25 Mar 2013

Another spectacular morning, the skiing was good too!!

The sky was fairly broken yesterday morning, then the cirrus clouds came in around noon.

At 2240 meters the temperature was -5, winds were 10-15 KPH from the S. At 1650 meters the temperature was -5, 1 cm of new snow was recorded there. In the valley it was 0. Observations taken at 06:00 this am.

For the forecast expect high clouds with the occasional flurry this am, clouds should dissipate this afternoon giving sunny breaks. The weak dirty ridge will dominate through the week except for Tuesday when an upper level trough should bring some very light snowfall. Freezing level today 1300 meters, 1500 meters for Tuesday. Snow showers are forecasted for Thursday. Very unsettled!!!

Does anyone have photos of the Na avalanches that occurred 2 days ago from Marriott Basin, Decker Glacier or the East Summit of Decker?

For the local updated avalanche advisory: Whistler Mountain Snow Safety

Thanks to John Lavine for relating the story from last Tuesday's avalanche out behind  Spearhead Peak:
The story is posted at the bottom of the page.

Hi Wayne,

Sorry for the delay, attached is a bit of the story and things I've learned.
Thanks again for your help on Tuesday. I'm not sure how you do your job day in and day out but I'm thankful there are people like you who do.
Please let me know if you have any questions.

JD Levine

Seasoned Backcountry Snowmobiler killed in Powerful Kimberly Avalanche: Hellroaring Creek

Avalanche Advisory from: Tyrol, Austria

Czech & Slovak Hikers killed in an Avalanche in the Tatras Range: Slovakia

Man is dead in an Avalanche in Tromso in Norway: Still Searching for survivors

Three injured in Cairn Gorm Avalanche: Scottish Highlands

Avalanche Danger very high in Colorado: CBS News

Surface Hoar is liking these conditions.

More cornice blasting means more debris in the bowls, if it gets to be poor visibility be aware!!

 A true sign of spring, Robins and Bugs.

