Caught and Carried… a reminder small slab avalanches can have consequences

I have triggered a lot of small avalanches over the 10 years I’ve been an avalanche educator. They have all been intentional, small, and inconsequential. Yesterday morning I triggered one that bordered on the line of consequential as it carried me about 20 feet down slope towards some uninviting looking trees. It was a fairly small avalanche with a crown that was estimated to be about 25 meters across the slope and 30 centimeters deep at its apex. I was high on the slab when it failed and able to self arrest with my ski poles in the bed surface quite quickly. While there were no injuries there is certainly something to learn from the experience so I’ll present the following account with that desire in mind.

Earlier this season a new client hired me for a Backcountry Ski Skills Course. After getting a resume of ski descents and experience from him we conducted a skills course into the bottom of Hillman’s Highway and had a very successful day. A few weeks later he was back to take a 3-Day AIARE Avalanche Course and toured with me in the Gulf of Slides. Having vetted his ski ability and fitness we made a plan to ski from the summit of Mount Washington.

Mother Nature however decided our plan to travel above tree-line on our day together would be unrealistic.

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Higher Summits Forecast for 2/19/19

After conveying that the summit was out for our day together he let me know he was still stoked to see how far we could go so we made a plan to head into Tuckerman Ravine and see if we could ski some of one of the renowned gullies located within.

The Mount Washington Avalanche Center forecasted “Moderate” avalanche danger with the following “Bottom Line”:

Low density snow yesterday has been affected by NW wind overnight which has produced relatively small new slabs that are possible to human trigger.

I had experienced this low density snow the day before during a tour in the Gulf of Slides on the last day of teaching an AIARE 1 Avalanche Course with Northeast Mountaineering. Some footage from that tour…

 

The next day we made excellent time up the Tuckerman Ravine trail reaching Hermit Lake in one hour and 15 minutes. Fausto is a fitness coach so it was easy for us to both stay warm in with the current conditions:

avalanche mount washington

After a quick re-fuel stop we made out way up the Little Headwall and observed some signs of instability on the slopes just above.

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Shooting cracks observed in thin fresh wind slab just above the Little Headwall

Here the winds were full value and we tucked our heads down and pushed on to Connection Cache. We moved off the trail to the right to find a brief reprieve from the wind and don face masks and goggles before deciding to push a little further into the ravine. The winds were a little less brutal as we set a skin track up to the right of the Lobster Claw run out. We had observed enough active wind loading to rule out entering any of the major avalanche paths and a few hundred feet up the far right side of the ravine we decided it was time to transition and head back down.

We dropped on some stiff wind board low angle terrain and I brought us down into the Cutler drainage then out to skier’s right aiming for the high exit that would connect us down to the far side of the Lower Snowfields. Here we traversed across a small steep slope one at a time before getting to the top of the chute that leads down to the flats then connects back out to the Cutler.

The snow was a little punchy here but we could make a few good jump turns down about 50 feet. I posted up under a little tree island and had Fausto stop just above the island. A slightly lower angle open slope to skiers right looked like it would offer a few more turns before heading back into the drainage but it looked size-able enough to warrant caution. I told Fausto to stay put while I traversed over and onto this slope trying to stay high with the intention of ski cutting it and posting up on the far side.

About halfway across the slope I saw it fail around me. There was no noticeable collapse or whumph but the cracks I saw everywhere in sight made it clear what was happening. I yelled “avalanche” as I started moving down hill and noted the crown was only 10 feet above me. I dug my ski poles into the bed surface and the little amount of debris that I was riding on continued downhill… I came to a stop about 20 feet below where I had triggered it. For a few seconds I watched the debris go down slope for about 100 feet through some small trees that I was glad I wasn’t meeting soon.

Looking back uphill I could see Fausto was still in the spot I told him to stay and I instructed him to traverse over to me as there was no significant hang-fire left and I wanted him to join me on the bed surface. I shot some video and measured the slope angle, aspect, elevation, and position with the convenient Theodolite app. We then made our way down to the bottom of the run out for a couple more pics of the slide.

 

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Theodolite app

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So what happened?

The 13 cm of super low density (3.7%) snow that fell during an almost windless day on February 18th got introduced to severe winds over the evening hours and into the morning. As mentioned in the bulletin today “winds often allows us to  exceed the 1:3-5 ratio of new snow to wind slab”. This new slab felt like it was probably 1-Finger to Pencil on the Hand Hardness Scale. I estimated the crown to be about 30cm deep at its apex. This small test slope is directly lee to the west winds that were howling all night and observed while we were in the area. In the video you can see active loading occurring directly following the avalanche.

