Tag Archives: Avalanche Forecasting

El Avalanchisto: The Dirtbag Diaries

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I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to assume that you, dear reader, are familiar with The Dirtbag Diaries. If not, then click on the link and go check it out for yourself. Created by Fitz Cahall and–as the legend goes–recorded in a closet in Seattle, The Dirtbag Diaries is a podcast for adventurers. Fitz covers the kinds of stories you’d want to hear over a campfire, the kinds of tales you hope to hear on a long road trip. He gathers up adventure into a 30-minute podcast, cinches it tight and delivers it to you in your ear. No campfire or road trip necessary.

I just came back from a long boat trip and I finally had a chance to catch up on podcasts. While motoring up the BC coast, my husband and I binge-listened to our favorites. El Avalanchisto, a recent episode from The Dirtbag Diaries, was played not once but three times. Just for good measure.

It’s a compelling story, and one that resonated with me for obvious reasons. Matt McKee decides to take a job forecasting avalanches for Minera Pimenton, a gold mine in the Chilean Andes. He thought it would be his dream job. Instead it turned into a nightmare: a den of avalanche paths, a mine full of workers who didn’t believe in avalanches and a country that looked for someone to blame if things went wrong.

What made me want to listen to this one over and over again was not the human nightmare, but the natural one. The tale was a familiar one to me. Avalanche paths going bigger that ever seen before, snow falling nonstop and filling in the previous slides, and the feeling that the world above you just wants to bury you–I know what that feels like.

Have a listen and see what you think. Click below to be taken to the podcast. Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 2.16.28 PM

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Snowman Film: When heli-blasting goes wrong

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I’m hoping my mother never sees this movie. It looks brilliant and fascinating and on-the-edge-of-your-seat exhilarating. As a heli-blaster myself, the trailer for this film captures that mixture of awe and horror that roils inside while watching a big avalanche pull away and wreak havoc on a mountain side.

Kevin Fologin is an avalanche forecaster and consultant in B.C.’s rugged Coast Range, where he regularly drops explosives from helicopters to start avalanches.  One day, one of these missions goes horribly wrong. Check out the trailer below.

In the first segment of this film to drop on Salomon FreeskiTV Kevin describes the ironic fascination of purposely creating avalanches. Most of us try to avoid avalanches. Snow safety consultants like Kevin (and ski patrollers across the world) hunt them.

Our job isn’t necessarily to prevent avalanches, but rather to create them. Once a slope has avalanched, the cartridge in the barrel has been spent. My favorite part of the first segment of the film below is during the big avalanche footage. Just listen to Kevin’s voice on the radio. “Go, go, go. Look at that thing go,” he says just as the toe of the avalanche launches over a beautiful slope toward the valley bottom. He lets out a laugh while the camera follows the cascading mass pushing harder and harder over the terrain. It’s a great piece of camera work and it resonated deeply for me.

How can avalanches be so awesome and so horrible all at once? There’s something truly humbling about watching one of these large slides devastate the landscape. And yet there’s also something addictive about causing one. Usually we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. With explosives, we can push the avalanches to happen when we want them to.

It’s a recipe for hubris. Perhaps that’s what makes this movie so intriguing–it explores that fine line through the aftermath of a devastating accident.

Kevin Fogolin hunting avalanches by helicopter

Kevin Fogolin hunting avalanches by helicopter

The film debuted last weekend at the 2014 Whistler Film Festival, winning “Best Mountain Culture Film.” According to the film’s website the film was very well received, and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

I’m looking forward to seeing more. Just don’t tell my mom.