This was the deadliest week of U.S. avalanche accidents in 100 years

AlpedHuez

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doc

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Sorry but where, exactly, in the article is any link made to climate change as a causal agent?
Reading climate change into a "weak early season snowpack" is a big leap, even bigger than the author's effort to link the unfortunate death toll to the pandemic.
 

Posaune

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Sorry but where, exactly, in the article is any link made to climate change as a causal agent?
Reading climate change into a "weak early season snowpack" is a big leap, even bigger than the author's effort to link the unfortunate death toll to the pandemic.
"The pandemic plays a huge role in the number of people recreating outside," he said. "Both the US and Canada have seen backcountry use spike since last spring and it’s possible that the behavioral ramifications of COVID are playing a role in this accident cluster."
That doesn't look like a big leap to me. More people in avalanche territory = more people caught in avalanches. It's obvious from what I'm seeing in the mountains around here that because of the changes in people's lives due to covid there are LOTS more people in the mountains every day of the week.

But, you're right. I didn't see anything in the article that talked about climate change. It has to do with weather, not climate.
 

doc

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I hear you. My conclusion about the absence of a correlation between the pandemic and avalanche deaths comes from my completely amateur observation that, having read all the detail about the fatal avalanche incidents, it seems like the folks who got caught and lost their lives are the types would have been in the backcountry anyway, pandemic or not. On balance, they seem to be fairly experienced people and not rank beginners traveling into the backcountry for the first time.
 

Ken_R

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A lot comes down to luck and personal choices. This season the margin of error or "luck" is much less due to how the snowpack has developed over the course of the season. I think that avalanche professionals have done an excellent job raising awareness, educating and advancing snow science / forecasting. If not I can bet a LOT more people would have died in avalanches. a LOT more.
 

Tricia

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:(
 

SBrown

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I hear you. My conclusion about the absence of a correlation between the pandemic and avalanche deaths comes from my completely amateur observation that, having read all the detail about the fatal avalanche incidents, it seems like the folks who got caught and lost their lives are the types would have been in the backcountry anyway, pandemic or not. On balance, they seem to be fairly experienced people and not rank beginners traveling into the backcountry for the first time.
There is some speculation that the crowding at easy-access trailheads (crowding caused partly by pandemic restrictions on resort skiing) is pushing the experienced deeper into the backcountry, or at least somewhere riskier than low-angle, low-hanging fruit. So that would be the correlation. Coupled with the horrific snowpack, it's been a recipe for disaster.
 

Rudi Riet

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I was saying this since last summer: the convoluted nature of reservation systems and other COVID-related protocols would drive more people to seek the backcountry as their skiing fix. So there are a whole lot of inexperienced/less experienced skiers out there who don't practice full safety protocols (especially snowpack analysis) and look for the untracked lines.

The fact that this season's snowpack in the Rockies and Wasatch is so fragile adds to the danger. The Utah Avalanche Center issued its highest level warnings the morning of the Millcreek Canyon slide. And if you look at the area where it occurred it looked like a fairly innocuous slope to ski, but with the snowpack instability it was going to slide.

Many of my more experienced backcountry skier friends in Utah have been steering clear of things lately, a combination of knowledge of the snowpack and also wanting to stay away from the legions of newbies overwhelming the terrain. It's sad, but it's also where things are.

To loop in climate change, there is a likely correlation with the snowpack and how things have changed with the La Niña patterns. The extremes are more extreme: periods of almost zero snowfall (or a higher incidence of thaw cycles) followed by huge snowfall events. Climate change will bring more extremes, bigger variances in temperature, and this will make the snowpack harder to judge for the unseasoned backcountry skier.

I'm hoping that these tragedies will drive the "backcountry curious" to take snow analysis classes offered by avalanche centers. Knowing how to read snowpack is an essential backcountry skill. I'm sure that many of the newbies think "I have the probe, shovel, beacon, airbag, etc., so I'm good!" But not understanding the snowpack is a huge missing piece.
 

pais alto

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It’s worth noting that at least a significant portion of this season’s avy deaths have been experienced backcountry skiers. A quick search didn’t turn up anything about their training, and I’m not going to speculate on that.
 

dbostedo

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It’s worth noting that at least a significant portion of this season’s avy deaths have been experienced backcountry skiers. A quick search didn’t turn up anything about their training, and I’m not going to speculate on that.
I was about to note the same thing... @Rudi Riet , you may well be right about more inexperienced folks out there. But there doesn't seem to be any relation to that with regard to the accidents and deaths that have occurred.
 

