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11/19/17, 04:24 PM

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Author Topic: March 4th 2017, busy day  (Read 9162 times)
AlpineRose
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March 4th 2017, busy day
« on: 03/05/17, 02:48 PM »

NWAC update Sunday morning:
Quote
Update at 1000 AM Sunday for elevated danger level rating in the Olympics and to highlight several avalanche involvements in the Olympics and Washington Cascades Saturday, March 4th, including: a snowmobiler fatality near Gallagher Head Lake, NE of Cle Elm Lake; a full burial and recovery in the Cedar Ck drainage, just east of Washington Pass; a 4-5 ft triggered wind slab on Mt Herman that fully or partially buried a separate party of three at the base of the slide; a triggered slide on the North slope of Chair Peak in the Alpental Valley, resulting in a broken femur and requiring an organized rescue.  Numerous other avalanche involvements occurred on Saturday as well.

Evidently the consequences of H-I-G-H avalanche danger aren't being understood by many.
« Last Edit: 03/09/17, 09:24 PM by mosetick » Logged
BenJ
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #1 on: 03/05/17, 03:46 PM »

It looks like the forecast was listed as "considerable" on Friday night and upgraded around 1 PM Saturday, after many of the accidents occurred. The folks skiing Saturday would not have seen that avy danger was
"H-I-G-H" by looking at the forecast.

Its a reminder that while the forecasts are super helpful, there's a lot more that goes into staying safe than reading whats online. Probably best not to shame people for their decisions/mistakes either.




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JohnBox
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #2 on: 03/05/17, 03:54 PM »

Nice reminder Ben, thanks.  Here is the original forecast from Friday night for Saturday:
http://www.nwac.us/avalanche-forecast/avalanche-forecast/753/

And the mid day update on Saturday:
http://www.nwac.us/avalanche-forecast/avalanche-forecast/755/
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aaron_wright
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #3 on: 03/05/17, 04:24 PM »

It looks like the forecast was listed as "considerable" on Friday night and upgraded around 1 PM Saturday, after many of the accidents occurred. The folks skiing Saturday would not have seen that avy danger was
"H-I-G-H" by looking at the forecast.

Its a reminder that while the forecasts are super helpful, there's a lot more that goes into staying safe than reading whats online. Probably best not to shame people for their decisions/mistakes either.





Either way, it's dangerous. Considerable rating is dangerous avalanche conditions with human triggered avalanches likely. I'm not pointing fingers but a "considerable" rating is really the time for choosing terrain appropriate for the conditions. More accidents happen during times of "considerable" danger than "high".
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dberdinka
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #4 on: 03/05/17, 04:58 PM »

WHAT IN THE HELL WERE THESE PEOPLE THINKING!!!

Saturday morning was bottomless at Baker and it was absolutely Puking snow until around 11am.  I feel like I'm willing to take on a fair bit of risk in the BC at times but I can't imagine the mindset that thought it was a good day to go touring. Straight up F$&@ing weird.   

Sorry that's not a constructive comment but really people need to pull it together and use some common sense.
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Jason4
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #5 on: 03/05/17, 08:27 PM »

I appreciate NWAC very much and value the information that they put out.  That said, I've noticed over the last 3 years that their avalanche forecasts are  frequently one rating below what would seem to be appropriate and they upgrade the rating mid-day after seeing avalanche activity.  A recent example of this would be February 9, 2017.

Initial avalanche forecast:
http://www.nwac.us/avalanche-forecast/avalanche-region-forecast/2997/cascade-west-north-baker/
Updated forecast at 1143am, after most people have left their computers:
http://www.nwac.us/avalanche-forecast/avalanche-region-forecast/3004/cascade-west-north-baker/
Matching archived weather forecast:
http://www.nwac.us/mountain-weather-forecast/mountain-weather-forecast/1081/

The snowpack discussion was about consequential slabs that were propagating easily on Tuesday and the weather forecast was for 1.5 inches of rain to 5000' the next day.  That seems like a pretty obvious recipe for large wet avalanche problems.

