2/22/12 Gluttony and the Reset Button 2/23/12
Out in to the 11 inch day at Vail yesterday on my day off. Skied inbounds for a couple nice runs and then headed out to see the conditions in EV. We seem to have avoided the big winds predicted for Wednesday and the new snow was accompanied by warm temps and layered in the resort like spackle. After waiting for openings, the sounds of bombs filling the air, we headed up the Poma. Took notice of the ski patrol bomb holes on the way out. No significant movement from any of the charges on the steep east face above the catwalk, just some isolated cracking around the blast holes. Looking around at the other black marks in China and Blus Sky and again, no activity.
The last three days I’ve been poking, prodding and stomping around, looking for evidence of instability with the recent winds and then the 11 inches that turned into a foot and a half in EV. We started our day in Tweeners, taking the opportunity to break small burgeoning cornice chunks along the way. As with the previous days, nothing. Some minor shedding of the upper wind affected scarp areas, but theses natural slab breaks were tiny and only ran a few feet.
The skiing in Tweeners was again accompanied by no movement whatsoever. No sluffing and no slab release in the upper concave wind affected face. The lower triangle face held again and we were off into the trees to enjoy some deep freshness. So far so good.
Second run we decided to get back to the Old Man. Old Man’s had sat unskied for a few days. With the ridge top winds, this was going to put our observations to the test. We spent a good fifteen minutes taking turns trundling stove sized cornice chunks down into the scarp area. We made a mess of things in the upper entrance, but completely necessary to see if anything would step down into the rollover faces that ran last week. Again watched the chunks impact and explode, with no results.
Stepped into the right side, J leading the charge and sent it. Watch as his tracks laced the right side again with no movement, sluffing cracking or slab release of any kind. Luke and I followed one at a time, meeting up at a safe area in the right tree stand. We all kind of looked at eachother. Holy shit, a day of deep snow and moderate stability. I couldn’t believe it either. Looking up, we could see that the second rollover face was still not filled in completely from last week and shark fins protruded from the thin snow. No visible naturals anywhere we could see. Spacklefest was on.
The factors?. I don’t claim to know why this was possible, but the dense wet snow, warm temps and little wind helped. The weak layers are still down there in the pack but at least today they were dormant.
Third run Luke and I had EV to ourselves and took out time to enjoy a lenghty skin. We took a slow boat out to our favorite actual East Vail Chute and took time digging a pit and doing some CT tests. We should have a video of the CT results and a brief gratuitous pow video to view soon. Again, the snow was deep and unreactive. Skiing pow without having to dodge bullets every turn was a nice change, if only for a day. We got out of EV finally around 5 pm. We were powder gluttons for sure, and our cup runneth over today. A whole large pizza then sleep.
Woke up, muscles tired and groggy. Looked out the window to see that reset button has been pushed again. Another four inches and dumping at 7 am, with the winds up and no visibility. Not assuming anything about snow today as weather conditions are drastically different. Start at square one with the progression of runs and snow assessment again. Headed out to see what is going on in the ever-changing world of EV Looks like second season is on and the storms are starting to track our way. Let you know.
2/19/12 New York State…of mind
It’s been a New York state of mind weekend, if you know what I mean. Took the lead from Deuce and started my lap today with a stop at the beacon park to work on multiple burials. That little SP button is a world of its own and finally after a few practice sessions, I feel solid about using it, although a mark function would be useful.
The procession down the groomed section of Poppyfields to 21 from Two Elk was endless. Our fearless guests ski like they drive, work and live in their home towns, all together, right next to each other, up in each other’s business. I made it through the human slalom, up and out and head back for a Mushroom Bowl revisit.
Wanted to dig a pit in Mushie, albeit far away from the Kitchen, to see what was going on. The tally is now four burials past the gate at the Poma this week as told by the new signs up at the hike. A viable option for EV access might be to install a beacon triggered access gate like ones used around in other resorts in the West, just a thought.
The recent avalanche statistics are sobering, not only for East Vail and Mushie, but for the rest of the state as well. as fatalities and incidents are spiking as new storms roll through, dumping new snow on top of facet world. With another system rolling up on us, the avalanche activity doesn’t seem to be coming to and end anytime soon. Interesting week ahead.
Headed even further up the line than yesterday, as I was solo and not willing to even come close to a unskied tree chute over 30 degrees. Greybird and snow starting to fall, I found a cool low angle stumpline to bound around on. Sunk the tips on the last pillow before the small shelf and a did a spectacular ground flip, stopping on my tails. Looked over to my right and saw my huckleberry, a small unskied patch of snow, surrounded by trees.
