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By KevinCO
From Loveland, CO
Jan 12, 2007
Did anyone go to the presentation at Neptunes: 'Avalanches...Myths and Facts'? I am curious to know what the myths are.
Also, if anyone can relate their experiences and close calls with avalanches.
I usually ski at Cameron Pass in the trees, glades and the Agnes cabin clear cut. I haven't seen any avalanches there. Has anyone else? I have seen avalanches at other areas such as Berthoud Pass!

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By Andy Laakmann
Site Landlord
From Bend, OR
Jan 12, 2007
Racked and loaded... name that splitter behind me?...
Myth: Skiing trees will make you safe.

Fact: If the trees are far enough spaced to ski, the slope can slide.

This is particularly true in Colorado, where the snow pack is prone to depth hoar (rotten snow at the interface between the ground and snow)

Of course, I still ski trees for perceived safety all the time. Go figure.

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By Andrew Gram
Administrator
From Salt Lake City, UT
Jan 12, 2007
Andrew Gram
A forested slope can slide, but trees do help with anchoring so it isn't quite as likely to slide. As long as you aren't skiing through sparse areas of disaster species trees like aspens you are at least a bit safer from a slide in the trees, if not bulletproof.

On the other hand, semi tight trees sure do make a bad terrain trap if it does slide!

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By George Bell
From Boulder, CO
Jan 12, 2007
Hip trouble ...
Other myths:

An avalanche beacon and avalung make you invincible.

If another group just passed a slope safely, it is safe.

Avalanches only occur less than 24 hours after a storm.

If a slope is under 20 degrees, it is safe (you may still be under a big chute, even if it is flat).

Of course, reading all these myths will make you never want to set foot outside in the winter! I've done a lot of backcountry skiing and have witnessed a few minor incidents, but I've never turned my avalanche beacon to "receive" (except for lots of training). I've been in a few slides, but these have all been wet spring avalanches, which move very slowly compared to slab avalanches. That said, one of my best friends was killed in an avalanche in France. He was wearing a beacon and dug out in under 10 minutes but was apparently killed by the trauma of the slide (lots of big blocks of wind slab).

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By Richard Radcliffe
From Louisville, CO
Jan 12, 2007
Here's an interesting article in today's Boulder Daily Camera. Dale Atkins, one of the world's foremost avalanche experts, dispels an important piece of mythological dogma about avalanches: swim to survive.

dailycamera.com/news/2007/jan/...

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By Buff Johnson
Jan 12, 2007
smiley face
Here's one (fact) that disturbed me when I heard it: most people caught in backcountry slides are educated to assess avalanche threats.

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By Jason Himick
From Boulder, CO
Jan 12, 2007
Future Goal
Saying nothing of Dale's credentials... I don't read a compelling arguement that swimming is either detrimental or likely to kill you. To say that swimming might just kill you because it prevents you from getting your hands in front of your face before a slide stops is weak. The idea that a human body should stay on top of an avalanche because it is a granular flow not a liquid flow makes sense, but still doesn't mean swimming would be detrimental. I've never been caught in a slide, but it doesn't mean I can't ask for some more compelling evidence.

Mark Nelson wrote:
... most people caught in backcountry slides are educated to assess avalanche threats.


I'd be interested in seeing who did that research. I've learned that the two types of people most likely to be caught in an avalanche are the ignorant and well educated (regarding avalanches). The well educated have a tendency to push the limits... and of course the ignorant just don't know any better.

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By Buff Johnson
Jan 12, 2007
smiley face
You'd have to talk with the guy already mentioned (Dale). He's quite a down to earth fellow. I think the mindset isn't as much pushing the limits as the mindset of: I already know what to look for and it can't happen to me.

Does anyone know if he still works with the CAIC?

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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Jan 12, 2007
Artist Tears P3
Dale now works for Backcountry Access and some consulting.

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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Jan 12, 2007
Artist Tears P3
I've been caught in slides and buried. I've found the whole swimming thing to be pretty pointless. You get kicked around like a rag doll and have absolutely no control. You don't even know which way is up, down or sideways. I just try to roll into a ball to protect my core and cover my airway. Since I now ski with an avalung, I would imagine I would try to get that into my mouth but I've yet to find out if I have the where with all to do that and hopefully I won't need to find out.

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By Brian in SLC
Jan 12, 2007
Climbing in Smuggler's Notch
John McNamee wrote:
I've been caught in slides and buried. I've found the whole swimming thing to be pretty pointless. You get kicked around like a rag doll and have absolutely no control. You don't even know which way is up, down or sideways. I just try to roll into a ball to protect my core and cover my airway. Since I now ski with an avalung, I would imagine I would try to get that into my mouth but I've yet to find out if I have the where with all to do that and hopefully I won't need to find out.


