Say hello to guest-blogger Blaine Horner. He’s posting under my name, since, as a second-year patroller, he hasn’t quite been offered the Roy Rogers Deputy Sheriff Ski Patrol Blogger Badge yet. But he’s getting there. Keep aiming high Blaine, and thanks for offering up this succinct explanation of northway signage. –Kim KIrcher
The regular season has started slowing sliding away. Teachable moments however, should never be wasted. I wanted to take this opportunity I have in Dispatch to explain some of the signage used by Patrol at Crystal and the messages they convey: both subtle and blunt.
Signs are our most consistent way of communicating with our guests. Somethimes we talk to people about certain concerns, such as Southback or Powder Bowl avalanche conditions. But always the signs are there. They are Ski Patrol’s way of notifying guests of closures or special hazards that exist in the area being marked. Our most sign riddled area at Crystal is the Northway Line. This rope line extends from Gate 1, near the top of Snorting Elk Bowl, across Paradise and through Horseshoe Cliffs all the way to the top of O-Meadows on Gun Tower Ridge. This rope line allows access to Northway and Niagras at 11 places, each marked with a gate and a sign.
It is important to understand that access to Northway is allowed only through these gates because it forces every person to see a sign. One reason for this is that we often do avalanche control in Northway after the normal mountain is open. By allowing access only through gates, we can close those gates and eliminate access until we are finished with control work. It is also guarantees that guests unfamiliar with our terrain will not be surprised. When gates are open, they are forced past a sign that describes the terrain. Northway is a unique area that we all treasure but that must be treated differently then normal areas.
The Northway signs can read one of four ways:
“Open: Expert Terrain: Cliffs and Unmarked Hazards Exist.” When the signs read this way, they indicate that the Northway Chair is running and the terrain is open. Due to the vastness and terrain variety in Northway Bowl, these signs are designed to be intimidating. We want people to know that the hazards accessible through the Northway gates are very different then the hazards one can expect on Queens Run or Lucky Shot.
“Northway Chairlift Closed: Return to Base Via I-5.” When the conditions of the I-5 trail are favorable for returning to base, this allows us to open the ‘Short North’ Terrain (Paradise Bowl to O-Meadows) while leaving the chair lift closed. We mostly employ this method at the end of the day to allow people one more Northway lap. Gates 4-10 are the only gates that will ever read this way. Guests can ski anywhere from Paradise to O-Meadows, but then stay right once in the drainage, joining I-5 and returning to base. The issues with this system is that people either do not read the writing when this sign is posted, or do not respect the closure. Either way they end up at the bottom of a closed chair. This is unfortunate because it makes it difficult for us to utilize this ‘closure’ technique and leave he terrain open longer. Please read the signs and respect the closures so we can all ski Northway later in the day.
“Area Closed: Avalanche Danger.” Blunt and crystal clear, this sign leaves no room for argument. The subtle message conveyed if you see this sign at the end of the day is that we are expecting snow or some other weather event. I personally find I can predict weather trends by how we position our signs at the end of the day. Between the lines of this sign one can read, “Take tomorrow off, we are expecting snow.” This is also a sign to be respected, as it indicates that either avalanche hazards exist that we have not yet mitigated or that we are currently out doing control work.
“Stop Closed.” Simple yet bold. The terrain is no less closed than with an avalanche closure, but this sign tells the reader that the terrain is closed for a reason other than expected snowfall; for example, end of the day or chairlift maintenance closures. If these signs are up at the end of the day, unless Northway is down the next day for some outside reason, the gates should open quickly the next morning.
Many of these signs can be found on other parts of the mountains. At a bare minimum, we ask people to read our signs for their safety. Hopefully now you will be able to glean some inside knowledge from them as well.