Here’s what I saw.
Air temp: 3 C
Surface temp: 3 C
Incline: 25 degrees
0 to 65 cms: 3mm loose facets fist – Depth Hoar
75 to 85 cms: 1 mm rounds 4finger/fist- Old Storm Snow
85 to 95 2 mm stellars fist – New Snow
Cut two columns and did two CT tests.
First column: CT-14 at 35 cms Q1
Second column: CT-12 at 25 cms Q1
No real suprise, but confirmation that with added steepness, snow load and the pressure of a 180 pound person impacting this snow pack off a twenty foot cliff (one incident in the Kitchen area went down this way), there is no way the snow could support it.
The real question is why, after one or two incidents in the same area, people still continue to ski in the same exact spot. A question for forensic psychologists, not EVI.
Last day in Mushroom, back out to EV tommorow to check it out.
Be the Hawk…
2/15/12 Carnival De EV
EVI note: Info is still coming in from yesterday, so the post has changed some, trying hard to report all objective info, sorry for any confusion and thanks to those helping us clarify the events.
Bluebird powder day in EV. Overnight storm loaded up the zone with a significant amount of snow, variable amounts, knee-deep and above in certain places. BID(Blown in Deep) is the technical term. Headed off the grid for the first run with Luke and stayed clear of the procession headed up to Benchie. A ton of hungry pow hounds were out early and the carnival was on.
Came back around to the top for our second run to see how the combination of the rapidly warming deep fresh snow and the mass of skiers interacted. They didn’t play well together. West Wall slid, skier triggered from the skier’s right side almost wall to wall , below the first set of small rocks that line the top. Had a friend see it go down. A skier skiing a ribbon of blower powder before a large avalanche followed him down, a sympathetic release from a small slab the skier kicked off during his run. I can’t make this stuff up. New warming snow interface on the crust that happens in the West Wall with the east facing sun hit and warm temps probably was the culprit. Find out tommorow.
Tracks in left side of Benchmark, but debris running past the first flats from the gully left of Mushroom Rock. Another sign of skier triggered instability.
Tele Line had tracks but no activity that I could see.
The capper was Old Man’s. Looked over the edge of the entrance to see a track leading into the each of the first two gullies left of the tree line. Below, a significant debris pile ran beneath them into the flats and no obvious tracks out. Shit.
Headed down right ridgeline and found where we could safely enter and do a search of a majority of the lower debris pile. Probably happened first thing in the morning, but wanted to make sure we didn’t leave someone out there before we headed out. Cleared the debris with Luke and thankfully found no signals. Then we got the hell out of there.
The crown was deepest on the skier’s left side of the second rollover gully by the small cliff, three to four feet of soft slab. It extended into the middle of the bowl. CDC had a small slab release of its’ own under the cliff band.
As far as I know nobody was hurt today, but the potential was there. Here’s what we saw.
Silverton Avalanche School Reprise
Beacon, probe, shovel, saw, collapsible ruler, Avalung/ABS float pack, First Aid kit, Snow Study Kit, Klean Kanteen (camel hoses freeze), knife, compass, headlamp (you never know…) Sunscreen, chap-stick… This damn pack is like forty pounds now… Extra hat, extra pit gloves, cordelette, big orange Black Diamond ski straps (nicely holds ridiculously fat skis/poles together and make wonderful tourniquets), skis, poles, skins and AT Boots. Whew! Am I missing anything? Oh yeah! Pen, notepad, “The Avalanche Handbook”, “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain”, “Human Factors in Avalanche Accidents”, “Heuristic Traps in Recreational Avalanche Accidents: Evidence and Implications”, “Snow, Weather, and Avalanches: Observation Guidelines for Avalanche Programs in the US”, the AIARE Field Book and a bunch of Topo’s.
My God, just a few thousand dollars in gear, a couple thousand pages in texts and articles and it’s no wonder that its so easy for armchair avalanche quarterbacks to get outfitted at the local shop, take a couple runs in dangerous terrain and have the hubris to act like an authority or an expert… better yet, an “Institute” (I hope you can understand the sarcastic humor, if not, please just save your brain cells and Google “Backcountry Skiing” on Youtube and enjoy the safety of your parents’ basement shredding virtual pow.