I heard you even ski off short cliffs in whiteouts...(ha! 'Bout the only time you didn't guide us from the rear, thankfully...). What's the word, "claggy"? Funny in hindsite. Scary at the time...

Still, the "you gotta fight!" (my favorite scene from the Utah avy video, with a classic quote from the OAG Tom Kimbrough) is commonly preached. I dunno. The whole "brazil nut effect" (great analogy) makes some sense to me, but, I still wonder if a swimming motion would help you from getting entrained in a long running slide, like, down a long gully slide path. They move so fast, sometimes.

Best to avoid if at all possible...

Bruce Tremper's avy book talks about about the demographics of who gets caught and why. Pretty interesting. Male hubris seems to rank right up there...

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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Jan 12, 2007
Artist Tears P3
Cmon, Brian it was at least 60 feet...

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By Aaron Miller
From Santa Fe, NM
Jan 12, 2007
I've shamefully been involved in an avalanche due to poor judgement of changing aspects. Anyhow, I will concur with Dale in that swimming is not the ticket, but for practical reasons not yet mentioned. The problem I noticed after fighting for my life for what seemed like minutes during a slide, is that I was so out of breath (part panic and part fight for life) that I wouldn't have had a chance to catch my breath, avalung or not, if I hadn't come out on top.
Scary.

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By George Bell
From Boulder, CO
Jan 12, 2007
Hip trouble ...
That's an interesting article by Dale. It might be fun to somehow do experiments to see if objects the size and density of people rise to the top during an avalanche. I don't think large rocks are observed to rise to the surface during an avalanche, but their density is much higher than a person.

Maybe as a poor person's avalung one could tie a bandana over your mouth and nose (before the avalanche!). This might keep all that snow from packing into your mouth during the chaos.

The wet slides I've been in move so slowly, you can often ski or shuffle right out of them. Plus they are so dense you tend to stay on top. However they could still carry you over a cliff or crush you, so aren't completely harmless.

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By Brian in SLC
Jan 12, 2007
Climbing in Smuggler's Notch
George Bell wrote:
That's an interesting article by Dale. It might be fun to somehow do experiments to see if objects the size and density of people rise to the top during an avalanche. I don't think large rocks are observed to rise to the surface during an avalanche, but their density is much higher than a person.


It is interesting. One thing I've noticed, is that the whopper big slides 'round here in the last few years seem to entrain debris at all levels. We've had a couple big 80 or 100 year type slides that have been huge and have run real long distances (next to or God's Lawnmower in BCC, Scottys in LCC, etc). When they cleared the road, it was interesting to look at the debris distribution. Trees seem to be chopped up and distributed throughout and didn't seem like a disproportionate amount of "stuff" ended up on the surface.

Not going to volunteer for any personal testing, though!

Probably too many variables to make any generalizations. If you're on a steep slope that pops loose, if you can somehow stick to the bed surface and let the thing go past, that'd be better than being entrained. And, seems like a fair number of folks are buried in terrain traps or intiate a slide that hits them from above...etc.

Watch yer topknots!

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By Buff Johnson
Jan 12, 2007
smiley face
For those that would like some info, here's the CAIC (Col. Avalanche Info Ctr) investigative reports:

CAIC Accidents

Some you read and you just see yourself in the same position.

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By Ian Wolfe
From Fayetteville, NC
Jan 12, 2007
Another contemplative moment for me on Resolution ...
Statistically, the most likely person to be caught in (and die) in an avalanche is the Avy Level One certified person. In general, they know just enough to be dangerous. I haven't read a report about this, but on the Winter Park Pro Patrol, I work with a lot of VERY avy savy guys.

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By Brian Adzima
From San Francisco
Jan 13, 2007
somewhere in WV
Brian in SLC wrote:
The whole "brazil nut effect" (great analogy) makes some sense to me, but, I still wonder if a swimming motion would help you from getting entrained in a long running slide, like, down a long gully slide path.


Was there evidence of avalanches showing the "brazil-but effect" or was this just postulated? I know there are correlations for predicting whether the "brazil nut effect" or "reverse brazil nut effect" occurs in granular systems (based on competition between percolation and condensation mechanisms), however I wonder if these might be outside of the systems that were examined?

Sounds like it the presentation may have been interesting.

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By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Jan 13, 2007
Artist Tears P3
There is only one way to truly survive an avalanche and that is not to be caught in one, but that is pretty unrealistic.