While this was my first “unintentional” triggered avalanche I don’t feel that I was completely caught off guard. Signs of instability along with expert opinion in the form of the avalanche bulletin guided our terrain choices and we stayed under 30 degrees and outside of major avalanche paths for good reason. We moved one at a time across suspect slopes and stopped where we could watch each other. I went onto the slope that failed half expecting to perhaps trigger a small slab and assumed I would be able to stay above it. I ended up taking a short some-what controlled ride 20 feet downslope while Fausto watched from a good vantage.

With the benefit of hind-sight a more conservative choice would have been to descend skier’s left of the Little Headwall, basically down our skin track where we had already accessed slope stability. Assessing “top down” terrain is obviously harder to do. In speaking with one of the snow rangers my terrain choice was somewhat validated as a reasonable choice given the conditions. Still, I’ll be thinking about this day for quite awhile. Unintentional but somewhat expected is a strange way to think about triggering an avalanche, but that’s where I’m at right now.

I hope sharing these details and thought processes with the community is beneficial. It doesn’t happen with out acute knowledge that my choices can be judged with different levels of objectivity. As an avalanche educator though I strongly believe we should learn from every single avalanche involvement and being able to share your experience in a clear and transparent fashion can only benefit the greater avalanche community.

 

Snow, Avalanches, Reflection, and More Snow for MLK Weekend!

Well that was an intense four day weekend of snow, snow, and more snow. It all started for me on Friday when I taught an AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course for Northeast Mountaineering. The timing of our first rescue course was somber as an avalanche accident made national news the evening before when two young men would die from being caught in an avalanche and many others injured in Taos Ski Valley, NM.

New Mexico Avalanche
From ABC News: People search for victims after an avalanche buried multiple people near the highest peak of Taos Ski Valley, one of the biggest resorts in New Mexico, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The avalanche rushed down the mountainside of the New Mexico ski resort on Thursday, injuring at least a few people who were pulled from the snow after a roughly 20-minute rescue effort, a resort spokesman said. (Morgan Timms/Taos News via AP)
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People search for victims after an avalanche near the highest peak of Taos Ski Valley, one of the biggest resorts in New Mexico, Jan. 17, 2019. (Morgan Timms/Taos News via AP)

My thoughts and prayers go out to the two young men, their families, and friends who have suffered this tragic loss.

Friday’s rescue course brought 10 students from first year back-country travelers to seasoned vets who teach avalanche awareness classes for the Appalachian Mountain Club. We spent a couple hours in the morning going over rescue gear and methodology before moving to a field location for hands on realistic practice. Towards the end of the day I was partially buried a meter down in the snow while my friend and SOLO Instructor Sue addressed patient considerations, treatment, and evacuation. I thank former USFS Snow Ranger Jeff Lane for showing me the effectiveness of having students try to pull an unconscious 180 pound person out of a burial position.

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Just my airway cleared and one arm free there is a lot of work to do before proper treatment can begin- photo by Ryan Mcquire

We ended the course just as the edges of an incoming Nor’easter brought some snow fall and by Saturday morning it was coming down steady!

Nor'Easter Avalanche Course
My AM check of the radar showed multiple heavy bands of cold fluffy snow was on tap for all day Saturday

Saturday was the start of a three day AIARE Avalanche 1 Course and with my co-instructor Grant Price we had a full course of 12 students, all ski tourers with various levels of experience, but all eager to learn. After a productive morning of classroom and an afternoon of rescue practice I headed north to the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center to present a Know Before You Go presentation. This one-hour program is designed for a broad audience to introduce the 5 steps of avoiding getting caught in an avalanche.

  • Get the Gear
  • Get the Training
  • Get the Forecast
  • Get the Picture
  • Get out of Harm’s Way

Know Before You Go at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
Presenting at AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center- photo by AMC Parker Peltzer

In attendance were various guests, visitors, AMC trip leaders, and an AMC avalanche awareness class. After the presentation Q&A took us pretty late into the night.