I have a feeling that NWAC doesn't want to set a pattern of forecasting higher danger and not getting any avalanche activity on those days.  It might be trying to get better alignment is Canadian forecasts.  I know that I've seen forecasts in Colorado that seem much riskier than what they are calling it for someone used to a PNW snowpack.  Whatever the reason is behind the shift we need to be aware of what is "considerable" these days and that it is very considerable.  Big avalanches happen on days that are forecasted to be considerable.

We, as users, need to be aware that what NWAC now calls Considerable often fits the description of what they used to call High just a few years back and we need to adjust our decision making accordingly. 
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aaron_wright
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #6 on: 03/06/17, 07:39 AM »

I really don't understand the splitting of hairs about the hazard rating. When the rating is "considerable" very careful route finding is important as well as choosing low angle terrain without objective hazard. Unless you are very familiar with the snowpack history in the area you are touring, a "considerable" rating is not something to take lightly. Maybe review the hazard ratings.
http://www.avalanche.org/danger_card.php
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freeski
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #7 on: 03/06/17, 08:00 AM »

NWAC update Sunday morning:
Evidently the consequences of H-I-G-H avalanche danger aren't being understood by many.
There is a lot of competition these days for deep powder and folks now have the gear that makes it easy to ski deep powder.

There's even very little need to educate yourself as to mountain hazards.

You don't even have to do the hard work to break trail or put yourself at risk by being the first to test the slopes.

All you have to do now is  sleep in, have an extra triple shot,  honey and chocolate latte, and wait until some group gets the trail broken in and poach it.

it's the in thing now. Oh and then you can  post a trip report and let your ego shine.( note-using the word 'you' in  gerneral terms) 

Note to greggc, thanks again for that 1st bowl trail we ran into the day after you put in the hard work. I hope the route information that we gave you worked out for your alternative plan.
« Last Edit: 03/06/17, 08:22 AM by freeski » Logged

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aaron_wright
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #8 on: 03/06/17, 08:22 AM »

There is a lot of competition these days for deep powder and folks now have the gear that makes it easy to ski deep powder.

There's even very little need to educate yourself as to mountain hazards.

You don't even have to do the hard work to break trail or put yourself at risk by being the first to test the slopes.

All you have to do now is  sleep in, have an extra triple shot,  honey and chocolate latte, and wait until some group gets the trail broken in and poach it.

it's the in thing now. Oh and then you can put you post a trip report.   
It seems this might be best discussed in another conversation.

What bothers me is people talking about how the rating should have been "high" rather than "considerable". "Considerable" is dangerous unless you choose your route and objective carefully AND are familiar with the weather and snowpack history. There seems to be some kind of disconnect that people aren't really paying attention to the hazard until it hits "high".

Of course there are safe areas to tour on "considerable", or even "high" hazard days but some people don't seem to consider those areas.
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freeski
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #9 on: 03/06/17, 08:34 AM »

It seems this might be best discussed in another conversation.

What bothers me is people talking about how the rating should have been "high" rather than "considerable". "Considerable" is dangerous unless you choose your route and objective carefully AND are familiar with the weather and snowpack history. There seems to be some kind of disconnect that people aren't really paying attention to the hazard until it hits "high".

Of course there are safe areas to tour on "considerable", or even "high" hazard days but some people don't seem to consider those areas.

 Ah but people do consider those areas and those trails get poached  on high rated days and there is a lot of competition for the powder there.

 Groups get stacked up. But even those areas have hazards that are avoided until the lines get skied out.

Or a line gets skied that maybe should have been avoided because the poachers behind you may get that line that you would have waited to ski after additional slope testing.

Turns all year seems to have a lot of unoffical moderators. Maybe you just weren't getting my point or i wasn't clear.

I'm talking about heuristics, you know, the shortcuts people take to mitigate hazard. Like depending upon others to make the call. Trail poaching is a shortcut for sure.
« Last Edit: 03/06/17, 08:45 AM by freeski » Logged

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Dr. Fall Line
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Re: March 4th - Bad Info
« Reply #10 on: 03/06/17, 08:44 AM »

Quite possibly the most bullshit avalanche forecast in years - with very real consequences for many across the state in serious ways. I don't think these guys realize the fallout of their mistakes - maybe now they do.

If there was ever a day for a High rating in most zones it was the 4th.

