you look at the choice of objective and the attitude of the participants. Very often those two aspects are what differentiate threatening and non-threatening situations. I should have made that clearer. Smiley
Very good post, very constructive. The points made about experience level are very sobering, and reminded me of this paper put out in 2000 by Ian McCammon. This quote out of the summary is worth considering.

"Avalanche training did not appear to decrease the hazards
that groups exposed themselves to, and in the case of vic -
tims with basic training, hazard exposure actually
increased."


McCammon 2000
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