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Some Q&A after the presentation- photo by AMC Parker Peltzer

Driving home around 10 pm I got to see some of the heaviest rates of snowfall before waking early Sunday to get Day 2 of the avalanche course going. We spent a little time inside talking about Human Factors and Heuristic Traps, some of which I had quite recently let get the better of my own decision making, before jumping into some sweet online tools and creating a tour plan for the rest of the day.

avalanche course
“PLAN your trip” is one part of the AIARE Framework that helps us make better decisions in the back country

As soon as we hit the trail we started spotting obvious clues of unstable Storm Slab. Just as we were crossing the first Cutler River bridge we saw this… can you spot the two clues to unstable snow?

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From the first bridge over the Cutler River minutes from the Visitor Center

There are two natural “baby” slab avalanches in this picture. One is just left of the rock in the center and harder to see. The one on the right is easy to see. This is evidence of this fluffy “fist” density storm snow has gained cohesion and is sitting on a reactive weak layer… in other words it has formed into a “slab”. We found multiple spots along side the trail where “hand shears” would fail during isolation and informal ski cutting would produce noticeable results, on of the best just off the trail while crossing a small creek and captured by this students video:

 

We continued up to Hermit Lake and took a few minutes to poke in the snow near the Volunteer Ski Patrol Cabin. As we were close to our established turn around time we soon found ourselves enjoying some nice if not a bit bumpy turns down the Sherburne ski trail.

I’d later find out my friend and fellow avalanche educator Ben Allen was out in Bill Hill Glades in Gorham kicking off small slabs there. I could just picture his smile and giggle as he poked around in the snow triggering small inconsequential avalanches. If you didn’t know that is one of the favorite things for an avalanche educator to do! Well, that and shred super stable POW of course…

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Skier triggered storm slabs in Gorham, NH- photo by Ben Allen

On Monday, the final day of our avalanche course, our students started trip planning at the NEM Bunkhouse at 8 AM. The Mount Washington Avalanche Center was forecasting HIGH danger for the day. In addition the Mount Washington Observatory’s Higher Summits Forecast was predicting ambient air temperatures to plummet to the negative teens with wind chills in the -50 to -70 range. A conservative tour was needed, and the group selected a tour up the Cog Railway with a high point of Jacob’s Ladder and  possibly a side trip over to the top of a new slide path.

avalanche course
Using the incredible CalTopo website we created a tour map that highlighted areas that might harbor more risk. Yellow were aspects fully exposed to the hurricane force NW winds coming later that day. Red terrain fit the criteria of areas of HIGH danger, and orange represented some areas of CONSIDERABLE danger.

We hit the trail close to 10 AM with a parking lot temperature of -9 Fahrenheit but surprisingly very low winds. The skin up to Waumbek tank took us just over an hour.

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Skiing up the Cog

During a break the group decided they would like to visit the top of the new slide path so we made our way up a few more hundred feet before contouring and bushwhacking over to the slide path.

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Top of “Phillipe Path”

Here I could feel the Human Factors tugging hard. The snow looked great. No tracks in it! We hadn’t really seen any signs of unstable snow like we had the day before. No cracking or whumping. It wasn’t as windy as we thought it would be. We had time to ski it. It was cold but climbing back up it would really warm us up.

I thought back to last weeks course when I had let Human Factors have a serious negative effect on my decision making. It was bluebird… no wind… perfect day to gain the ridge and complete a full “tour” on the last day of an avalanche class. The snow down here looked good… it must be good over there? Right? A student was apprehensive of her ability. Basically first time in the back country… My impaired objectivity reared its ugly head. “You can do it” I reassure without any evidence that she could. “We can side slip down until you feel comfortable making turns” I wrongly assumed. “It’s not that steep”… sure, for me, but what about her?

Listen to Every Voice, Respect Every Veto. These are tenants in good back-country partners.

Blue Sky Syndrome, Powder Fever, Over Confidence, and even some Kodak Courage had all crept into my consciousness. I failed to practice what I preach. I was not being objective. We made it down to the trail head just before dark. It took a few days and a formal debrief to really look back on that day for what it was. While I could call it a complete failure I’m looking at it as an ice cold head dunk of a wake-up call. 10 years of teaching these skills and I can still mess up. We all can. It’s how we move forward after making a mistake that counts.

