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.
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!