DanoT

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I was saying this since last summer: the convoluted nature of reservation systems and other COVID-related protocols would drive more people to seek the backcountry as their skiing fix. So there are a whole lot of inexperienced/less experienced skiers out there who don't practice full safety protocols (especially snowpack analysis) and look for the untracked lines.

The fact that this season's snowpack in the Rockies and Wasatch is so fragile adds to the danger. The Utah Avalanche Center issued its highest level warnings the morning of the Millcreek Canyon slide. And if you look at the area where it occurred it looked like a fairly innocuous slope to ski, but with the snowpack instability it was going to slide.

Many of my more experienced backcountry skier friends in Utah have been steering clear of things lately, a combination of knowledge of the snowpack and also wanting to stay away from the legions of newbies overwhelming the terrain. It's sad, but it's also where things are.

To loop in climate change, there is a likely correlation with the snowpack and how things have changed with the La Niña patterns. The extremes are more extreme: periods of almost zero snowfall (or a higher incidence of thaw cycles) followed by huge snowfall events. Climate change will bring more extremes, bigger variances in temperature, and this will make the snowpack harder to judge for the unseasoned backcountry skier.

I'm hoping that these tragedies will drive the "backcountry curious" to take snow analysis classes offered by avalanche centers. Knowing how to read snowpack is an essential backcountry skill. I'm sure that many of the newbies think "I have the probe, shovel, beacon, airbag, etc., so I'm good!" But not understanding the snowpack is a huge missing piece.
While I can't disagree about the increased presence of back country newbies this season, it should be pointed out that it is not newbies that are getting caught in avalanches. I suspect that experienced back country skiers are adding to the total numbers by doing MORE BC trips this Covid ski season, @Rudi Riet's friends being the exception.
 

Rudi Riet

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Yes, many of the deaths are of more experienced backcountry skiers (at least more experienced per the friends interviewed about said victims).

One guess is that the "low-hanging fruit" backcountry terrain that was previously the bread-and-butter of veteran BC skiers is now being overrun by the newer folk. So the experienced BC skiers are forging further into the mountains, going after terrain that's not often tried in order to find a patch of untracked snow. Just a thought here.

Note that most of my BC friends in Utah are folks with families and full-time jobs who are making the calculation that it's not worth the risk right now. If the snowpack becomes more stable this will likely change. As I inferred above, these friends are experienced in the backcountry options in the Wasatch (and in the Uintas as well) and will probably return to their favorite spots once the snowpack is less volatile.

The attraction of untracked snow and untamed terrain is the siren song of many backcountry skiers, especially those who've been in the game for a while. And now we are seeing these ventures further into the woods end up as statistics. Let's hope things get less tragedy laden from here.
 

pais alto

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One guess is that the "low-hanging fruit" backcountry terrain that was previously the bread-and-butter of veteran BC skiers is now being overrun by the newer folk. So the experienced BC skiers are forging further into the mountains, going after terrain that's not often tried in order to find a patch of untracked snow. Just a thought here.

[…]And now we are seeing these ventures further into the woods end up as statistics.
Again, that’s not the case with almost all of the current incidents. Vail, Mill Creek, the Nose, et. are commonly skied/snowmobiled areas. It helps to read the reports before speculating. Noobs don’t seem to have been a major factor so far.
 

pais alto

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^ Yep. I have some good bc partner-friends - highly experienced and trained - in the Wasatch. They’re rather amazed.
 

DanoT

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Anyone notice that the Wilson Glade avalanche that killed 4 was a 31 deg slope?
The smartass in me would like to point out that the avy "safe zone" is a LESS than 30 degree slope and Wilson Glade is 31 degree.

Obviously the closer a gentle slope gets to 30 degrees the more the safety factor gets diminished.
 

James

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The smartass in me would like to point out that the avy "safe zone" is a LESS than 30 degree slope and Wilson Glade is 31 degree.

Obviously the closer a gentle slope gets to 30 degrees the more the safety factor gets diminished.
I agree, but geez that doesn’t leave much error room in measuring.
 

crgildart

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The "weather" has been more chaotic... More freeze-thaw cycles. Warmer ground in general most places even if it's nony half a degree warmer than 30 years ago... Warmer air carrying more moisture to dump as snow when it its cooler air. Maybe they didn't state the obvious but that's pretty much a given..
 

elemmac

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The smartass in me would like to point out that the avy "safe zone" is a LESS than 30 degree slope and Wilson Glade is 31 degree.

Obviously the closer a gentle slope gets to 30 degrees the more the safety factor gets diminished.
To add to the smart-assery...Under 30 degrees is not a "safe zone" by any means. Many resources would say that avalanches CAN occur between 25-60 degrees, but are most likely between 30-45.
 
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