Back to the top of Phillip, we turn our backs on what might be a killer powder run and head back to the Cog. We enjoy great low angle riding in calf deep powder back to the parking lot. We’ve returned way ahead of our turn around time as we listened to each other when we admitted we were pretty cold. No one got frostbite. The ski down had warmed us up enough for a quick round of Compression Tests and an Extended Column Test on a nearby slope.

 

We headed into the warmth of the AMC Thayer Hall for a tour debrief and to close the course. I handed out feedback forms that had been missing since the new curriculum rolled out.

What did you get out of this course?

How could the course be improved?

Where did you feel most at risk or in danger?

How can the instructors improve?

At the end of the day I read through all 12 forms. Small changes can be made based on these suggestions. Small changes lead to better learning environments for students and growth for the instructors.

I’m grateful for every comment and nudge from every student, fellow instructor, or guide I’ve ever gotten. Keep them coming.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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AIARE 1 Avalanche Course 12/14/18 – 12/16/18

The first avalanche course of the season with Northeast Mountaineering wrapped up yesterday late afternoon after 3 solid days of mixed classroom and field sessions. We have an awesome new classroom venue just minutes from The Bunkhouse and we were stoked to have so much snow on the ground for the first course of our season.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Great new classroom space only minutes from the Bunkhouse

After a morning of classroom on Friday we spent the afternoon outside learning and practicing avalanche rescue skills. On Saturday we spent a little time learning how to PLAN a tour in avalanche terrain before heading up to Hermit Lake on Mount Washington for some practice monitoring conditions along our tour.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Learning about layered snow packs in one of the most beautiful places in the White Mountains

On Sunday we started with a student led trip planning session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Teamwork makes the dream work!

We then skinned up the Gulf of Slides Ski Trail.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Main Gully
AIARE Avalanche Course
Approaching the Lower Snowfields in Gulf of Slides
AIARE Avalanche Course
Working our way up through the Lower Snowfields before traversing back into the Main Gully
AIARE Avalanche Course
Great weather for our full tour day!
AIARE Avalanche Course
Combining modern tech with old school navigation
AIARE Avalanche Course
Found some thin and stubborn pencil hard wind slab on this 37 degree slope at 4,500 feet to lookers left of the Main Gully. You can also see the December 3rd Melt-Freeze crust about 50 cm down here.
AIARE Avalanche Course
Pit location details, courtesy of Theodolite App
AIARE Avalanche Course
Edge-able, ski-able, but we are glad to see more snow in the forecast!

Summary

All in all it was a fantastic start to the avalanche course season with Northeast Mountaineering. The new curriculum rolled out pretty smoothly and I am digging the new “AIARE Framework” that creates a slightly smoother “flow” of decision making then the classic “Decision Making Framework” some of you may be familiar with. The new organization of the Avalanche and Observation Reference Tool is pretty sweet, and I really like the new 2-3 hour pre-course online learning component! If you have been waiting to take an avalanche course I’d say you should wait no longer! Most providers in the area are seeing courses sell out quite regularly! You can see what dates we have left here!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



Avalanche Rescue Course

This past weekend I lead the first avalanche course of the season for Northeast Mountaineering, the relatively new AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course. This one day course is a excellent part of the new AIARE curriculum.

Ortovox Avalanche Beacons
Ortovox Avalanche Beacons- photo by @photocait

Course Description

AIARE Avalanche Rescue is a one-day stand alone course that is intended to be retaken on a regular basis in order to keep abreast of best practices in rescue techniques and gear. New participants will learn the basics of companion rescue, while returning participants will expand their skill set with advanced topics and realistic scenario practice to help improve their skills.

Each participant will have the opportunity to receive professional coaching on their rescue skills, and will receive a rescue card acknowledging the completion date.

AIARE Avalanche Rescue is a prerequisite for the AIARE 2 and Pro 1 courses. AIARE recommends that all backcountry travelers keep their skills current by taking an Avalanche Rescue course and receiving a rescue card at least every other year.

Who Should Take this Course

The Avalanche Rescue Course is a one-day course aimed both at new and experienced recreational backcountry travelers and aspiring avalanche professionals.

Student Learning Outcomes

At the end of the Avalanche Rescue course the student should be able to:

  • Describe what to do if they or a member of their party is caught in an avalanche.
  • Identify and be able to use gear necessary for avalanche rescue.
  • Set up a realistic scenario in order to practice an avalanche rescue response.
  • Improve their response skills and times during and after the course with feedback from instructors and peers.
  • Develop a plan for continuing practice.