Spearhead Avalanche
Tuesday, March 19th 2013

            Having been caught in the avalanche that occurred this past Tuesday in the Blackcomb backcountry I feel obliged to retell the events that transpired that day in the hopes that others can learn from the mistakes I made and learn from the experience I had that has taught me so much about exploring the backcountry.
            I will only recap the main parts of the avalanche and then try to highlight and expose the mistakes that were made, and the things I would have done differently. I want to say that I am a extremely experienced skier, but a beginner backcountry skier, and am not trying to say I know what is best. I just hope whoever reads this can take something from it and pass it along to fellow backcountry skiers and riders.
            It was myself, my brother, and a friend in our group. I’m a skier, both of them borders. We were at the bottom of our next hike up the back side of Corona Bowl, our destination run for the morning. I told my brother Mike and friend Dave to go ahead of me as they were boot packing with snowboards while I would transition into touring mode with my skis. I figured this was best as I would no doubt catch up to them on my skins. They began the relatively short hike following a skin track up which had already been set by at least a few skiers we had seen still ascending near the top.
            While I was still transitioning, a few other skiers and riders had done the previous descent we had, and stopped next to me, a bit lower down. They too began transitioning into uphill mode, and we even exchanged a few words. They were heading past Corona Bowl but had skied it yesterday and said it was really good yesterday. It’s funny how it was such a nice day, cold but the sun was shining and the sky was clear.
            Next thing I know, I hear screaming and shouting. I don’t even remember hearing the word avalanche or slide but I look up and all I see is a wall of snow, like a title wave, coming directly at me almost as wide as my field of view. I couldn’t even comprehend at that moment that an avalanche was heading directly at me, all I could process was to turn around and run. I took two or three steps and then boom. The wave took me and I swam like mad. I don’t know how deep I was submerged but I remember seeing snow up to my eye level. It all seemed to have happened within seconds, because next thing I knew I was pulling myself out of the snow from about my waist down.
            I looked around and people were yelling asking if everyone was alright. Then the yells turned to “is everybody here? Do we have everyone?” Realising my brother Mike was missing after yelling for him, the yelling turned to “Beacons on! Everybody in search mode!” Easily the most frightening sentence to hear at that time because it was then that it truly sunk in that we were searching for a buried person, my brother.
            After two others picked up a signal, one asked “who’s board is this?!” I had seen the board just before he said that and was already putting my probe and shovel together because I knew it was Mike’s. One probe strike from one of the others who was closer immediately hit and so the digging began.
            I’ll skip ahead and as most have probably heard my brother is doing ok. We think he was buried for at least 4 minutes. He eventually suffocated and went unconscious while buried. He is currently at home being treated for a head injury and it sounds like a concussion is the diagnoses.
            Being caught in an avalanche, and having to rescue my brother was easily the scariest moment of my life. Seeing his face, completely blue and purple, lifeless, is something I wish nobody has to see.
            Nevertheless, we got a cheap lesson. I dangerously underestimated the severity of the backcountry. Many things clouded my judgement in deciding to go out that day with the people I did. I am a believer in touring with people who have at the bare minimum completed their AST level 1 course. Neither my brother, nor my friend had. I had done the exact same hike with my other brother and another friend less than a week before the avalanche. I didn’t want to take either of them in the backcountry either as neither of them had at least their AST 1 either.  However, they had both already been in the blackcomb slackcountry a few years ago when they lived here for the season, and so I was actually following their lead on the hike.
            This was another factor that clouded my judgement. I assumed that because I had already done the same exact route less than a week earlier, that I had a false sense of security, like I somehow knew the route better now having done it once. The next major mistake I made was assuming that Corona Bowl is basically as safe as in bounds since avalanche control is done on it to prevent slides from running into in bounds. As I’ve since found out, avalanche control is done on Corona Bowl since it funnels into in-bounds runs, but to nowhere near the same level as in-bounds runs are and so it should be treated truly as out of bounds slopes would.
            The last major mistake I made was my avalanche advisory check. I only checked Whistler Blackcomb’s report which put the avalanche risk at moderate. I later found out avalanche.ca put the avalanche risk at considerable in the alpine.
            All these factors (having been there before, not thinking I was really out of bounds, and relying solely on one avy report) contributed to giving my mind a false sense of security that even though I’m with inexperienced people, we’ll be okay. I was hesitant the whole time leading up to the beginning of the hike, and all I thought was that we just needed to get to the top of Corona Bowl and we’ll be safe, because that’s technically still out of bounds but is avy controlled so is safe. I was so wrong.
            One of the last lesson’s I’ve learned is to be so aware of your surroundings. The slide was triggered by a skier traversing towards Corona Bowl on the back side just passed the Husume ascent. We were to the right of the skier and below him but as we found out, still in his slide path. I should have picked a safer transition zone out of harm’s way, and we should have chosen a safer ascent route that was out the way of any slide path.
            A final but crucial point to mention is that while digging, I uncovered my brother’s boot first and immediately continued digging out his legs, while another shouted “his airway! His airway!” In the heat of the moment, I focused on the first thing I uncovered instead of changing to find his airway once his boot appeared. Once his head was finally uncovered one of the other guys there instinctively pried open Mike’s clenched jaw, stuck his hand in his mouth and removed a bunch of snow that had filled Mike’s mouth. Mike immediately let out a breath. It wasn’t until digging him out further and shaking him that he finally began breathing again, but thankfully his airway was cleared as fast as we could. It’s easy to lose sight of first aid priorities in the moment.
            Hopefully others can take something from my story and never take anything for granted in the backcountry. It is so easy to get into a routine and to make dangerous assumptions. Every step should be calculated and the safest route should be chosen and adapted along the way if needed. I will try my hardest to never again assume because I’ve been there it is safe, or because someone else has already been there it’s safe. I’m so thankful we all had avalanche gear (beacon, shovel, probe), and am forever grateful to the others who just happened to be there at the time who were all experienced in the backcountry and all helped with the rescue. You do the training, read and talk about it, but you never think it’s going to happen to you. It caught me completely by surprise, without any warning. I didn’t even hear it coming, without the shouts from the others I would have had no idea.

Thanks for reading.
Safe touring,