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09/19/18, 09:44 AM

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Author Topic: Slackcountry trap?  (Read 2251 times)
RonL
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Slackcountry trap?
« on: 12/22/17, 12:33 PM »

Started a new one for this because I didn't want to detract from the Kendall discussion. I liked the insights on that thread so I wanted to solicit similar ideas for this one.

I was up at baker on Wednesday with all the other geniuses and spent some time out in "safety trees" on shuksan arm. I am also introducing someone new to the bc lately and trying to put into words some of the decision making.

I was a little surprised they opened the gate on a day with so much new snow. Most people on the arm were sticking with pretty conservative terrain but a few were venturing into lines with more exposure. I also saw a few tracks down Herman throughout the day.

I guess the part I am struggling with in hindsight is would I have toured the same run had I been hiking the entire thing? Probably not. I imaging I would have gone with something more protected. Was it ok to do because pro patrollers opened the gate and presumably felt it was ok to do so? And as the week goes on will our tracks on the conservative terrain tempt people farther into more prone to slide terrain?

I'm not convinced what we rode was bad decision making, it was a blast, we saw some minimal slabbing  but were on the ridge for the hike and mellowish terrain for the turns. The fact that I would have picked a different line without the influence of the gate, the lift access, and all the other tracks down the slope is the part I am second guessing...

Anyway, feel free to beat me up or make feel better I am looking for a way to fit the experience into good advice to some one just getting started in the sport and hoping some of the more knowledgeable and articulate folks here can help.

Oh and happy holidays everyone.
« Last Edit: 12/22/17, 12:38 PM by RonL » Logged
dberdinka
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #1 on: 12/22/17, 07:48 PM »

Having lived and skied in the area for 25+ years here's my observation.  If temperatures are stable or cooling wait 12 hours after a storm cycle and you'll in all likelihood survive (Wed).    Wait 24 hours and you're golden (and following tracks).  Later in the week nothings going to slide.  Of course there will be exceptions and I have experienced them once or twice in my time, but they are few and far between.  As a rule of thumb it pretty much works.  ( but like I said beware of the warming trend) I thought people were generally being really conservative Wednesday. Far more than I would've expected. I think just about everyone takes the avalanche forecast quite seriously these days.

I'd also point out that ski patrol had bombed hemispheres Wednesday morning based on the craters I could see and nothing appeared all that reactive.
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RonL
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #2 on: 12/23/17, 06:55 AM »

Thanks, and your rule of thumb seemed fine for that day. I guess I am struck with how to describe the thought process...  pretty much started out with, that's a ton of new snow, may as well use the lifts and play it safe. Trail breaking would be murder... if we had gone in the bc it would have been low angle big trees with nothing above. Then as the resort quickly got tracked out, the presence of other people on the arm, and the ok of the pros made going in somewhat more technical terrain seem just fine. Still feel ok for having done it but don't really have a good way to explain to someone why I would be so much more conservative if it was all up to me.
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AlpineRose
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #3 on: 12/23/17, 05:01 PM »

Then as the resort quickly got tracked out, the presence of other people on the arm, and the ok of the pros made going in somewhat more technical terrain seem just fine. Still feel ok for having done it but don't really have a good way to explain to someone why I would be so much more conservative if it was all up to me.

You are nicely demonstrating the effects of heuristic traps and how they influenced your decision making.  And how without those heuristics, you would have been more conservative.
« Last Edit: 12/23/17, 05:12 PM by AlpineRose » Logged
markharf
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #4 on: 12/23/17, 06:33 PM »

I have to wonder about this. It doesn't seem to me improper that I routinely observe the effects of other skiers on the snowpack--this includes watching them ski, studying their tracks, and watching them bootpack or break trail uphill.

No doubt there is potential I'll be led astray when I try to fold these observations into my own decision-making. No doubt this is especially true if I blindly follow others, generalize too broadly from what seems to have happened to them, or assume my experience will mirror theirs. If the apparent experience of others is my only source of stability information, I'm in trouble. But I gather plenty of useful information this way, and I can't imagine deliberately ignoring what I see.

I don't know if the above is applicable to RonL's original post, and I'm happy (of course) to be told that my approach is faulty in some way.

Mark
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Randy
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #5 on: 12/23/17, 07:01 PM »

My note on this is that sidecountry has a somewhat different risk profile than more remote backcountry areas.

Areas with lift assist see a substantially greater amount of skier traffic, which results in greater compression and compaction of the snowpack and thus greater stability and importantly lower consequences is a release as it is less frequent that a release propagates into deeper snow layers.

So in sum lots of successful sidecountry experience can be a heuristic trap when evaluating the risk of a slope visited infrequently and only by granola powered skiers.
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Andrew Carey
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #6 on: 12/23/17, 07:24 PM »

IMHE, the less informed, more careless, and happy-go-lucky the skier/rider, the less likely an avalanche is to happen even on a slope the most experienced would run away from quickly.  It it generally the most experienced who get caught (they just are out there more often).  We watched 3 snowboarders today skiing next to slopes that slid yesterday, whooping and hollering, and unable to even make turns, so they gave up and started building jumps in an area always frequented by novice and intermediates skier (slopes 15-20 degrees).  The older, experienced folks (us septuagenerians) just skied the perfect powder on 20-30 degree slopes.
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... want your own private skintrack? Better move to the yukon dude. (B'ham Allen, 2011).
...USA: government of the people by corporate proxies for business.

