Yesterday I attended the NSAS (Northwest Snow and Avalanche Summit) workshop in Seattle with 6 other Crystal Mountain Ski Patrollers and about 200 other interested people. There were some amazing speakers who gave informative lectures on their specific fields in avalanche research with incredible amounts of data an field work to back up their findings. Some of the highlights of the day were Karl Birkeland talking about different types of instability tests we can do on an isolated column of snow to gain data about the strengths or weaknesses in the snowpack. He did a good job emphasizing that our findings in a snow pit are not a green light or red light to ski a slope or not but just another tool we can use to decide what risks we want to assume in the backcountry.
Zach Guy talked about how he has gone in search of trying to find the “sweet spot” aka the point at witch additional stress to the slope will cause it to slide. This is important research for avalanche professionals to use when choosing where to place our explosives on a slope to. Zach looked into spacial variability by mapping wind patterns, snow depths, radiation effects, slope angle, and terrain features. It was well researched but unfortunately there is no X that marks the spot of where to trigger an avalanche from just good hints to pay attention to so you make an informed decision.
Another of my favorite speakers was Karl Klassen who is from the Canadian Avalanche Center and he talked about how they get the avalanche forecast to people planning on traveling in avalanche prone terrain. He showed their updated maps that put out daily conditions and warnings that are easy to use and give tons of information. Please explore it here: http://www.avalanche.ca/
And lastly some thoughts that stuck with me from a talk by Mike Richardson (his blog is http://avalanchesafety.blogspot.com/) about the human factor in avalanches are: “Our default behavior is heuristics” snd Ed LaChapel (one of the great avalanche researches) once said “I’m confident that 50% of the time I’ve been wrong.” This just reminds me to stay conservative in the backcountry and continue to question myself.