All This Snow: Be careful out there

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The weather at Crystal is either on or off. There’s no in between up here in the Cascades. And for the past seven days a cold, snowy hose has been pointed straight at us.

Skiing the Deep under Shaker's Left

Skiing the Deep under Shaker’s Left

Since last Wednesday, we’ve received OVER 7 FEET OF SNOW. Just think about that for a second. If you’re a skier or rider, than you’re probably like me. We get excited about snow. Our pupils start to circle. But we have to be careful. There are hazards that accompany all this snow.

I, personally, have a love affair with snow. I marvel at tiny snow crystals; I’m giddy when I feel snowflakes on my chin; I live to slice through powder. But I must also remember to check myself.

During big storm cycles like this we ski patrollers work hard. We take pride in getting the mountain open on time (or at least as early as we possibly can), and we don’t mind slogging through snow to do avalanche control or carrying a heavy pack laden with explosives or digging out signs buried several feet under the snow. That’s our job. And we’re happy to do it.

Natural Avalanche in Kemper's Slidepath

Natural Avalanche in Kemper’s Slidepath

But sometimes even our best efforts can’t change the outcome. On Monday the ski area had a power outage when PSE’s backup generator didn’t work. While our main line goes down quite often, it isn’t usually a problem. The generator is large enough to handle all our needs. But here we were on a busy holiday with loads of new snow and a huge crowd of people headed our way, and no way to power the resort. It was a bummer.

Explosive Triggered Avalanche in Eagle's Chute

Explosive Triggered Avalanche in Eagle’s Chute

Bu with all this new snow we’ve had more serious hazards than a lack of power. The avalanche cycle has been dabgerous. On Monday Kemper’s (an avalanche path outside our boundary) slid naturally. When avalanches occur naturally (without a human trigger) then you know the danger is high or extreme.

Yesterday we brought in a helicopter to drop large explosives in Northway. With conditions like this, it’s too dangerous for patrollers to set out on skis. Instead we use a helicopter to drop 25 pound shots in those hard-to-get pockets. We saw widespread results. Northway Bowl produced a large avalanche with a 4-5 foot crown. Niagra’s (sic) slid wall-to-wall. We saw evidence of natural avalanches throughout Northway.

Treewells are deep and dangerous

Treewells are deep and dangerous

Most tragically, the treewell danger is also extremely high. All this snow creates airy voids at the base of alpine firs, creating dangerous traps. Yesterday one skier at Crystal (near Dick’s Face below Neanderthal Rocks) slid head first into a treewell and died. Even though he was skiing with a partner, and the two had skied together for years, just a few minutes in a treewell was enough to cause suffocation. For these two men, their day started with enthusiasm and thrills. It ended in tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

If you plan to come up to the Cascades and enjoy this storm cycle, remember these hazards. These are part of the inherent risk in the sport.

This isn’t Disneyland. While the thrills and excitement of new snow can blind us all to the dangers, they still exist and deserve our respect.

The forecast is just calling for more snow. Saturday there will be a short lull in the action, with more storms rolling in next week.

Let’s all be safe out there and return to ski/ride another day.

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10 responses »

  1. To read about someone dying in such a matter of fact way caught me off guard. A little more emotion would have eased the shock of reading it. There was plenty of emotion as you wrote about snowflakes touching your chin but nothing when it came to the death of a skier. Then the Disneyland comment just made me confused and sad.

      • I was pretty sure that you care very much. I know you do. I was just a little taken aback especially with the title of the piece also. That said… perhaps skiers and boarders need to hear it straight up like that. I love to ski but only every now and again. Hard core folks may need the words just as you placed them.

        Cheers! Renea

  2. Kim – this is just despicable. You talk about a death with such a casual tone? And I also really love how you make a myriad of excuses for how HORRIBLY Crystal management has performed this year. Classic example of someone who thinks their shit don’t stink. You should just go back to writing articles about how much snowboarding sucks. How SMUG can one person be???

    • Taf–not sure what you’re getting at here. These aren’t excuses. This is a quick summary of what we’ve been seeing and the dangerous conditions still present out there. My tone isn’t casual here. It’s serious. There’s a difference.

    • Taf Kama, you are rude. Kim is a professional and she wrote a a blog to give all of us a perspective on what is really happening on the mountain, and to warn us of the risks inherent when the powder is deep and the tree wells are deadly. Her love of skiing is obvious, and her humanity is always on display. All of us, but particularly you, take her and the other ski patrollers for granted. Maybe some climbing, route-finding and personally dealing with avalanche and tree well risk, with no ski patrol to protect you, would give you a better understanding of what risk management is all about. My wife and I were caught in an avalanche once and were lucky enough to be spit out on top, though she had a broken leg. Crystal lets its customers get the feel of backcountry skiing with much less risk, and it’s all because of Kim and the other members of ski patrol. She must get sick of dealing with people like you, but she never shows it.

  3. Kim, I know that you and your team work tirelessly to do everything to mitigate the inherent risks associated with this awesome and dangerous sport. I woke at 5 a.m. yesterday to line up for first tracks, and while driving up I thought to myself…I bet ski patrol hasn’t slept much in days. When I heard the news about yesterday’s tragedy I felt terrible for his family and ski partner, but I also thought of you and your crew, and how hard that must be for you all because of how seriously you take this business of making the heaven that is powder skiing as safe and reasonable as possible. Right before my son and I headed to High Campbell for our first lap, we saw a patroller just standing outside the shack at the top of Forest Queen chair with an eagle eye on the slope under the Throne. We asked him what he was doing and he said he was just watching skiers — eyes on. Just in case. So…even though you and your team had done everything reasonable to prepare Campbell Basin for us, you worried about us anyway. Like a parent does. And it made me feel just a little more at home. That’s how I feel when I ski Crystal. I feel like you just get it. You guys are awesome.

  4. Gosh, I’m surprised at the comments about your casual tone toward the death, I didn’t read it that way at all. The piece flowed and your seriousness and concern were evident to me. We appreciate you patrollers out there at zero dark thirty doing your best to make a relatively safe experience for us. Heard about the tragedy on the radio this morning, so sorry for the loss of life and everyone involved.

You people are amazing. Thanks for commenting.

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