Tag Archives: ski patrol

When do YOU think we’ll be skiing this season?

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For those of you starting to place bets on the first day of skiing this year, I thought I should pass on some vital information. I’ve already posted Larry Schick’s awesome prediction for the winter (hint: he’s calling for another good one!) as well as NOAA’s official La Nina advisory.

This could be you

But there’s one more vital piece of information that you might not know about, especially if you live in the PNW. Crystal Mountain has a secret weapon. Snowmaking.

For those of you from anywhere else besides the PNW, this might seem a little ho-hum. Snowmaking, you say? So what.

Well, our new snowmaking system runs along the top of Green Valley, blowing hard, dense snow over the ridge. Since the GV ridge is often the achilles heel keeping us from opening, this blanket of early snow will allow us to open earlier. No one necessarily likes to ski on manmade snow. But it makes a killer base.

So, while we might only be offering a single ribbon of snow for the early season diehards, it will be skiing. And it could happen early. Some of the higher-ups at Crystal (including the one I’m married to) are saying we might be open by Halloween.

Whoa.

I, personally, would love to open before ski patrol training, which is the first week in November. Not that I don’t LOVE the week of training, but it’s always a very good sign if we’re open by then. Just saying.

I’m planning on doing an opening day contest over at www.blogcrystal.com, and I want to give you all the most information possible. Consider this your heads up.

Oh. And you might want to get those skis tuned up. Just in case.

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Heli-Bombing Video

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While I’ve been in Costa Rica surfing and soaking up the sun, my patroller friends back home have been finishing up the biggest avalanche cycle of our careers. Check out this video from King 5 of the recent heli-bombing mission in Southback.


Search for Missing Skier Waiting for Snowmelt

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Once about 20 inches of snow melts at Crystal Mountain, Ski Patrol Director, Paul Baugher, hopes to reinvigorate the search for Paul Melby. Enough snow has fallen since last Tuesday, when Melby disappeared, that the chances of finding him are slim until some snow melts. While searchers–both volunteers and patrollers–continue to scour the mountain, the all-out search of last week has tapered down due to the challenging conditions.

We fear that Melby fell into a tree well–the bottomless space created around tree trunks under deep snow conditions–and that he is impossible to see from the surface.

Yesterday, my step-son, Andrew, helped a father and son who had fallen into a tree well at Crystal. While riding the Chinook Express, Andrew saw a skier calling for help near the top of the lift. When Andrew arrived, the skier pointed towards a tree saying that two people had fallen in.

Andrew could not see any sign of the two skiers until he took off his own skis and approached the tree. Nearly ten feet down, a boy and his father–who had dove in after his five year-old son when he skied right into the tree and fell through the airy snow surrounding it–struggled to extract themselves.

The father handed his son up to Andrew, who reached into the tree well to pull him out. The boy, while frightened and crying, was otherwise unhurt. Here’s the part of the story that truly drives it home: even with Andrew on the surface tamping down the snow, even while he was uninjured and fully conscious, the man could not pull himself out of the tree well. Andrew handed him a ski pole, and he still couldn’t extricate himself. Not until Andrew reached down and yanked the man out–pulling with all this strength–was the man able to finally reach the surface.

This was a near miss. Fortunately for the five year-old, his father had seen him fall into the tree well, and equally fortuitous was that Andrew saw the situation from the chairlift and could pull them both out.

The weather forecast is calling for some warmer temperatures next week, and once the heavy snow of the past several days settles out, the all-out search for Paul Melby will continue. For those still interested in searching, check in with ski patrol, who can assign you to a specific area.

All of the most-likely locations have been thoroughly searched and most of the less-likely as well. It is unlikely that Melby ventured out of bounds or under a rope line. He is an expert skier, capable of skiing anywhere on the mountain. He was last seen in Rabbit Ears Chute under High Campbell Chairlift.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Melby and his family. Thanks to everyone who continues to search and hold out hope for our good friend.

For more information about tree wells visit www.treewelldeepsnowsafety.com.

Luna the Avalanche Rescue Puppy

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Meet the newest member of Crystal Mountain’s Ski Patrol.  Luna (owned by Eric Gullickson and Anna deArrieta) is an eight-week old Belgian Malamois, and yesterday was her first day on the patrol.

Training an avalanche rescue dog is a long, intense job.  This season Anna and Eric will work on socializing Luna–getting her used to riding the chairlift, running alongside them as they ski, and training her on basic commands.  The key this year will be to have Luna understand the “game” of avalanche rescue: if she finds a human-scented object under the snow, she will get to play. 

Avalanche rescue dogs are used to find victims buried in the snow.  They “alert” on a scent, showing the handler where to probe and shovel.  Dogs don’t necessarily dig the victim out of the snow, since avalanche debris is the consistency of hard boulders.  Instead, avalanche dogs show the handlers where to dig. 

Once a dog gets the basic game, dog handlers increase the distractions and bury the object (whether a person or an article of clothing) deeper in the snow, making it ever more realistic.   

One day Luna will become a certified avalanche rescue dog, like Cirrus.  For now, she’s a candidate.  But she’s already one of us.  Plus, she’s adorable.

Bluebird Powder Day

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Today was one of those rare days at Crystal–6 inches of new snow, cold temperatures and clear blue skies.  

The sunlight caught the ice particles hovering in the air forming sparkly snow haloes.  It almost made me want to yodel.

Chris Morin and I took a few turns in Niagras–making sure it was safe for everyone else.  It was.  In fact it was quite good.  The next few days are supposed to be clear and cold, so it doesn’t end here.  

Sunset Sweep

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After a day of cold east winds and hovering fog, the sun finally poked through at Crystal Mountain yesterday afternoon.  This morning, it looks like the sun is sticking around.  I love these cold, sunny days.  Here are a few photos:

Avalanche Rescue Dogs

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Like any ski patroller, Crystal Mountain’s Avalanche Dogs love their job.  Trained to find avalanche victims buried in the snow, dogs like Kayla and Dee (shown right) have spent their lives learning to follow human scent under the snow.  It isn’t easy, but don’t tell Kayla and Dee–they love it.  To them, it’s just a big game.  After each search practice the dogs get to play with a special toy reserved only as a reward for finding a buried victim.  And Dee loves gloves. 

Here, she’s got a hold of mine, and enjoys keeping it away from Kayla.

Training an avalanche dog is difficult business.  My dog, Rocket, rest his soul, spent his life alongside me on the hill.  In the mornings, we went to work together.  And at night, he slept beside me.  I like to think we understood each other.

When Rocket found his first real victim, I had hoped he would be a hero.  I had wanted him to save someone’s life.  After all, that’s why we trained so hard.  I had spent years digging snow caves, getting buried in avalanche debris to simulate the real thing, and opting to do “dog work” instead of free ski.  Rocket and I were committed.

But sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan.  Rocket did find a victim, but it was no use.  The guy had died instantly.  That day he didn’t want to play with his special toy, either.  Rocket knew it wasn’t a game.

Today, as I watch Dee and Kayla steal my glove, romp in the snow, and rub their backs in the powder, trying to scratch beneath their patrol vests, I miss my own dog.  I wish he had lived a few more years.  Rocket was the best dog a girl could have.

But our best canine friends never do live long enough.  Perhaps that’s what makes them so special in our hearts.