The point I’m going to excruciating lengths to emphasize here is that for a given amount of time, money and reading effort, anyone can get the gear, read some print and get out in the backcountry and slay like a hero. And there are a staggering amount of these “Tom Brady’s of the Backcountry” hitting our favorite zones and stashes. The crucial link that is missing in this already weakened chain is a good dose of education, hence, the backbone of this textual poetic waxing.
I was fortunate enough to be able to forego the Super Bowl weekend in the “Male-Valley” and head down to the legendary town of Silverton, CO. We have all seen the ski-porn, the sick double/triple stager lines on film and the limitless attitude/mindset of the popular culture powder skiing industry that has turned an old historic mining town into the Mecca for extreme powder skiing in the lower 48. It all looks sweet on the silver screen, personally, I love the segments and it admittedly sucks me in every time. But again, the big factor missing here is education. Never once do I see in these segments any kind of emphasis on getting educated/trained and what it really takes to drop such aesthetically pristine lines complements of Red Bull or Warren Miller.
Contrary to popular culture’s awareness, Silverton is also home to the “Nation’s most respected avalanche education since 1962”. If you want to learn from an expert, professional or a professional expert, Silverton Avalanche School is your ticket to priceless knowledge and they are an actual bona fide licensed “School”! I bagged Level 1 there and liked it so much, I came back for more… Level 2.
Getting the Level 1 or 2 cert. is not a license to post up and become an authority. It’s more like the fundamental knowledge of backcountry education. Where tools and info are presented so that the students can start to build a solid foundation of knowledge and a “tool kit” to become educated travelers and observers of the “Off-Piste”. Level 1 and Level 2 are the beginning steps in a lifetime of learning and exploring the backcountry. After one or two of these important steps are accomplished, we should all be able to enjoy and play nicely in the sandbox… and be able to speak the same language.
To be quite honest, the SAS Level 2 is more than the 30 student classroom can handle in four and a half days of drinking from an informational fire hydrant. There is so much info and particular nuances to pay attention to that, it is surprising people don’t leave the San Juan’s dumber than when they came. I certainly was humbled and reflected on all my stupidity and bad decision making prior to my formal Avi education… It makes one realize how very little one knows, or thought one knew! Thank goodness for the instructors’ expert and professional presence of mind to reel in the blind sheep as soon as they lose the forest for the trees or the pasture for the grass, however one can make a synopsis out of it. And then take the students out into the real backcountry environment and reestablish the application of theory to actual backcountry praxis. In a way, it’s an education for both the teacher and the student. The student is able to learn and apply their knowledge and Avi skills, while the instructors observe the human nature of groups in the backcountry. Win-Win, we are always going to be learning, whether we are Mr. Miyagi or little Daniel-san. But once school’s out and we’re on our own, those pros and experts won’t be there to coral us from our idiocy. Hopefully, we have been able to choke down as much info as we can and not lose the big picture.
This trip, like any, was a real eye opener, a quintessential microcosm of the backcountry public. From mountaineering late teenagers to off-piste shredding silver foxes and foxettes and everyone in between, these people are our backcountry community, our family. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and we owe it to them to make sure that when we are recreating in the backcountry that we posses the skills, tools and knowledge/education to be able to look out for one another and to be able to save each other from our own stupidity/bad decisions or just mother nature being the cruel bitch she can sometimes be. I’ve made some really dumb mistakes, poor decisions and I am probably due for a few more, but being Avi-educated has allowed me to mitigate those human errors and become a better member of the backcountry community.
For those in the audience that want to just say “screw it” and go drop in on our favorite zones take heed. You really owe it to yourself to go and get educated first and foremost. It will make you a better rider and a better human, not to mention a hero if you are put in a situation where you will have to be the one to save a member of your family/community (the respect is also owed to them). The whole purpose of my involvement here is to raise the awareness of the uncontrolled environment such as EV and to help raise the bar and caliber of the typical shred-head that slays it out there. We are not egos yelling from across the valley that “you’re a gaper” and you should “turn your beacon on because we say so”… we are a part of the community that care about the well being of anyone who loves to ride where we do. We are more than willing to share our stories and experiences and hopefully add a little humor to the mix to keep it fresh.
If you want to know, ask questions. If you need the education, check out Silverton Avalanche School, Friends of Berthoud Pass or your local community colleges, amongst many local guide/education services. There are awareness classes, Level 1 and 2 certs abound. There are awesome people at these organizations and future friends and riding partners. It’s an obvious win-win. You won’t leave any of these places an expert in Avy-savviness, but you will leave with the tools and skills to get out there and be safe when you are traveling and riding avalanche terrain. But lastly, if you haven’t noticed, this is the most notoriously dangerous Colorado snow pack in recent history. If you haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities to go get some education, this is a better time than any. This snow pack laboratory is probably the best you could learn from. It opened my eyes wide and taught me many important lessons. Don’t really need to be preaching to the choir, but the choir does need to learn a few new songs now and again…
Some Pictures for your view pleasure and see you out there!
