Category Archives: Ski Patrolling

Big Avalanche Results and More About Treewell Safety

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Paul Baugher, the Ski Patrol Director at Crystal Mountain, is concerned about treewell safety. Treewells are the airy voids around trees draped heavily with snow. If you fall into one headfirst you might not be able to get out. Check out this video with Crystal’s Paul Baugher and patroller Christina Von Mertens that offers tips about how to avoid getting stuck in one.

Tree Wells & SIS Safety: What To Do If You Go Down from SIS Safety Videos on Vimeo.

The snow is still draped heavily on the trees here in the Cascades, and the forecast is calling for one last storm tonight. Then it looks like things will mellow out. We might even get some warm high pressure later in the week. In the mean time, the dangers still lurk. We set off some big explosives yesterday in Southback, both from the helicopter and on foot. I was on the hand route, and we worked mainly in Avalanche Basin. We got some big results below Appliances Chutes that wrapped around to lower starting zones. The debris ripped out trees in Damn Fine Forest and ran all the way to Elizabeth Lake. In my 25 years at Crystal I’ve never seen these slide paths run this far.

Avalanche Debris in Damn Fine Forest

Avalanche Debris in Damn Fine Forest

Appliance Chutes went big, with up to 5 foot crowns

Appliance Chutes went big, with up to 5 foot crowns

Blaine Horner tossing a big shot

Blaine Horner tossing a big shot

Pat Fleming standing in front of one of many of these

Pat Fleming standing in front of one of many of these

 

This Post Will Make You Jealous

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This is not a real post.

Admittedly, I haven’t put up as much content lately. I’ve been far too busy. Skiing. So instead of letting another day/week go by without a word from me, I thought I’d put up some photos from yesterday. Spoiler alert. You’re going to be jealous. Even if you were here yesterday.

If you’d rather read something real, check out Jen Hudak’s post Sex and the Female Athlete, which eloquently scathes Freeskier’s 10 Hottest Women in Freeskiing article. If I wasn’t trying to dash out the door to go skiing, I’d probably write a post about how women in the ski industry need to be appreciated for their skills on the slopes, not their looks. But Jen does a much better job at it anyway. So just go read her.

Below are some photos from yesterday. It was one of those redemptive days, when you start off not  sure if you even like the PNW anymore, what with unreliable forecasts and heavy rains and high snow levels and all the things that make people move to Utah, and then suddenly you fall in love all over again. Yesterday was like that. Turns out the rain down low was snow up high, and when you drop over the edge in the wee hours of the morning because your General Manager husband wants to check it out before opening and the light is so flat you aren’t even sure what the conditions are and then you land on a pillow of snow that goes on forever. And you’re just happy to be alive. It was two feet of fresh snow, layered perfectly with heavier snow covering the rocks down low and lighter snow tickling your boot tops.

Then the sun came out.

A few early turns in Green Valley

A few early turns in Green Valley

 

Hiking up Powder Bowl for Avalanche Control yesterday, the sun came out just as we topped out.

Hiking up Powder Bowl for Avalanche Control yesterday, the sun came out just as we topped out.

After throwing shots in Powder Bowl, I got these untracked turns on Lucky Shot

After throwing shots in Powder Bowl, I got these untracked turns on Lucky Shot

We plan to continue opening terrain all week. With the cold temperatures and dry air, the skiing should just get better. That also means that we want to get this snow skied before it starts to facet. Cold temps and a shallow snowpack will bring avalanche problems later. So the pressure is on to get Southback and Northway open soon. Our current plan is to open High Campbell tomorrow, South on Thursday and Northway by the weekend.

Come and get it.

Crystal Reopens Tomorrow: Conditions Report

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John and Scott give two enthusiastic "thumbs up"

John and Scott give two enthusiastic “thumbs up”

Thanks to the new snow we received in the past 24 hours, Crystal will reopen tomorrow. This morning, when John, Scott and a few other patrollers and I headed up the Gondola for a look, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I was last Saturday. That time I had a feeling about the snow. My instinct was telling me it would be good, and it was.

This time I wasn’t so sure.

Green Valley covered in snow was a pleasant surprise

Green Valley covered in snow was a pleasant surprise

It rained hard last night at the base, and the telemetry wasn’t showing any new. I was a bit skeptical. But we headed up into the fog nonetheless, ready to ski down or ride back down on the lift or do whatever was necessary.

I was pleasantly surprised. The fog lifted and we found up to 6″ at the top.

The rain line made it up to about the elevation of the bottom of Green Valley. Above that is all new snow. It is thick and “buttery” as ski patroller Michelle Longstreth put it. Classic PNW base-building snow. The top portion is really good skiing.

Once John made the call to reopen, off-duty patrollers Michelle, Christina, Peter and I felt we had to do our part too. So we skied a few laps in the valley, then headed over to the cache run just to make sure it was fit for public consumption.

Christina and Peter survey the goods

Christina and Peter survey the goods

And it is.

Green Valley Bowl itself offered up 6″ of chalky powder, while the lower valley was a bit thicker. However, we didn’t run into a rain crust until we skied Lucky Shot to the base. I wouldn’t recommend breaking any closures and skiing to the base. As Michelle described it, the conditions below midway were “character building,” and from our most enthusiastic patroller (hell, our most enthusiastic employee) at Crystal, that’s saying something.

So come up tomorrow and make some happy laps in the valley. The forecast is calling for sun the next few days, and the conditions are pretty darn good for pre-Thanksgiving turns. I, for one, will be up here enjoying the sun and the lift-served skiing.