All students will have the opportunity to get feedback from an instructor on their rescue skills and timed practice in a realistic scenario.

Students who have previously taken an AIARE 1 or an Avalanche Rescue Course will find value in having a professional help them set up realistic scenarios, practice skills in a realistic setting, receive feedback from an instructor, keep up with current best practices, and have an opportunity to practice advanced rescue skills.

Prerequisites

Students must be able to travel in the snow, and bring appropriate equipment for traveling on snow to class. There are no other prerequisites.

COURSE DETAILS

Length: 1 Day [8 Hours]
Guide-to-Client: 2:12
Price: $150 per person includes one night lodging!*

*As space permits. Requires additional online reservation at The Bunkhouse.

2018-2019 DATES

January 18
March 21

We only have two dates on the calendar so they will likely fill up soon! Please contact me directly with any questions or help booking the date at nealpinestart@gmail.com.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



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Winter Prep Time, Gear & Head Check!

I usually wait until November to share some tips on getting ready for the upcoming snow & avalanche season but since I got my first turns in today over at Wildcat I just can’t help it. I am so stoked for this winter let’s go go go! If you are excited for winter like I am let’s get down to business so we will be ready to climb, shred, huck, slide, and skip our way up and down our amazing mountains all winter long!

Skiing Mount Washington
Photo by Corey Fitzgerald

First order of business…

Gear Check!

Time to find your avalanche beacon in that mess of a gear closet and put some new batteries in it. You remembered to take the batteries out at the end of last season right? Wouldn’t want any funky corrosion in such an important device. If you have one of my favorite beacons, the Ortovox 3+, make sure you check your software version. If it is running version 2.1 you gotta send it in for a quickie update. Ortovox covers the shipping both ways and I sent in my fleet of 8 beacons and got them back in a week! All the details on that process are here!

Ortovox Avalanche Beacons
Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Beacon- photo by Cait Bourgault

Oh you don’t own a beacon yet? Well we probably should get you one if you have plans that include slaying back-country pow or climbing alpine gullies. I can help you pick out the right model with this post from last year.

Maybe you have an old beacon and thinking it’s time to update? Great timing because Ortovox will give you $75 towards a new beacon! Read up on this recycling program here! Oh, and this is when I put fresh lithium batteries in my headlamp, cuz I’m planning on being a more active member of my local Dawn Patrol squad this winter!

Head Check!

Are you thinking about avalanches? You should be! The Mount Washington Avalanche Center has posted its first general advisory of the season. It is important to understand that very small avalanches can have very large consequences this time of year as our run outs are basically big cliffs and large rocks. Size-able avalanches can happen before the center switches to the 5-tier North American Avalanche Danger Scale. You can read about one such local occurrence here if you need some convincing.

AIARE Avalanche Course
Hands on learning about snow stability- photo by Alexandra Roberts

If you want to venture out and play on some 30+ degree snowy terrain (I sure do!) then you should be thinking about stability (or lack thereof). If you’re not sure what to look for then now might be a good time to sign up for an avalanche course. This is my tenth year teaching avalanche courses and this year I’m teaching AIARE 1, Avalanche Rescue, and AIARE 2 for Northeast Mountaineering.

Our schedule:

AIARE 1

 3 days, $370pp, includes two nights lodging!

December 14-16, 2018
December 28-30, 2018
January 4-6, 2019
January 11-13
January 19-21
January 25-27
February 1-3
February 8-10
February 16-18
March 1-3
March 8-10
March 15-17
March 29-31

With this many AIARE 1 courses running you might think you can wait to book. Well might I say… don’t! Historically we are 80% sold out by mid-December. If you want to chose the date you take your course do so early! You can register directly here. Be sure to enter “DavidNEM” in the promo code box for a good chance at winning a free guided day of your choosing (and to let Northeast Mountaineering know you heard about this from me right?).

Avalanche Rescue

$150pp, includes one night lodging!!!

January 18
March 21

AIARE 2

3 days, $485pp, includes two nights lodging!

March 22-24

Only one date… ya I know wish I could run more but the demand for AIARE 1 is still quite high… we might find a way to squeeze another 2 in during the winter but don’t bet on it. If you have taken a recent 1, and the Avalanche Rescue course, jump on this one quick before it sells out (we have an Avalanche Rescue course scheduled the day before so you can meet that requirement the day before this course!)

