Miscommunication was the biggest problem today. At the top of our first run my Dad and I were discussing our decent plans and clearly we had different intentions in our minds. We had agreed on skiing the ridge roll and then at a certain point we would poke out carefully onto the side of the main path. He skied first.
Dad kept a pretty straight fall line and went out of sight. I started to ski down and was skiers right of his track. I descended about 500 ft when I noticed that I was the only track on the far skiers right of the ridge roll, and I had been separated from my dad. I stopped and let out a yell.....No response.
I quickly scanned the terrain and for sure saw no tracks to my right, so I moved down the slope another 300ft yelling and moving skiers left and came across tracks again. Yelled again, still no response. I continued moving down another 200ft and stopped on the ridge roll and yelled yet again....finally a yell back.
At this point I just stopped and decided to wait here. However, after about five minuets had gone by and not seeing or hearing my dad I yelled again.... and got no yell back this time. Then another five minuets and nothing, I thought no big deal he probably went too low and had to put the skins back on to gain the ridge. After fifteen minuets of no yells back, I started to worry again and decided to drop lower and cut left to find his track.
After dropping another 100ft I came across a fresh debris pile. My heart sank and I quickly started to think the worst. I began to panic and a full hit of adrenaline rushed through my body and my hands began to shake. My world instantly shrunk and I felt all alone, and scared. I ripped out my avalanche beacon and switched it to receive and tried to slow my breathing. My beacon wasn't picking up any signals, it was silent.
I told myself to calm down and think this through. I started by analyzing the debris. As I scanned over the boundary of the avalanche I quickly realized the debris wasn't very deep and only about 35ft wide. It looked as if the avalanche had traveled a long ways down, but never piled up very deep. It looked to be a manageable loose snow avalanche.
Then I saw a set of ski tracks next to the avalanche debris but this didn't make me feel any better because other people were in the area as well. Its possible that it was another persons track. I checked my beacon one more time and listened vary carefully to hear any faint beep....nothing.
I decided I would follow this track down and hopefully find my dad. I turned my beacon back over to transmit and raced downhill next to the track yelling and hoping I would find him at the bottom.
When I reached the end of the track, I just found where someone put the skins back on and started climbing uphill. I unstrapped out of my board and raced to split my board from downhill to uphill mode, I extend my poles and put the skins on ready to start hiking. I Stripped all my layers to keep cool because I was panicking and breathing hard.
I began to doubt myself. Thoughts of negativity began to overwhelm me “ Should I of searched that debris pile better? Did I just drop too low and have no chance of getting to him in time? These thoughts were painful and I soon took another breath and started to hike. I screamed one last time and finally received a welcomed yell back.
Mistakes we made.
Not clearly communicating our thoughts properly. I thought we were going to descend the ridge roll and then work right into the open path. Dad clearly was thinking Left into the open path and this split us apart.
After we started yelling back and forth, my dad tried to traverse back over to the ridge roll trying to meet back up with me, entering a steep section of trees. This put him in the exact terrain we were trying to avoid.
Skiing a steep break-over with no partner or backup. He couldn't make it over to me, so he skied through the trees in a steep slot. On the third turn over a roll he triggered a soft slab avalanche. 3ft deep 50ft wide running 500ft failing above a crust on facets.
Not realizing the shallower snowpack area. This was exactly 9000 ft and was the exact elevation band to have some of the weaker snow, with crusts. Likely spots to trigger an avalanche.
If we had good communication and were working together as a team down the slope, this would of never forced my dad in the steeper trees. Furthermore, if we would of been together on a steep break over we could of stopped and talked about it, before we just skied it. We probably we would of elected to avoid that slope.
Not doing a complete search of the debris pile. While I have mixed feelings on my decision to leave the debris pile. I think this is a situational call and every avalanche is different and each rescue will have its own complications.
1. 30cm cross slope and 100cm upslope. If weak layer is deeper than 100cm, the length should be equal to the layer depth.
2. Isolate the column at the front and one side by digging in the snow, by cord cut the back and remaining side. All walls should be vertical and cut.
3. Identify the weak layer, then insert the blunt edge of the saw at the front of the column.
4. The propagating fracture will either reach the end of the column (End) or Stop at a slab fracture (SF), or self arrest within the weak layer.
5. Record results by measuring how far you cut into the weak layer to the length of the column. Example 30cm/100cm
6. Propagation is predicted to be likely when the fracture propagates to the end of the column and is less than half the length of the column.
Change to full screen on video and turn that volume up...
Dave Gauthier, Bruce Jamieson Wrote a paper, "ON THE SUSTAINABILITY AND ARREST OF WEAK LAYER FRACTURE IN WHUMPFS AND AVALANCHES."
1. INTRODUCTION In early February of 2007, a significant surface hoar layer formed in the Columbia Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. About two weeks later, once this layer was buried by about 0.5 m of new snow, University of Calgary researchers were searching for suitable sites to work on the propagation saw test (PST). Approaching one such site, we triggered a whumpf, which propagated across a creek, spread across some flat terrain, and some distance away released an avalanche from a small slope. We searched the flat area for some indication of how far the whumpf had propagated and found a long vertical ‘perimeter crack’ through the slab. The slab had fractured along a set of old ski tracks across the flats, and we assumed that was where the weak layer fracture arrested. Later, however, we determined that the weak layer fracture had progressed past this break in the slab. We knew the slab fracture must have occurred during or after the whumpf, but when we started thinking about it we wondered how the weak layer fracture could keep propagating after the slab had broken.
After talking with Dave, I decided to do a little study using three Go Pro cameras to capture collapsing and propagation. Amazing to see just how the column collapsed and propagates a fracture across a weak layer.
Dave explained that in Facet Blow Out movie we had a slab fracture. However, instead of it arresting or stopping the weak layer from propagating passed it ( Like in all the tests he has seen), the weak layer continued pass the slab fracture. He explains that weak layer propagation is a race between the slab fracture and weak layer propagation. Needless to say there is a lot more that we can learn from the PST. He and I are schedule for a conference call later this week and I will have the updated ideas behind all this.... Stay Tuned
A local snowmobiler and his wife set out for an afternoon of low angle riding on March 4th 2012. Planning to stick to mellow terrain they left their avalanche rescue gear in the rig. As they pulled up to Hoyt Peak they met another group they knew and started climbing a steep east facing slope. Tyson was the sixth track on the slope when it broke above him. He tried to throttle off the slab but got thrown from his machine and held onto the bumper, getting completely buried in a slight terrain feature at the toe of the slide.
Please enjoy this remarkable story.
Thanks to all who helped make this video possible.