The Utah Avalanche Center has expressed their concern at parties of skiers occupying the backcountry slopes and not adhering to basic rules, such as ‘one person at a time.’
- Related: “The SnowBrains Podcast” | Episode #1: “Why Is The Colorado Backcountry the Deadliest in the USA?”
The above photo was posted on their Instagram page, of ten people all in an avalanche path. The caption is below:
There are 10 people in this avalanche path at the same time. If they had triggered an avalanche, all ten people would have been caught. All ten people could have been buried and seriously injured. Who would have done the rescue?
What’s the solution? The most basic rule of travel in avalanche terrain is to only expose one person at a time. If there is an avalanche, then only one person is caught. If they survive the slide, then the rest of the group is available to perform a rescue. If everyone is caught, then no one is available to perform a rescue.
How do you skin uphill and only expose one person at a time? If it’s avalanche terrain (aka a slope steeper than 30 degrees and runout zones of steep slopes), then you have to go one at a time and that can take a long time.
The best solution is to find a nearby slope less than 30 degrees in steepness where you won’t have to worry about avalanches, and everyone can skin up at the same time. This method is safer, more efficient, and faster. In this specific case in the photo, a low angle slope is just to the left.
Making matters worse, strong winds were actively loading this slope and increasing the odds of an avalanche. This group was lucky the snow didn’t slide.
A key thing to learn is how to measure slope angles because our lives depend on it. The second photo shows one way to measure the angle of a slope. It is just under 30 degrees and in most cases, avalanches won’t happen on this slope as long as no steeper slopes are above it.
PLEASE – The point of this post is to be educational and to help everyone who is new to the backcountry. Please share with your friends so that we can all help each other be safe.
In a forecast on their website, their dismay was obvious, saying:
Frankly, I’m at a loss for words and I’m worried about how this winter will unfold.
An observation submitted to the UAC on Saturday brought up a similar experience:
Biggest hazard this morning seemed to be the other folks out touring in West Bowl. We had a party drop on top of us before all of the members of our party had even started skiing. Several other groups were dropping in on top of each other or skiing above other groups. My favorite moment was when a group of three decided to ski the center punch as a group. Seemed pretty cavalier for today’s conditions, but it looked like they got some good GoPro footy.
…definitely going to be a busy year out there in the backcountry.