That’s right, in the last 5 days the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center has received 10 reports of human triggered avalanches in the backcountry. Seven of these avalanches were triggered by skiers, 2 by snowmobilers and 1 by snowboarders. One of these avalanches resulted in a fatality. Another almost buried 3 skiers, two of whom managed to dig themselves out, converge and find their buddy, who was buried up to his neck.
The Tetons have received lots of snow since Friday. According to Grand Targhee, the latest storm total is 34″, with 19″ in the last 72 hours:
The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center still has a “considerable” rating (3) in the alpine. This rating was even higher in recent days, peaking out at “high (4)” on Saturday in the alpine above 9,000 feet elevation:
Avalanche possibilities as reported by the Center include the obvious windslab, but also a persistent deep slab from large snowfall atop a rotten layer from earlier this winter. The crown for this slab could be 6 feet high. It is somewhat unlikely that a skier would trigger a slab like this relative to a windslab, but it is possible and the results would be catastrophic with survival unlikely.
“The main thing is that conditions change, so continually check in. Make an observation if you’re out there. Back off a little bit and play it conservative for a while.”
– Bob Comey, Teton avalanche forecaster
“Play it conservative for a while” doesn’t mean forever, just a few days is usually how long it takes for the immediate slough slide and windslab risk to die down.
Unfortunately, there is a powder fever out there and people want to scoop up the easiest access tracks before everybody else, which increasingly means going out while conditions are still unstable. This has only gotten more extreme as increasing numbers of people enter the backcountry. Theoretically, backcountry terrain is still abundant – unlimited, really – but the dreamy 30 minute hike from the parking lot is only available for a short period of time.
The Tetons, as well as most of the western U.S., are expecting abundant amounts of snow from a storm later this week. It is essentially guaranteed that there will be many human triggered avalanches after this cycle, and it is likely that somebody will die.
If your goal is really to maximize your powder skiing, then living longer is the best way to accumulate powder turns. But that’s just me…