Each situation is different and calls for its own approach. Depending on the size of the slide, the location, the terrain features they all tend to behave differently so no one approach works. Some times you can ski out fast if your are towards the edge of them and sometimes its a pointless effort, but I'll always heading for the nearest side rather than trying to outrun which you can't.

Once the slide starts to slow down you might have a few seconds to either punch for the top if you can see daylight, throw an arm up so a mate can find you or crunch into a ball to protect your core and more important ensure a clear airway. Snow gets everywhere and keeping your mouth free of snow is a lot harder than people think it is.

There is also the issue with the frequency of skiing. Do you have a fresh start every day, ie the slate is wiped off or do you accumulate as the season goes on. Say if you ski 10 days a year in the backcountry and are careful and stay out of avalanche terrain, no problem. If you ski 250 days of year in avalanche terrain, no matter how careful you are, how much of an expert you are, something will happen. You have to remember it is an inexact science and the avalanche doesn't know you are a expert. I have seen too many incidents to believe that we can totally predict what is going to happen and be totally safe. Some of my closest friends have died from the snowy torrent and they were more experienced than me.

In life there is risk and how you mitigate that risk depends on the margin of safety you are willing to accept. We can theorize till the cows come in but in the end they are not really truly defined. These margins or willingness to accept risk will change from day to day and even hour to hour whether skiing with friends or with clients. Some activities carry risk and skiing in the backcountry does.

Think about this. If you left your beacon, shovel and probe in your car on purpose would you ski exactly the same way as you would with the gear... I'm not suggesting you should try it, I've done it when I've had too when gear has been lost or beacons have started malfunctioning during a remote trip. Although we have the "safety" equipment with us it tends to change how we do things. As Messner would state it "Courage in your rucksack" I find skiing without a beacon scary as hell, just like mountain biking without a helmet. Yet on ski area I don't wear a helmet.

Does a helmet make you a safer skier? Or does it give a false sense of security? Can you now you can go places you couldn't before, like steep tree skiing. In the helicopter skiing business when people started to wear helmets we started to see shoulder injuries from people whacking trees. Prior to that the only time someone whacked a tree was when they grazed a branch and ripped a 2000 dollar bogner suit!

The wider skis have also impacted this area as well, as now people ski faster and more intermediate skiers can ski steeper terrain, but that's another discussion for another day. I'm sure if you're read this far you're already bored!

Time to head out the door...

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By Ian Wolfe
From Fayetteville, NC
Jan 13, 2007
Another contemplative moment for me on Resolution ...
I also believe that the fastest increasing victim of avalanches are snowmobilers, particularly those playing highmark.

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By Buff Johnson
Jan 13, 2007
smiley face
John M: "Does a helmet make you a safer skier?"
No, absolutely not. As well as an avy beacon doesn't make you safer, but the beacon helps play the odds in your favor if you aren't already beat the sh*t out of it & someone can get you out before you asphyxiate.

Skiied since I was 5 without a helmet; common sense, common courtesy, education, along with talent & ability go alot farther. Although, I do believe goggles make me much safer than glasses or nothing; as well skiis that are maintained with sharp edging.


Ian: "I also believe that the fastest increasing victim of avalanches are snowmobilers, particularly those playing highmark."

Ian, how's it going this season up there? Yes, definitely some of the best snow rescue personnel in the nation at that ski area.

Would you go along with the notion that since highmarking is more a risk, would you then say this activity should be restricted? My opinion is: no, highmarking is a risk assumed within freedom of expression in the backcountry & it should matter not to rescue personnel how the subject of the incident came to need aid; it only matters to the media drama-queens that want to make the world "safe".

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By Jaaron Mankins
From Bayfield, CO
Jan 13, 2007
San Juans.
I have seen snowmobilers highpointing dangerous terrain, and skiers dropping into equally dangerous terrain simultaneously. Does this mean that one party is "dumber" than the other, and less deserved of rescue. Each one equally deserves rescue, they just choose different toys to push the envelope with. Best idea is to not necessitate rescue. Does safety gear make you push limits? Of course it does. Just as in climbing, our gear allows us to do things that we wouldn't normally do without it.

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By handtruck
From Boulder, CO
Jan 14, 2007
a handtruck...
J. MAN wrote:
I have seen snowmobilers highpointing dangerous terrain, and skiers dropping into equally dangerous terrain simultaneously. Does this mean that one party is "dumber" than the other, and less deserved of rescue. Each one equally deserves rescue, they just choose different toys to push the envelope with.


Always rescue the skier first!!
He was out earning his turns.

FLAG


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