Avalanche Basin “Traverse-To” Gate

We have re-established the mid-slope "traverse-to" gate from Campbell Basin to Avalanche Basin!

 

The New Plan
During times of higher instability, the Ski Patrol may keep the mid-slope Avalanche Basin gate closed until those responsible for the snow safety program are satisfied that most of the slide paths have been adequatedly skied (released and/or compacted) from the top. A sign specifically pertaining to the mid-slope A-Basin gate will be placed at the Throne Saddle near the start of the hike to South Backcountry when Southback is open, but that gate is not. 

 

The Throne, showing the traverse across "Hamburger" to the gate (arrow).      (Photo: Chris Morin)

 

The Southeast side of The Throne with the Gate (arrow)             (Photo: Chris Morin)


 

So that’s the word–the gate is back, though in a bit different configuration.  After a big dump (I’m talking about SNOW for non-skiers/boarders who have found their way here) don’t make a bee-line for that gate without checking the sign at the saddle as you pass by.  It will not always open when Southback opens, as it usually did in the past.

 

Why, you ask?  OK, picture this: 

There’s nothing quite like the feeling on a deep powder day when you drop into an untracked chute and 3 or 4 snorkel-breath turns down, you notice the slope is moving along with you. A quick cut to the right or left and the sluff of loose powder continues harmlessly past you. You catch your breath then continue, leaving perfect hero tracks in the fluffy, deepening debris.

That’s good, right?

Now imagine this: Same deep powder day, same untracked chute. You stop to let the growing sluff pass by you just as some Wingnut zips out from around a corner, traverses below you across the middle of your line and gets buried by the snow you just released. Now you and your buddies’ great powder morning gets sacrificed trying to dig out an airway for someone you don’t even know, in the 4-or-so minutes before asphyxia sets in.

Less good.

As many of you know, the Ski Patrol likes to get terrain open as soon as safetly possible after new snow falls. Nothing is as valuable in the mitigation of avalanche accidents as the tracks of skiers and snowborders that cut up slabs and compact weak layers in the snowpack. “Hike-To” terrain such as South Backcountry receives less compaction than the “In-Area” parts of Crystal. That’s part of why those AVALANCHE PRONE AREA signs, along with recommendations to TRAVEL WITH A SHOVEL, BEACON, PROBE & PARTNER, are posted at each gate. We expect the people who choose to travel there are choosing to travel there wisely.

But during last season (2007-2008) and its near-record snowfall, we began to notice a disturbing new trend of skiers & boarders, alone and in large groups, traversing from that lower A-Basin gate around the entire basin, crossing about 25 commonly-observed avalanche paths mid-slope. In the world of Snow Science, that’s not considered wise. (‘Cuz what’s it called again? Oh yeah, that’s right, AVALANCHE Basin! Sheesh!)

When we talked to some of these people, it was clear that many of them had no idea they were in harm’s way. So we felt obligated to change the way we managed this area by removing the gate. Now, after further consideration, we’ve decided we can re-establish the gate but change the way we manage its opening on certain avalanche-prone days.

 

But what about the trees?

For those who’ve written in about the trees below the gate: When the gate is closed the trees will be out-of-bounds because they’re just too close to the avalanche path. But the good news is that there IS a gate now, so the trees will usually be pretty easy to access.  Just check the sign at the saddle before you go!

 

Day in the life…

Since I wrote the first draft of this article, I had THIS experience. I was half-way through ski-cutting (with a guard) just below the ropeline along the top of Rick’s Face, that big rock just beyond (skier’s left of) the 1st switchback on Kelly’s Gap Road. It was right after opening on a deep powder morning when one should definitely keep a partner in sight. Someone who was obviously a great skier comes flying down Right Angle and sprays me with snow, just barely stopping before hitting the ropeline and knocking me over. I tell them to be careful because knocking over a ski patroller—who is ski cutting avalanches—in a closed area—well, there are just some problems with that.