Green Valley looking good

Green Valley looking smooth and buttery

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Mountain Man

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This is too awesome not to share. In case you can’t read my nephew’s handwriting, here’s the gist of it: “When I grow up I want to be a mountain man who runs a mountain area, like my uncle John Curcher (sic)! And my aunt Kimmy Curcher!” “The clothes I would wear would be nice clothes” (as in Patagonia and Outdoor Research, no doubt). “The tools I would use would be pencils” (because nothing at a ski area is ever done in permanent ink).

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“Be careful you dang teenagers!”

But the very best part is the drawing. Notice the snowboarder dropping from the helicopter, screaming “Yahoo!” And the others saying, “Awesome!” “Super!” and “Zowee Mama!!!” Got to love the enthusiasm there.

But the best part is what I can only assume is the ski patroller’s (my) voice from the helicopter yelling, “Be careful you dang teenagers!”

When I first examined his artwork, I assumed he was depicting John and I riding down the mountain, and I thought, “Well at the end of the day, at least my nephew gets me.” But upon closer examination, I realize someone has to be the killjoy, warning the teenagers to be careful. After all, any good story has a protagonist, an antagonist and a very awesome setting. Also, I can’t help but notice the great care he took in drawing the helicopter. A mind made for machines is a mind made for mountain operations.

Bravo Jack.

We’re ALL Winners: Free E-Books, The Next 15 Minutes

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Get Your Free E-Book Today

Get Your Free E-Book Today

Today I’m celebrating. My memoir, The Next 15 Minutes, has been honored by the North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA) with the Harold Hirsch award for excellence in journalism in the Book category. The Next 15 Minutes, if you’re new here, is the high-octane story of how lessons learned as a ski patroller helped me get through my husband’s harrowing cancer diagnosis. More adventure-story than medical-memoir, this book reveals what it’s like to make the ski industry your life and how to use our voluntary adventures to get through real-life disasters. I’ve always believed that we get out on the edge to see what we’re made of. But we don’t expect to use that expertise in a real emergency. Until we have no other choice.

If you haven’t yet read the book, now’s the time.

Harold_Hirsch

Thanks NASJA!

The Book category is only given every three years. Judges are chosen based on their expertise in the field, and are not members of the organization. The award is named for Harold Hirsch, a long-time ski journalist, and member of the NASJA Board.

I’m thrilled to be honored by NASJA. My late father-in-law, Everett Kircher, was given NASJA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Mammoth, CA in 1999.

My husband and his brother, Steve, accepted the honor in their father’s name. It’s fitting that I received my award in Mammoth 14 years later.

To celebrate, my publisher, Behler Publications, is giving away free e-books of THE NEXT 15 MINUTES today and tomorrow. Just email Lynn Price at: lynn_at_behlerpublications.com (replace “_at_” with @ symbol) and put FREE NEXT 15 MINUTES in the Subject line. Hurry. This special celebration ends tomorrow.

Yea!

Avalanche Footage in the Alps

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Check out this avalanche footage I found on Unofficial Networks. It makes me happy that I don’t blast above a village. Oh wait. Except my house actually sits at the bottom of an avalanche path. Maybe it’s time to move.

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Val d’Isere Pisteurs (french for ski patrollers) blasted the slopes above, creating the avalanche that hit this town. Luckily no one was hurt and there was very limited damage. Most of what reached the buildings was the fine, powder cloud. But this was a close call. And of course, as in any disaster, there’s always the maniacal laughing from the the guy taking the video. Classic.

 

 

A Life in the Mountains

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Listen now

“The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too,” stated early Yosemite climber Hervey Voge. Climbing mountains requires patience, strength and incredible judgment. Mountains are not

Brent Okita

Brent Okita

climbed in a single day, and some expeditions take months to complete. Deprivation and a comfort in high places makes mountain climbing a singular experience. But the rewards often outweigh the risks. Brent Okita climbs mountains for a living. He knows, more than anyone, the dichotomy between scarcity and abundance found only on the side of one of the largest peaks in the world. Because only when we strip ourselves of material conveniences can we truly enjoy the gifts that wild places can offer. Mountain guides like Okita have learned to dwell among the permanence of these high places.

Brent Okita spends his life almost entirely in the mountains. Okita has been up and down Washington’s, Mt. Rainier over 450 times. He’s summited Denali 21 times, and been to Everest twice, with a summit in 1991. Brent’s resume includes 14 expeditions to the Alps, and one to Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. But Brent doesn’t do this for fun. This is his job. Brent is a guide at Rainier Mountaineering Inc. in Ashford, WA at the base of Mt. Rainier. In the summer he might summit this Kircher-show-descriptionmassive volcano twice a week. In the winter he is Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol’s Assistant Director.

Join me on The Edge as I talk to Brent Okita about mountain guiding, ski patrolling and living life in the world’s highest places. Have a question for Brent? Leave a comment here and I’ll ask him on the show. Or call in live Wednesday at 888-346-9144.

This Avalanche Rescue Canine Gets to Work

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kala_on_the_runLet me introduce Kala. She’s one of the avalanche rescue dogs at Crystal. Not just any dog can be an avalanche rescue dog; it takes a special kind to do this work. Any breed will do, even mixed breed dogs have been part of our patrol. Yet they must be keen to work (aka “play” to a dog), strong and a little bit obsessive. That’s Kala.

If I ever get caught in an avalanche, I want Kala coming for me. Notice how she keeps digging and trying to get to the victim. Instead of waiting for her handler to do the work, she just keeps going. I love that persistence. Keep it up Kala.