IF YOU HAVEN’T HEARD, THE PLAN IS TO GET SOUTH BACKCOUNTRY OPEN THIS WEEKEND!
If you’re not at Seattle Ski Fever & Snowboard Expo this weekend, you better come up!
Graham submitted a comment about last March’s ‘A-Basin Gate’ article. What he wrote echoes what we often hear from closure violaters and what many others have asked in-person. Sorry if this seems elementary, but I want to make sure things are real clear here:
Yes, entering a potential avalanche path from the top is better than entering it mid-slope. If an avalanche occurs, it’s better to have the largest volume of snow below you, rather than above, coming down on top of you. Sure, there’s a slim chance you could get "spit out the top" and end up on the surface just like there’s a slim chance you could get "thrown free" in a car crash if you’re not wearing your seatbelt. But experience has shown that it’s very, very unlikely that betting on that chance is going to work out well for anybody!
Avi gear (avalanche rescue gear, like shovel, probe, beacon) neither prevents avalanches nor reduces your chance of getting caught in avalanches–it helps speed recovery if you’re buried in one. If you’re alone, it doesn’t help you. If your group carries only one beacon, it doesn’t help you. If you get strained through rocks & trees and suffer trauma rather than suffocation, it doesn’t help you!
An Avalung, from Black Diamond, can help, but only if you’re wearing one. And it only extends the amount of time you can survive while buried, it doesn’t supply limitless air. Even though the tube and mouthpiece look a little like a snorkel, it isn’t one–it pulls a limited amount of air from within the snowpack, not fresh air from above, and it doesn’t help you "swim to the surface" at all. (The page linked above also has a cool video of a guy wearing an Avalung who was actually buried and rescued while wearing a helmet-cam. Check it out. Chilling!)
THE LOWER "TRAVERSE-TO" A-BASIN GATE will remain closed on some days until the snow safety decision-makers feel adequate tracks have been put in, in the 25-or-so avalanche starting zones in A-Basin (Why do you think it’s called "Avalanche Basin?") and the North side of Silver King. That may take a while on "big dump" mornings (that’s snow country jargon for "deep snow") when the wallow up the King is slow. When the gate is open, we plan to have a sign at the Throne Saddle (where the hike starts) indicating so. Keep yer eyes peeled!
KEEP THE CHANGE
Are you THIS guy? (Read with a grizzly "geezer" accent:) "I’ve skied here 35 years and I’ve always skied that gate and never had a problem, and nobody knows this terrain better’n me, and why’d you whippersnappers have to go and change how you do things, dagburnit!"
Yup, Roscoe, some things have changed since you were a young’un! New ski gear allows people with less mountain experience to access Expert terrain. Our new Northway chair has changed a lot of people’s routine on powder mornings. Computers have allowed better communication between ski areas, and avalanche forecasters, and the tracking of accident data. And those neon pants you’re wearing are so un-cool that they’re almost cool again! Fer-shizzle!
Things keep changing and the decision-makers keep trying to pay attention and respond. Skiers used to enter that A-Basin gate and tended to stick to the first line of untracked snow they came to. Nowadays, skiers put in these big-ass traverses around the whole basin. (And by the way… KNOCK IT OFF, YOU’RE RUINING ALL THE GOOD POWDER LINES!) So rather than waiting for a tragedy to force a change, we’ve altered a procedure because we noticed a change in guests’ behavior, learned from other ski areas’ experiences, and want to be proactive in helping our guests manage their safety! You down with that?
I’ve been asked how to anticipate when that gate will open. It’ll vary. When you’re riding Forest Queen chair or at the top of High Campbell chair, look over toward Silver King. When you start seeing a few tracks in most every chute, it’s probably OK to mosey over to the gate to wait in line. (No guarantees!) Some days it’ll be earlier than that. Like I said, watch the sign at the Throne Saddle!
Have fun this weekend, and remember, it’s still early season–unmarked hazards exist!