People in the know are starting to disregard the avy forecast, look at the raw weather data, get all the beta they can from others who have actually been in the field and make their own hazard assessment - and then adjust plans as field observations dictacte

« Last Edit: 03/06/17, 08:53 AM by Dr. Fall Line » Logged
haggis
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #11 on: 03/06/17, 08:50 AM »

Dberd - Questioning why people decided to go touring isn't really the issue especially when comparing what was being seen at Baker vs Central Cascades where most of the avalanche reported action took place.  

I agree that the ratings got downgraded a couple of years ago due to numerous "High" ratings going out and people getting complacent and "comfortable" with this rating.  Its also a human powered forecast and blame can't be put in the forecaster who has access to the same details as you or I have.  Its up to us to cross check the forecast with our own sanity check.  Its also March and it warms up in the PM so with new snow this stuff happens time and time again.

For me, I didn't like the winds on Thursday and Friday with gusts over 60mph creating windslab and then getting buried with a bit of new snow creating that hidden danger before the slabs had time to stabilize.  That's why I opted not to tour although I'm sure I could have found somewhere fun.  Also had chores to do which have been stacking up so maybe I just got lucky with the day I chose not to go.
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aaron_wright
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #12 on: 03/06/17, 08:55 AM »

Dr. Fall Line, you're putting blame on the NWAC forecaster for people making poor decisions? Read the hazard rating for "considerable" - Dangerous avalanche conditions,careful snowpack evaluation and conservative route finding and decision making essential/ natural avalanches possible, human triggered avalanches likely/small avalanches in many areas, large avalanches in specific areas, very large avalanches in isolated areas. Seems pretty clear to me that "considerable" is a dangerous time to travel in avalanche terrain.

The snowpack is dynamic and always changing, elevating to "high" on Saturday doesn't seem unusual at this time of year with new snow, wind and warming as we approach the equinox.

People should look at weather and snowpack history and talk to people who have been out and make a plan using terrain appropriate for the conditions, also they can look at the regional forecast and current hazard rating. Read the discussion and observations.

Blaming NWAC for people getting in trouble on a "considerable" day is pretty myopic.
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freeski
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Re: March 4th - Bad Info
« Reply #13 on: 03/06/17, 09:17 AM »

Quite possibly the most bullshit avalanche forecast in years - with very real consequences for many across the state in serious ways. I don't think these guys realize the fallout of their mistakes - maybe now they do.

If there was ever a day for a High rating in most zones it was the 4th.

People in the know are starting to disregard the avy forecast, look at the raw weather data, get all the beta they can from others who have actually been in the field and make their own hazard assessment - and then adjust plans as field observations dictacte


i have never used nwac for an avy forecast and that dates back to 1981. I don't even know when that 'service' started in this state.

My attitude used to be that if you need an nwac forecast, maybe you shouldn't go into avalanche terrian.

I have softened that position somewhat over the years. The service does bring about avalanche awareness to people just beginning their education.

Most of the seasoned folks that i know, who use the forecast, view it as  just one starting data point that may or may not reflect what's happening out there.

To use the forecast as a subsitute for knowledge is a heuristic trap, imo, and i don't think that is the intention of the forecast.

 
« Last Edit: 03/06/17, 09:23 AM by freeski » Logged

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aaron_wright
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Re: March 4th - Bad Info
« Reply #14 on: 03/06/17, 09:29 AM »

i have never used nwac for an avy forecast and that dates back to 1981. I don't even know when that 'service' started in this state.

My attitude used to be that if you need an nwac forecast, maybe you shouldn't go into avalanche terrian.

I have softened that position somewhat over the years. The service does bring about avalanche awareness to people just beginning their education.

Most of the seasoned folks that i know, who use the forecast, view it as  just one starting data point that may or may not reflect what's happening out there.

To use the forecast as a subsitute for knowledge is heuristic trap, imo, and i don't think that is the intention of the forecast.

 
I mostly use the NWAC for the observations and weather data but I do look at the discussion because it sometimes has relevant data for the area I tour most, Wenatchee Mountains. I use personal observation of the local snowpack and weather mostly.

