Avalanche – The odds…
Sadly,a good friend of mine contacted me today from Colorado and let me know that he lost his best buddy in the avalanche that took the lives of 5 snowboarders at Loveland Pass Friday. It was the worst slide in Colorado in years. Unfortunately, there seem to be at least a couple of these types of slides each year regardless of how the season’s snowfall is. This year was a strong year for snow in most parts of the lower-48, but even last year’s weak season saw lives lost to avalanches. It’s always the same story. “These were experienced “pros”, mtn guides, pit diggers, wearing Pieps, cautious…” Then, regardless, the “Monday morning quarterbacks” chime in and say how they wouldn’t have gone there, with that wind-load and that sketchy layer, etc..etc..
Confidence in our abilities to predict slides is unfounded. You’re really guessing EVERY TIME you go out there, even if it’s an “educated guess”. I don’t care who you are or how much experience you think you have. Sure, looking at the layering and loading can increase your chances, and maybe that’s good enough in this sport, but there’s sure a long list of dead backcountry skiers with amazing experience. These people taught courses on snow safety with years of experience, mountain guides, pro skiers and boarders who could do no wrong with sticks on their feet. These people were “the best” at what they did and had backcountry resumes longer than your 215’s you skied in the 80’s. Avalanches will happen, and you can only hope your guess will be right that day. Perhaps you’ll even look smart, and you can convince yourself that you know a little more than that guy who got caught in that last one. As long as there’s gravity, snow will fall from the skies on 30+ degree slopes and eventually some of that snow is going to want to find the bottom of that hill. With any luck you’ll be back at your car cracking a Pabst by that time.
Weather permitting, I’m heading to Tuckerman Ravine next week. If I’m lucky, I’ll find sunny skies and corn snow. However, there’s a good enough chance I could see the the right side of the bowl get undercut by that waterfall and slide, fall through a snow bridge to the rocks below and get swept under, or see a refrigerator piece of ice break off the Headwall and clear a path through unsuspecting climbers. It’s a total crap shoot, but we go anyway. I’m sure that if I manage to keep my name from being put on the list of the 130+ people who didn’t make it off that mountain, it won’t be because I knew more about snow than most, it’ll be that I guessed right, that day.