Ok, moving on…

Head Check Part 2

If you’ve been spending time learning about snow and avalanches for years now something you’ve definitely figured out is there is still more to learn. To sound cliche… the learning never stops! So to that end here’s a few ideas to get those wheels spinning (and skins gliding)…

Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop!!!

This is coming up Saturday, November 3rd! It’s in Fryeburg, ME. It’s an amazing full day of knowledge and winning shwag. There’s always good food and beer there. There is no reason you should not go to this if you have bothered reading this far. It’s only $50 for a full day of brain boost and you have a pretty decent chance of walking away with some nice schwag by the end of the day! Register now and come high five me at the AIARE/Ortovox table or creeping-on-the-DPS-table!

Avalanche Podcast you say?

Slide: The Avalanche Podcast

Can’t make it to ESAW? That’s okay… I understand… sometimes schedules just don’t work out you know? But guess what? You can still start priming that back-country brain by listening to some wicked smart guy talk about avalanches on a Podcast! I just finally finished the first two seasons of “Slide: The Avalanche Podcast” by Doug Krause. Find it on iTunes or where-ever you get your podcasts…

Rescue Practice

EMS Schools Avalanche Course
Real life rescue practice, full story here

It’s time to refresh those beacon skills. Run some drills. Dig! Don’t neglect the importance of “big picture” type scenarios. Sure, you bracketed that beacon buried under 6 inches of freshly fallen maple leaves in only 2 minutes 13 seconds flat but did you see that glove sticking out of the ground over there? That ski pole? Did you remember to fake-call 911 before you started your search? I’ll refer you to the Quick Reference- Avalanche Rescue flow chart at the back of your AIARE Field Book… oh… you don’t have one? Scroll back up to that stuff about signing up for an Avalanche Course… oh and how’s that First Aid training going? Taken that Wilderness First Aid Course yet?

Ok enough preaching… I’m just really really really excited for this winter. I think it’s going to be a good one. I just feel it. Fingers crossed, snow dances complete, sacrifices made… here it comes!

avalanche courses mount washington
A powder day on the Cog- Photo by Corey Fitzgerald

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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Trip Report- Gulf of Slides 3/25/18

Yesterday we wrapped up our AIARE 1 Avalanche Course with a field trip into the Gulf of Slides on the east side of Mount Washington. The weather was fantastic and looks to staying that way for the next 48 hours. I’m catching up on some home chores today but will be heading back into the alpine tomorrow! Here’s a quick run-down of our tour yesterday.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
AM Trip Planning Session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Skinning past the Avalanche Brook Ski Trail while heading up the Gulf of Slides Ski Trail
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
The main gully. Instead of booting up our intended run we skinned over to the South Snowfields and then traversed back to the main gully at 4620 feet.

The skinning was good until about 4400 feet where holding an edge on the traverse got a bit tricky. I was happy to have my Dynafit Ski Crampons along and will be posting a thorough review of those very soon!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Heading up the South Snowfields- photo by Erik Howes
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Small old cornice at the ridge top
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Making some snow-pack observation. We mostly found pencil-hard slab with low propagation potential (CTH, Q2, ECTX) See field book pic for more info.
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
CTH or CTN results
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Our pit location, UTM, altitude, angle, and aspect courtesy of Theodolite app!
Gulf of Slides Ski Tour
Gulf of Slides Ski Tour
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Little bit of fun on the way down! – photo by Erik Howes
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
My field notes…

It wasn’t too crowded, we saw perhaps 20-30 people up there. The 48 hour forecast is for more low wind bluebird conditions so I’m heading back out tomorrow with a plan to ski from the summit. Hope you can get out and enjoy! I think our Spring ski season is going to be quite good this year!

New to Back-country Skiing? I do teach the following courses

Introduction to Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry Ski Touring

Ski Mountaineering

Former AIARE students of mine get a 10% discount on these courses! Just message me directly through Instagram or Facebook for the discount code and let me know what date you want to go!

Upcoming Reviews

I’ve recently upgraded and added to my ski mountaineering gear and upcoming reviews will be focused on ultra-light gear designed specifically with back-country skiing and mountaineering in mind. Look for these reviews to come out soon!

Dynafit Ski Crampons

Petzl Leopard FL Crampons

Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

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Weekend Report- AIARE 1 Avalanche Course, Bates Outing Club, Backcountry Ski Festival, 2 Avalanche Accidents

Holy smokes what an amazing last four days and another Nor’Easter, the third one in 10 days, hits tomorrow!