Your comment about TAY moderators was unnecessary, I was just pointing out that your post had more to do with heuristics and resource scarcity than with people putting blame on NWAC for the decision to tour on "considerable" hazard days and the seeming confusion about what "considerable" means. That seemed to be the direction the conversation was heading.
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Micah
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Re: March 4th - Bad Info
« Reply #15 on: 03/06/17, 09:49 AM »

Quite possibly the most bullshit avalanche forecast in years

I have to post in defense of NWAC. They provide a regional forecast based on remote sensor data and reports from a few locations. I personally find their work very useful, and I'm thankful for the avalanche forecast. I also find that the forecast usually jives with my own observations, but not always. If you think you can provide a better forecast, why don't you start publishing one?

I am also alarmed at the tendency to blame NWAC when you go into the backcountry and find conditions different than you expected. All backcountry travelers (by any mode, in any season) should have an ethic of self-reliance. You are responsible for the decisions you make and the resulting risk. If you get caught in a slide, don't blame somebody else -- you put yourself there!

aaron_wright: I feel like Jason4 has a point regarding recalibrating the danger scale (we should remember when reading the forecast that some days that used to get high now get considerable). Your point about splitting hairs between high and considerable is very well taken, however.
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thunderchief
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #16 on: 03/06/17, 10:52 AM »

You can debate between "high" and "considerable" ... but clearly many slopes were chosen that were not appropriate for either one.  The considerable standard definition is pretty clear: "human triggered avalanches likely".  I think the number of people hit is a function of the number of people out and the less than good choices made.  A good weather weekend day just after a big storm series is usually a recipe for increased avalanche accidents... a function of the number of people out rather than any problem in the avalanche forecast.  NWAC put their forecast in the right ballpark and they have no blame for this.
« Last Edit: 03/06/17, 10:59 AM by thunderchief » Logged
Charlie Hagedorn
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #17 on: 03/06/17, 11:29 AM »

I did not ski on 3/4, and cannot take a position on the accuracy of the day's forecast.

It is my impression that NWAC attempts to be as accurate as possible. With that approach, sometimes a forecast will miss high, sometimes it will miss low. In my experience, NWAC rarely misses.

Accurate, rather than conservative, forecasting is the right mode of operation -- the forecasters are giving you their best guess (and stating uncertainty in the discussion). If the forecast were to consistently over-rate the hazard, readers would eventually lose trust in the forecast.

When NWAC calls for a higher danger level than conditions warrant (say, Considerable rather than Moderate), there are few complaints -- travelers may simply pat themselves on the back for having navigated Considerable so well that they barely found any instability. It is only an expert who will notice that miss.

Forecasts, any forecasts, will be in error at least occasionally. (It is to NWAC's credit that any missed forecast is a notable surprise, not the norm.) To expect forecasts to be spot-on every day is to demonstrate a substantial gap in one's understanding of the mechanics of mountain weather and avalanches. We must, therefore, defend in depth by corroborating the forecast with lots of observation in the field.

About a third of the point of skier avalanche education is to equip people with the ability to discern whether the conditions encountered are in line with the forecast. If conditions do not align with the forecast, the response is simple: reduce risk exposure.

Maintain a healthy margin for error.


Looking forward: If you think the forecast is in substantial error: After you dial back your plans to accommodate the added uncertainty, pop open the NWAC app or web page on your phone and submit an observation. They're particularly fond of photos, I hear.

Furthermore, if you want forecasting to become more accurate over the long haul, post trip reports to TAY or the NWAC observations page. Whatever detail you're willing to provide (one needn't betray a stash to share useful information) will help NWAC and everyone else ground-truth their forecasting.

Dr. Fall Line: Part of NWAC's mission is avalanche-accident reporting; the only people more aware of the detailed tragedy of avalanche accidents are those on the scene and the families of the victims. I've seen first-hand that NWAC takes the impact of public-messaging as seriously as anyone can.
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gorp
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #18 on: 03/06/17, 11:36 AM »