2/9/10-2/10 Chance of Snow
Chance of snow. Finally. No hundred percent chance of sixteen inches that leaves us like a jilted bride at the altar. Chance, that’s all we ask here in the Vail valley. My favorite forecast.
Currently snowing here, and Thursday/ Friday provided the best EV skiing of the year, but with different stability indications. Yesterday, stomping the edge of the yet to be formed cornice of Old Man’s with skis sent the 60-80cm of wind load to the egde of the frying pan with an easy shear, but did not propagate or step down in the rollover gulley past the first flats. (This measurement is rough and only is at the very top of the run at the start of the rollover where the cornice usually forms.)
Friday, at the same place, with renewed wind load even deeper, around 80 cm, the same test produced no shear and moderate cracking that didn’t fully break. Soft slab blocks stood perched on edge, but refused to drop and run.
Skiing was excellent both days, the snow on Friday was thicker and sprayed like spoonfuls of mashed potatoes on each turn as we got into the midddle of the bowl. The snow stayed knee-deep and fresh all the way through. Watched a group of four ski left Benchie with no results. The tracks in West Wall, Tele Line, Benchie produces no slides that I could see. Didn’t have much movement on my run and only minor sluffing running the right middle concave gully. The following four tracks had only minor surface pockets moving a very short distance. The upper part of the pack seems to be stronger than it was a week ago, Definitely interesting to see the change in 24 hours with the same rudimentary test in the same place.
Super big Saturday with the Teva games in town and the mountaineering race ends up at Benchie. Will racers and EV skiers be battling for the same skin track? Much pressure this weekend and hope the seeming increasing stability is for real.
Also, check out this TGR blog if you haven’t already.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen a pretty steep rise in the number of visits to the site, which is great. It has occurred to us through a few recent comments that perhaps it’s time to restate what we’re all about, and not about, at EVI.
Our goal has always been to promote back country safety and improve the quality of riders in the zone. If we’re doing a disservice to EV users by encouraging proper equipment use and issuing warnings during questionable snow conditions, color us confused. While the majority of the feedback has been positive, from the beginning, we’ve realized the possibility of blowback was there.
There will be people who feel like we’re opening Pandora’s box. Like we’re stealing their kool-aid. Like we’re running tours out to EV with Japanese tourists wearing Mickey mouse backpacks. Well, we’re not.
At the end of the day, 200+ people are using EV on a daily basis. If you think EV is a secret, you’re living in candy land. If anyone thinks we are solely responsible for the increase in EV use, thanks. That’s flattering, but we’d be happy to share our site metrics with anyone who asks…we simply don’t have that kind of reach.
There are numerous other factors at work accounting for the increase in use of EV terrain which we all see on a daily basis (read: side country / back country marketing from the ski media). It seems that anyone these days can be an expert by purchasing skins, taking a CPR class, and heading out past Chair 21. These folks will be back there whether EVI exists or not. If they have some semblance of back country education, we’re all in a better position.
At the end of the day, we have always considered ourselves as a supplement to the CAIC and an on the ground reporting tool trusted by those who frequent the zone and know the ever changing snow conditions. Certainly, keeping the EV zone a place that everyone can enjoy is a paramount concern for us all.
Hopefully, this clears up some confusion. From here on out, any comments about the site, or about us, can be directed here. We welcome cogent comments that contribute to the discussion, even criticism of our methods, so long as the argument is supported with fact, not opinion. Outright inflammatory statements about our users or us probably won’t be posted. It just clutters the site and detracts from what we’re trying to promote.
Going forward, we hope this clears some things up. If you still hate us, move along…hopefully the guy above you has done his homework.
1/18/12 Trip Report from Colby D. and Crew Snow Pit Study Equals No Go
Wanted to share this trip report from reader Colby D.:
On our way out we stopped at the BCA park n did some practice digs. We saw Paul there and said he made it out to East Vail earlier but decided to come back (red flag 1). Decided to go anyway. Once we started to go through the windloaded areas I jumped off the track to give it a feel. I felt the snow dropping with every step and in my tracks you could see almost 2 inch air pockets on both sides (red flag 2). So we quick dug a pit. Again I am not a pro and didn’t have a saw so it was a janky pit but it had all the signs saying don’t go. the top footish in the first pit didn’t even hold up and make it to a compression test, second one did but fractured on the first hit from the wrist. that alone was enough to convince us not to go but then we noticed bellow where we had stepped of our splits there were fracture marks to (red flag 3). This on top of the fact there had been slide action in the area, we hit a few fun turns through mushy trees where the snow was heavy but had no problems.