Thursday

I spent Thursday at Wildcat wrapping up a Northeast Mountaineering Guides AIARE 1 Avalanche Course. It was a true powder day and we got in 3 solid laps including Thompson Brook while making snow-pack and weather observations and getting in some Companion Rescue practice.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Checking layers in a wind loaded aspect near the summit of Wildcat
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Making some turns in Thompson Brook- photo by @cfphotography

Friday

On Friday I met 7 students from the Bates College Outing Club at our classroom space at the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center. Due to epic field conditions we focused on covering the majority of classroom on our first day so we could get two full field days in over the weekend.


Saturday

Saturday morning we met at the Northeast Mountaineering Bunkhouse to learn a little about Companion Rescue before working up a trip plan to Hermit Lake and potentially into Hillman’s Highway. The mountain was quite busy with traffic as this weekend was also the 2nd Annual Mt. Washington Backcountry Ski Festival, a killer event hosted by Synnott Mountain Guides and Ragged Mountain Equipment.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Busy day at Pinkham Notch!

As our class arrived at Hermit Lake a member of Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol informed us of two avalanche incidents that had just occurred. A skier in Gulf of Slides had triggered a slab avalanche and been carried in the “middle finger”. No injuries reported but he lost a ski and had a long trip back to Pinkham Notch. The 2nd incident was two skiers getting hit by a natural avalanche in Hillman’s Highway while they were ascending. They reported being carried about a 100 or so feet but were also not injured.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Chatting with Mt. Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol and Andrew Drummond of Ski The Whites

We decided to head up that way and see if we could spot the avalanche debris. Just past the dogleg near the bottom of Hillman’s we could see a small debris pile about 100 feet above the dogleg. We climbed up a bit further before transitioning to our descent. We enjoyed some pretty epic powder on the Sherburne Ski Trail, especially when we ducked into the woods on the right side at a few spots!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Hillman’s Highway Tour

After we debriefed our tour at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center I headed to the vendor gathering at Ragged Mountain Equipment and enjoyed a cold one courtesy of event sponsor Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery. I bumped into a few former avalanche course students who were attending the festival and it was great to catch up and see them out there getting after it!

I then made my way over to the Apres party at Beak Peak Base Lodge where Tyler Ray of Granite Backcountry Alliance kicked off the evening where keynote inspirational speaker, The North Face athlete, and professional ski mountaineer Kit DesLauriers, would be presenting. I saw a lot of former students in the crowd here as well! Speaking of GBA I’m excited to announce I’ve joined their “Granbassadors” team! Such an awesome organization to be a part of. If you are reading this you likely ski in the back-country so you should check the mission out and subscribe here!


Sunday

Sunday morning had us planning a Gulf of Slides tour in the pack room at Pinkham Notch (along with quite a few other avalanche courses!). We skinned up into the Gulf by 11 AM and made our way over to the yet-to-be-filled-in South Snowfields. I then navigated us up to a bit of a bench and traversed us back over to the main gully stopping at about 4620 feet. Here we had a great small test slope that allowed us to see some really reactive new wind slab. After practicing some stability tests we used travel techniques to cross the main gully and then descend a smaller finger of amazing powder down to the lower half of the gully. It was by far the best run of my season so far!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Gulf of Slides GPS Track

Fun turns all the way down the Gulf of Slides ski trail saw us back to Pinkham by 2 PM where we squeezed in a little more Companion Rescue practice before reviewing our tour and debriefing the course.


Relive ‘Gulf of Slides’

 

A huge thank you to the Bates Outing Club students who were super motivated to learn through-out the course and brought some endurance and solid skill that allowed us to access quite a bit of terrain over the course of the weekend! And to my former students that came up to me at both Ragged, Bear Peak, and on the mountain thank you for saying hi! So rewarding to see people out there applying skills they acquired in one of my courses years ago! You all rock!


Video Highlights From the Weekend

 

Ok… I’m still feeling the high from the last few days and can not believe we have another foot of snow coming tomorrow!!!


Useful Info

If you are heading up there don’t for get to check both the Avalanche Advisory and the Higher Summits Forecast!

Still need to take your level 1 avalanche class?

We have seats available for this upcoming weekend and the conditions on PRIME!


See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start