i find it hard to justify blaming an NWAC forecast for any accident, under any circumstances.  Considerable is just as bad as High.  Avalanches happen during all advisory levels.  NWAC forecasters are professionals doing their best to forecast for a large area. They do not control the wind or precipitation rates or the physics that cause avalanches.  They do not control people's terrain choices or travel habits.  They do not have unlimited resources and data. If someone in an accident blames a forecast, that clearly betrays the fact that they base far too much of their decision making on someone else.  I suppose if the avalanche hazard was rated low when it should be extreme you might have an argument but that would indicate you have no clue what is going on outside of reading a forecast.  I understand that there are more under-experienced users in the backcountry than ever right now and NWAC should (and I'm sure they do) consider that their forecasts are often taken as gospel rather than simply adding to an individual's decision-making process.  But that does not suggest that they should necessarily be more subjective in their forecasting--that undermines the credibility of the process.  To be fair, I was surprised by some of the hazard ratings, particularly in the Snoqualmie region over the last week.  We noted the forecast and assumed (and found) more touchy conditions than were forecasted based on our own knowledge of the snowpack and weather.  I do recall worrying that a novice might see the forecast and consider it a green light--but the fact remains that that is never an acceptable practice.  
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freeski
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Re: March 4th - Bad Info
« Reply #19 on: 03/06/17, 11:56 AM »

Quote
''Your comment about TAY moderators was unnecessary, I was just pointing out that your post had more to do with heuristics and resource scarcity than with people putting blame on NWAC for the decision to tour on "considerable" hazard days and the seeming confusion about what "considerable" means. That seemed to be the direction the conversation was heading.''
unquote 

That's cool man, but to address your comment and point.

I think convesations on line can go anywhere the poster thinks is relevant until a mod steps in.
i tend to get defensive at this site because i've had all manor of insults and ad hominen debate thrown my way here, much from the guide industy people and their zealot supporters for business at any price.

Just look at my last thread, where the guy says that he's glad he's not my neighbor, when i'm trying to make a point concerning the need for accurate information from nwac. I flagged that comment for the mods, but it was still there last time i checked.

Look at my thread where i'm reporting on a too close encounter with the nch heli and the need for effective mitigation of motorized use conflict on public safety (which is law)  and the debate heads toward  paint balls guns shooting out of the heli, all from the usual suspects.

i thought the rule was to debate the point and not attack the person, not that you've done that, just explaning my defensive posture.



       
« Last Edit: 03/06/17, 12:03 PM by freeski » Logged

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peteyboy
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Re: March 4th, busy day
« Reply #20 on: 03/06/17, 03:11 PM »

Adding my vote to debating the point.  NWAC does a damn fine job.  They aren't perfect, they don't have unlimited resources, and can't continually alter the forecast instantly based on a constant stream of real-time input.  The forecast is one useful part of the information we should each include in decision making.  My perception is that they are less conservative than CAA about persistent weak layers but very similarly conservative, if not more, to wind slab, storm slab, and temperature change.  I'm grateful to them and include their forecast discussion and details in my planning and how I look around as I tour, adding info.  Rest assured they take this very seriously, and internally review for quality control.  Throwing them under the bus is not our finest moment. The more people contribute to their funding, the better they can do for all of us recreationists.
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bfree32
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Re: March 4th - Bad Info
« Reply #21 on: 03/06/17, 03:36 PM »


i tend to get defensive at this site because i've had all manor of insults and ad hominen debate thrown my way here, much from the guide industy people and their zealot supporters for business at any price.

Just look at my last thread, where the guy says that he's glad he's not my neighbor, when i'm trying to make a point concerning the need for accurate information from nwac. I flagged that comment for the mods, but it was still there last time i checked.

Perhaps you've been blinded by your own personal beliefs, but your last thread reads nothing like "I'm concerned that NWAC isn't providing accurate information". Like 90% of your posts here, it reads more like "I continue to feel the need to expose NCH on the internet, I have a deep hatred for them based on a previous experience and personal agenda". Many folks might sympathize with your bad experiences when first hearing of them, but even the most understanding of people tire of the incessant bitching and thread derailing, week after week.

And FYI, I am not in the guide industry or a patron of NCH, nor do I wish to be involved in either of those in the future.