Had a single binocular which was super cool to look at the snow crystals with
you can see the soft sugar snow under the hard layer half way up then the top is windloaded, also some punch tests
First column attempt, we didn’t have a saw so we cut it as clean as we could but it fractured before even the first set of compression tests.
Since we decided against east vail yesterday from the top we decided to hike a run we do fairly often with the dogs. I think people refer to it as half chute. regardless we were gonna hike up through the woods as we have an established boot pack and you’re never in any high risk areas. It was a rugged hike and it seemed wicked warm today. the snow was super sticky and heavy. Once we got to the top the snow had gotten lighter so we decided to dig around and check the snow out. We had already broken the top zone into mellow sluff slides in the trees on two prior occasions so we were wondering if it was much different than the area we dug yesterday.
the pups loving the deep snow
As we started clearing out the area there was a small fracture.
I increased the contrast on this shot and you can easily see the different layers, harder on top, softer underneath. Shitty but we came to this area because there is little consequence with the crappy pack.
Kinda tough to tell what;s going on here but the bottom block slide of the sugar pile above it on the 7th wrist compression. Further proving the consequential areas of east vail could leave you having a real bad day.
Brian and Goomba getting read to drop. The snow was super heavy, but it was fun and a good workout.
Thanks to Colby and his crew for the report and pics. We appreciate it andalways welcome outside content and comments-EVI
1/18/12 EV Thursday Where’s the Snow? High Avi Danger Continues
Big storm was supposedly headed our way. The jet is on us and it looked promising for last night. The blob NOAA showed us coming in from the Northwest made giddy as a schoolgirl. Huge and dipping below AK towards us, finally in a more west to east pattern. Bring it. I went to bed with powder dreams dancing in my head.
Woke up to another swing and a miss, somehow it went from 1000 percent chance of snow and a blizzard warning to really nothing. All bark no bite. A reoccurring theme this year, not sure how NOAA got it so wrong. Again. Now Saturday looks better, but, but honestly I give up on getting excited for storms that NOAA predicts for us this year.
Wednesday saw the temperatures and humidity rise with the incoming front. The recent new snow down lower in the aspens by our second run had begun to settle and were cracking, although not propagating more than a few feet as we plowed through it. A great indicator that even at lower elevations in the trees, the possibility of avalanching is on the rise. Rapid change in any piece of the avalanche puzzle weather, wind, temperature is always a warning sign for increasing avalanche danger.
Winds are still up, and the loading continues. 21 is open today, so the skin out won’t be as long. Two yesterday and my legs are feeling it. Might be taking the day off and writing hate mail to NOAA. Be careful out there, anything in the North facing, wind loaded aspects that haven’t ripped have a good chance of going at all elevations. Really a strange year so far to say the least.
EV Time Machine
So the snow has fallen and we are on the cusp of the “Full On” EV season. Too many red flags for us to venture back into EV today with the peaks flagging hard and the obvious avi activity in the back bowls off Two Elks. Took Martin’s advice and rolled up on a perfect powder day in the untouched Beacon Park. Scraped the rust off my single and multiple burial skills and waxed the time to under 3 minutes. Try and hold your breath for 3 minutes, imagine it being a lot worse when you/your buddies are buried and counting on each other to rescue them/you in time.
Hopefully, the two groups of skiers that braved the obvious warning signs and B-Lined back to EV or Mushie today are super dialed in. After meeting up with some of the crew, it was a no brainer to let the potential human avi bombs go do their work sans EVI. Besides, it was a perfect blue day to go rip Colorado’s finest packed pow.
We had a ton of fun ripping the front side and staying out of the danger zone. Sometimes you have to make your own decision to hang it up. I ultimately made the personal decision to not risk my season or my life based on my observations and gut feeling on the day. Tomorrow is another day and you can bet if all adds up to a safe drop, we’ll be back there doing what we do best!
Now that I’m safe and all cozy in my abode, I was digging through some folders and came across some notable pix from the snowmageddon season of 2010-2011. Just take a gander at these pics from 1/16/2011 and compare them to the pix in the Benchie Pit post… huge difference, enjoy.