Avalanche Safety

28 Feb

Today, I did a segment on KDVR/FOX 31 about avalanche safety. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to cover all of my points. So, I thought I’d add a few tips and resources here. Disclaimer: I am not an avalanche expert. This is just a starting point for you to gather some basic information on avalanche safety.

A few facts:

  • This is one of the worst snow packs for avalanches in 30 years.
  • Colorado is the deadliest state for avalanche fatalities.
  • 25 people have died this year so far in avalanches, and there are two to three more months of skiing.
  • There are deep instabilities in the snow that will probably last well, well into the spring.
  • Human error is a HUGE contributing factor to avalanches.

1) Take an AIARE-certified Avalanche 1 class. Boulder-based Alpine World Ascents offers great Avy 1 classes and there are several courses coming up in March.

2) Read the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) website everyday to monitor backcountry conditions all season long, not just the day you plan to ski.

3) The best way to survive an avalanche is to not get in one. So, again, take an Avy 1 class. If you are new to the backcountry, stay out of it. This is not the season to learn on your own. If you have some experience, give yourself a wider margin for error. It’s an outlier year, and outlier avalanche incidents are happening.

4) Always travel with a beacon, shovel and probe, and know how to use them. Make sure your beacon is on before going into the backcountry and make sure you trust your partners’ abilities to rescue you. Invest in an airbag system backpack like Mammut’s RAS pack. These are life savers and game changers. The woman who survived the Stevens Pass avalanche last week (in which 3 people next to her died) credits her ABS bag with saving her life. The concept is this: when you get caught in an avy, you deploy your ABS bag. A huge, balloon fills up around your head and neck. This increases your volume. Physics says that bigger objects  rise to the top in moving fluid–inverse segregation. So the airbag system helps you to stay at the top of the avalanche bed and not get buried. It also offers a bit of protection for your head and neck. Many people who die in avalanches, die from head trauma.

5) Before you commit to skiing an avy prone line, scope out an escape route, an exit strategy. Should something go wrong, have a plan for how you are going to get out of harm’s way. But this is easier said than done. An avalanche happens so quickly, you barely have time to realize what’s happening, before you are being swept away.

6) If you start skiing something and an avy rips, try to ski out of it by skiing down a bit to get momentum, then cutting perpendicularly to the side of the path.

7) Once you realize you can’t get out, deploy your airbag.

8) Fight like all get out to stay at the top of the avalanche. Some people say to use a swimming motion to stay on top. Grab a tree, a rock, do anything you can to not get buried.

9) Once the avalanche stops, if you are able to move your arms, create an air pocket around your face. Punch one arm up through the snow (assuming that you know which way is up and which is down) so that your partners can find you. Then try to relax and trust that your partners will find you. You need to conserve that air–so don’t start hyperventilating.

Again, the best  chance for surviving an avalanche is not to get into one. So, take an Avy 1 class, be smart when heading out into the backcountry, or maybe just call this year a scratch.

For technical questions about snow pack and avalanches, contact Markus Beck at Alpine World Ascents or the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Being A “Ski Expert”

8 Jan

About a month ago, I tagged along with Jennifer Broome and Melody Mendez from FOX 31/KDVR to shoot a segment on Echo Mountain, a little ski hill about 45 minutes from Denver. Echo actually has one of the deepest snow bases in Colorado at the moment, a benefit from all the up-slope storms we’ve been hit with. They brought me a long because, well, they’ve deemed me a “ski expert.” There’s  advantages of being a “ski expert”–I get to ski for a living.  There are disadvantages too–people are always watch your skiing very closely and expect you to rip. I often feel a little performance anxiety. And, on this day at Echo, Jennifer caught one of my not-so-hot ski moments  and featured it for all of Colorado to see. Thanks, Jen.  Take a peek…

Tom Chapman Responds to Backcountry Monopoly

8 Jan

At long last, Tom Chapman responds to “Backcountry Monopoly,” which appeared in the January issue of Outside Magazine. In a letter to the editor which appeared in the Telluride Watch, Chapman claims that Outside and I “pirated” the letters he wrote to Bill Koch. In fact, Bill Koch, through one of his employees, shared the letters with me, and all correspondences featured in the article were lawfully obtained. In August, I interviewed Koch over the phone to get his reaction to the letters. It was his first interview in four years since Patrick Radden Keefe interviewed Koch for a profile in the New Yorker. So, I’m still not sure why Chapman continues to publicly claim that I pirated these letters. Anyways, have a look at his response which appeared in a “Guest Commentary” column in the Telluride Watch.

LA Times Picks Up KDVR Historic Hotels Segment

21 Dec

The LA Times picked up the FOX31/KDVR segment I did this morning on Colorado Ski Country’s Best Historic Hotels. Click here to see which hotels made my list….

Colorado Public Radio Features “Backcountry Monopoly”

20 Dec

I’m a huge fan of Colorado Public Radio and NPR. So, I was particularly honored that my Outside magazine story,  “Backcountry Monopoly” was featured yesterday on Colorado Matters. CPR’s Zach Bragg did a fantastic job putting the radio segment together. Listen in here.

Full KVNF Radio Interview on Backcountry Monopoly

13 Dec

Last week, KVNF Mountain Grown Radio interviewed me about my Outside Magazine article “Backcountry Monopoly” on controversial businessman Tom Chapman. Today KVNF aired the full interview on Localmotion. Click here to tune in.

Fox News

11 Dec

Fox News picked up my story about Swiss ski racer Didier Cuche. Watch out for this guy—he’s on fire and on track to join Franz Klammer as one of the best downhillers ever. Check it out here.