Amazingly, you've managed to post something in this thread that wasn't about NCH, regarding the usefulness of NWAC avy forecasts. To that, I'll respond:
For those folks that have the luxury of skiing a "home" area almost daily in the winter, an NWAC forecast is probably not that useful. You build a good feel for the terrain and the snowpack as it evolves throughout the season.
For the vast majority of ski tourers (i.e. weekend warriors often skiing a different place each weekend), we don't have very many data points. Weather telemetry data is only so useful in determining what kind of layers might exist in the snowpack. NWAC's avy forecast and observations are the best tool available in determining a starting point of what terrain should be in play for the day and what layers/aspects/etc. to look out for (and then make adjustments based on your own field observations, if desired).
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John Morrow
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Re: March 4th - Bad Info
« Reply #22 on: 03/06/17, 05:34 PM »


For those folks that have the luxury of skiing a "home" area almost daily in the winter, an NWAC forecast is probably not that useful. You build a good feel for the terrain and the snowpack as it evolves throughout the season.
For the vast majority of ski tourers (i.e. weekend warriors often skiing a different place each weekend), we don't have very many data points. Weather telemetry data is only so useful in determining what kind of layers might exist in the snowpack. NWAC's avy forecast and observations are the best tool available in determining a starting point of what terrain should be in play for the day and what layers/aspects/etc. to look out for (and then make adjustments based on your own field observations, if desired).

Thank you.  Exactly what I wanted to say.
John
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NWAC
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Re: March 4th 2017, busy day
« Reply #23 on: 03/06/17, 11:00 PM »

Hello All,

Thanks for the good discussion here—we read and rely on the info from the TAY community! Indeed, Saturday was a busy day throughout our mountains. Condolences to all those involved in avalanche incidents.
 
We did adjust several forecasts on Saturday as more info came into the center. The first was around 10am (which did not archive), and one around 1:30 pm.   

I can speak for NWAC on our use of the Danger Scale. We’ve not made a conscious choice to adjust our danger to more align with Avalanche Canada, or because of complacency in our users. We have significantly increased our internal training over the last several years since the Pro Observer program began, often hiring consultants from outside our organization. This multiday training (both in-house and field-based) occurs at the beginning, middle, and end of season with the intent of improving our products. Two topics we regularly touch upon are the use of the Danger Scale and public safety messaging. In short, we are working hard to apply the Danger Scale as it was designed. The working group responsible for the creation of the N.A. Avalanche Danger Scale, developed a simple safeguard in applying the scale. At the end of the day, when all data is in the hopper and the forecaster needs to the select the best rating to issue, it comes down to one key element: travel advice. Before a forecast is issued, the forecaster on duty reviews the info asking themselves: how do I want people to move through avalanche terrain given the conditions? The travel advice column on the Danger Scale is then reviewed and the forecast is issued. As a backcountry user, reviewing the canned travel advice against your tour-plan can go a long way in choosing appropriate terrain.

All this said, I’m not claiming perfection in our forecasts. There have been many times that our weather and avalanche forecasts have been off. We’re striving to the learn from our inaccurate forecasts through verification and review. This afternoon (Monday 3/6), based on the amount of activity over the weekend, we conducted an After Action Review with our forecasters, staff, and Pro Observers. There was a lot learned after such an active pattern. And a reminder, the more info from you all the better, so please help our forecasts and submit observations through the NWAC website.

A few last thoughts on the difference of High and Considerable. In High danger, the distribution or avalanches usually encompasses enough terrain to generalize an elevation band (example, Above Treeline) and includes all or most aspects in that band. Backcountry users should consider avoiding avalanche terrain as safe options are very limited to non-existent. Considerable can be thought of as High danger on specific slopes (i.e. north aspect above a certain elevation with a slab over a buried surface hoar layer) or High danger at certain times of day (i.e. daytime warming on sunny aspects). Without advanced skills to carefully evaluate the snowpack as it lies over terrain, you should avoid avalanche terrain as you would in High danger. Unfortunately, many backcountry travelers draw a line between High and Considerable, and on the considerable side of things they assume a "good to go travel scenario" as opposed to assuming a "likely triggered avalanches on specific slopes" scenario.

Please feel free to get in touch with feedback or questions. Here’s to a safe rest of the season…

Scott Schell
scott@nwac.us

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kamtron
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Re: March 4th 2017, busy day
« Reply #24 on: 03/10/17, 11:43 AM »

Thanks for the response, Scott.
FYI more information is now available on the accidents page: http://www.nwac.us/accidents/accident-reports/
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