Andy Carey, Nisqually Park, 3500 feet below Paradise
tripple
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #7 on: 02/03/18, 04:02 PM »

Hey Folks,
I just had a bit to add about the policy that Mt Baker Ski Area operates.  I am not an employee but have close ties to many of the people that are trying to keep that place safe.  Here is their official policy,

http://www.mtbaker.us/safety-education/mtn-safety/backcountry-policy

anything else that I am saying is my personal view/opinion.
Mt Baker Ski Area operates under the guidelines of an open boundaries policy.  This means that they never open/close their boundaries; they are always open.  They also have no "Gates."  They have information boards in key locations.  On busy backcountry days they often post a patroller on the rope line and check for the 5 required elements before leaving.  This allows them to separate themselves from the liability assumed when areas choose to have gates that open and close. 

The concept is that they draw the line at their ropes and cannot deny you access to any of your National Forest Land (they can deny you entrance to the Canyon and Gunnar's Bowl from the ski area.)  Be warned about entering those areas when closed from the BC because they expect you to travel back to the ski area on certain routes (as in don't come down from Hemispheres and expect to ski the Canyon.)  Since the ski area is not able to deny you access to the BC they are therefore not responsible for your actions/rescue outside those ropes.  If able, they will attempt to preform a rescue outside those ropes, but that is up to available resources. 

I am glad to hear the OP assessing how other's actions may have altered his own.  We all need to keep that in check.  I also understand how quickly the inbounds can get tracked out and how easily lift access BC can begin to look like an easy alternative.   I wanted this group to understand that beyond those ropes is Backcountry.  The word usage of "slackcountry" implies some sort of safety and hazard mitigation.  No control is done beyond the ropes except when special conditions present themselves and Mt Baker Management can prove to Forest Service Officials that without control, the ski area's infrastructure could be damaged.  (Yes, I am aware of the Heli bombing, but that is not their standard operations.)

One last thing; The folks that play in these zones would appreciate referring to this zone on the Arm as "Heli Line."  It would help in changing the perceptions that first time visitors often have. It allows them to make line choice decisions for themselves rather than just the easiest sounding one. 

Stay Safe, Tripp
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RonL
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #8 on: 02/03/18, 06:43 PM »

Thanks for all the input. I don't spend a lot of time up there. It has been a decade plus since I had been out on the arm from the area. It brought back lots of great memories though.
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pipedream
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #9 on: 02/05/18, 05:04 PM »

As someone who frequently uses the gate-controlled terrain at Alpental, I feel like any time the gates are open it's an okay decision to go out there. I have had some perspective-altering moments, mostly in Elevator, where if I was in a true backcountry situation, I would likely not choose to ski down such terrain. I've seen someone go for a long ride down Mach's Couloir in the spring, I've triggered slabs myself on the rolling, convex terrain and I've watched cornices fall across the High T. Fortunately they've all been learning experiences in how to select terrain, manage sluff, etc. which have greatly improved my decision-making in the backcountry.

I feel the same way about the Southback at Crystal and Cowboy Ridge at Stevens. There is the potential for death and serious injury, but those areas, when open to the public, always feel safer to me than being out with just your partners miles away from the end of a forest road.
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Moral of story is don't ski when you can snowboard
RonL
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #10 on: 02/05/18, 05:29 PM »

That is kinda getting at my question more directly. It was a long time ago again that I frequented the alpy bc but I agree with you. Explaining it to someone made me feel a bit of a hypocrite tho. Maybe I am one?
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hillybilly
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Re: Slackcountry trap?
« Reply #11 on: 02/11/18, 09:46 AM »

It isn't entirely the same though. Alpy BC Is in-bounds skiing all the way to draft dodger ridge. Cornices on the ridge are controlled and major runs are typically cut. That doesn't mean stuff can't slide on you, especially in elevator.

The real eye opener is that all of these things can you happen to you on-piste inbounds as well. Of all the avalanches I have personally been involved in both were inbounds at ski areas. One was in the ski area's maintained Slackcountry(Not Alpy) and the other was on a main run. I have witnessed at least two others from a distance that were inbounds. Skiers compaction plays a huge role. As a result some folk are less risk averse in areas that are directly accessible from a lift.

But I guess my point is that when you go out Nash or Elevator gate you aren't leaving the resort similar to the King and Southback and Crystal. That isn't "backcountry" like leaving baker resort and skiing the arm. The irony with Alpental is the easiest runs out of the resort is to actually leave the resort all together and ski out of No Fog or Big Trees.

[EDIT] Another note and a key advantage to a resort's inbound slack country but also an advantage to lift accessed backcountry/nearcountry. People are more willing to take risk when they are around other people. Not necessarily from a groupthink sociological perspective. Some people recognize that the effort level to get help during an incident in near country is far more effective. If you are way out in the BC, like skiing off the summit of vesper peak, and take a tumble down headlee pass, it will take major logistics to get you out and it will be a long and slow process. OTH if you take a tumble on the arm just out of the ski area or say in Great Scott bowl at Alpy there is a significant amount of infrastructure and people in the vicinity available to help you. So it is easy to judge but really these are wise decisions. You ski more aggressively closer to resort. Ideally you are skiing most aggressive terrain in the resort. You should be skiing more conservatively the further out you go.
« Last Edit: 02/11/18, 10:10 AM by hillybilly » Logged
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