The person then continues down and stops right BELOW Rick’s Face, never looking up at me or the avalanche hazard I had just said I was there to mitigate. They also didn’t seem to notice the big piles of snow I created, up against the trees below, definitely deep enough to bury someone. They skied off happily, as they should, but the moral of the story is this: Ya’ gotta keep those avalanche eyes ON when you’re in avalanche terrain. Keep a partner in sight. Travel one-at-a-time so you don’t load an avalanche-prone slope all at once. Travel with a transceiver you’ve practices using (perhaps over at the "Easy Searcher" next to the Cambell Basin Lodge) a shovel, and an avalanche probe. And the lesson of the A-Basin gate is: don’t cut into avalanche-prone terrain mid-slope until it’s first been released or compacted from the TOP. It’s better to be BEHIND large amounts of moving snow than right BELOW it!

Happy Skiing/Boarding

10 thoughts on “Avalanche Basin “Traverse-To” Gate

  1. Ann Z

    Great news that you’ve put the gate back in! We love to ski the A-basin trees on a big powder day and were so disappointed at the closure. Thanks for the common sense approach, and for all the work you do every day to keep the backcountry open and safe.

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  2. bob

    thanks Corey, a question – why does the rope line extend so far downhill, past the point where you could cut back into A-basin (when the gate is closed)? bob

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  3. Graham

    why not just require folks to have avy gear in the southback and make decisions for themselves? like baker. people will soon figure out how serious avy’s are, get the gear, get the knowledge, and then ski the great terrain that Crystal polices. with the lift in northway, folks that shouldn’t be in the southback don’t need to. alpental has backcountry permit cards which require a cursory lecture and friendly interrogation. additionally, is it really less safe to ski out the gate in question, than to hike the Throne and ski the whole line? why open southback but not to A-Basin gate?

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  4. Graham

    why not just require folks to have avy gear in the southback and make decisions for themselves? like baker. people will soon figure out how serious avy’s are, get the gear, get the knowledge, and then ski the great terrain that Crystal polices. with the lift in northway, folks that shouldn’t be in the southback don’t need to. alpental has backcountry permit cards which require a cursory lecture and friendly interrogation. additionally, is it really less safe to ski out the gate in question, than to hike the Throne and ski the whole line? why open southback but not to A-Basin gate?

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  5. Kyle

    I am so happy you put the gate back in, major kudos and I also agree that it would be great if the gate actually extended down the fall line back to chair 6. Given the control work that goes on in Southback I don’t think avy gear should be required. I often ski the slack in Crystal Lakes or past Three Way which is a totally different story.

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  6. Mike

    I liked the gate closure, and am disappointed to see it come back. I like the scenario you describe in the beginning of your post, about the great feeling on a deep powder day when you drop into an untracked chute. But its really annoying when part way down you bounce across a packed traverse line put in by those too lazy to take a walk and start from the top. Closing the gate prevented that, and I couldn’t have been happier. Honestly, an ideal situation from my perspective would be to disallow traversing from the Southback gate at the Throne Saddle. I also love it if you couldn’t traverse from the top of Bull Run over into Exterminator.
    On a more safety conscious note, the easier access provided by the traverse will, without a doubt, result in more completely unprepared people entering the slackcountry. I know it’s tough for you guys to police this, but with this you’re making it even easier.

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  7. alpymarr

    Agree with the laziness factor. Northback is destroyed and should be adequate for the more “advanced” skiers, leaving the south side for those who wish to earn it. If you really wanna ski powder, then you will do whatever it takes. There is definately something about skinning the throne or slinging skis to pack and working for a while before dropping A-Basin. That is now blown, as the lazy’s will have that slope ski stabilized in 5 minutes, not to mention people swarming that gate upon opening and building a crowd there (not the best place to stand for exteneded periods of time) there could be an alpental scenario where people get agro on the traverse. In a perfect world there would be a permitting system and a cop at the gate to check for your gear( that you should always have anyways). Pay attention to all types of customers, there is a good amount of competent BC skiers at crystal…how bout a little recognition? Oh well, the goods are reserved for Warren Miller on the best days anyways, even though I paid for my pass.

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