Article on Powder Addiction avalanche death, and other cat skiing issues

SSSdave

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... kind of risk, deep buried weak layer cannot be mitigated unless you ski 20 degree terrain, and (SOME) clients don't want that...
 

scott43

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Plus at that altitude they’re just...dumb. And ridiculously tired. If they’re not 100% committed to a cutoff before they go, I think they enter the Russian Roulette phase.
Yeah and I'd say it's more common still. You paid for the cat day. Everyone is going. It's probably fine. There's always a risk. Etc. Easy to fall into the trap. Most times nothing happens.
 

HardDaysNight

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It’s worth asking how much of a problem we’re actually looking at here. I mean, are cat-ski clients dying hand-over-fist because of negligence that government regulation could avert? The answer is no. The track records of the major operators are remarkably good. Far more skiers, both in absolute numbers and per skier day, are killed, or kill themselves, in bounds than in professional guided operations.
 

Ken_R

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Very interesting article (although the title is kind of misleading)

"Tollund was also on Jones Pass on March 7; he was preparing for a backcountry workshop he leads that focuses on the human element of decision-making while traveling in avalanche terrain."

I took that workshop with them the year prior. All were absolutely amazing. Hans skiing was sublime and he loved to use Kästle skis out there even if they were not the lightest. His skiing looked timeless. Tollund dominated his tele setup even in VERY challenging conditions. They were all extremely familiar with the terrain and made very informed decisions out there. I went a few months to the area and checked out the avalanche site. It was still impressive. The avalanche took out old growth trees, went across the cat road used for skinning and the cat operation and into the bottom of the valley. The path of complete destruction was just crazy. That was not the only huge destructive avalanche that season. It was a humbling season for everyone. RIP Hans.
 

CascadeConcrete

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The problem with saying something (paraphrased) like "things don't go wrong very often" or "it seemed fine when I went cat skiing" is that avalanches are inherently low feedback phenomena. Most of the time, even if you make terrible decisions, nothing bad happens. Just due to the general low probability of avalanches, nothing will happen on most runs whether you make the right decision or not. We as humans are terrible at learning in such an environment, and likewise terrible at evaluating other's decision make under such conditions because, after all, their decisions always seem to work out. Bruce Tremper pretty much beats this idea to death in Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain.

I can't make any evaluation of whether these services are actually doing a good job or not. But just because things generally seem to work out doesn't necessarily mean the operation is really as safe as it seems.

I will say that a guide apparently "forgetting" that a run is underneath a steep headwall (which the avy report has specifically advised guides to avoid) during a quite literally historic avalanche cycle is... concerning. You have to wonder how often similar mistakes like that are made but nothing happens so no one gives it a second thought.
 

James

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I will say that a guide apparently "forgetting" that a run is underneath a steep headwall (which the avy report has specifically advised guides to avoid) during a quite literally historic avalanche cycle is... concerning. You have to wonder how often similar mistakes like that are made but nothing happens so no one gives it a second thought.
Very good point.
 

Slim

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I think there are a few different questions we are discussing here simultaneously:

1- should there be more government regulation of certification and safety measures of guiding businesses?

2-aside from that, how safe are individual guides/companies acting?

3-how much should the client be involved/responsible for safety?

I think, for number 4, we all agree that there is always a remaining risk.

I look at it similar to the medical profession:

I want the government to require doctors to have a medical degree from an accredited school, and have completed their residency somewhere accredited as well. I also want the government to have some rules in place about minimum hygiene standards in the hospital.(I.e, don’t reuse needles).

This assures me, that at the very least, they are knowledgeable about best practices, and have a pretty well rounded education, from different people, helping to avoid ‘missed areas’.

However, once that is done (1), the culture of the individual person/clinic/hospital is as big a determining factor as their training/degrees/certification. So, for (2), a lot comes down to that.

For 3, in a mountain sense, it certainly helps to have guests speak out. How to do this in a cat skiing trip though, 12 strangers, 1 day, short, loud uplifts, I don’t know.
 
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SBrown

SBrown

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The problem with saying something (paraphrased) like "things don't go wrong very often" or "it seemed fine when I went cat skiing" is that avalanches are inherently low feedback phenomena. Most of the time, even if you make terrible decisions, nothing bad happens. Just due to the general low probability of avalanches, nothing will happen on most runs whether you make the right decision or not. We as humans are terrible at learning in such an environment, and likewise terrible at evaluating other's decision make under such conditions because, after all, their decisions always seem to work out. Bruce Tremper pretty much beats this idea to death in Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain.

I can't make any evaluation of whether these services are actually doing a good job or not. But just because things generally seem to work out doesn't necessarily mean the operation is really as safe as it seems.

I will say that a guide apparently "forgetting" that a run is underneath a steep headwall (which the avy report has specifically advised guides to avoid) during a quite literally historic avalanche cycle is... concerning. You have to wonder how often similar mistakes like that are made but nothing happens so no one gives it a second thought.
This is all absolutely true. Where I make that judgment is in the sheer number of hours that these operations are out there: all day every day all season long. They are skiing much much more vertical than even a go-getter who is out there a couple days a week on foot. So, probability and all that. If an operation is logging that much time without incident, I feel pretty good about it.
 

Mike King

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This is all absolutely true. Where I make that judgment is in the sheer number of hours that these operations are out there: all day every day all season long. They are skiing much much more vertical than even a go-getter who is out there a couple days a week on foot. So, probability and all that. If an operation is logging that much time without incident, I feel pretty good about it.
Yep, and this is something you can ask about before booking a trip: do you have a snow safety program where someone is logging snow conditions in your tenure every day? What qualifications does that person have? Experience? What are the certifications of your guides?

Any reputable cat operation will have absolutely no problem answering such questions...

Mike
 
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SBrown

SBrown

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Yep, and this is something you can ask about before booking a trip: do you have a snow safety program where someone is logging snow conditions in your tenure every day? What qualifications does that person have? Experience? What are the certifications of your guides?

Any reputable cat operation will have absolutely no problem answering such questions...

Mike
In fact, they LIKE to tell you all this stuff.
 
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