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Thread: Route selection

  1. #1
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    Route selection

    With this bit of caution from local papers with the quote: "“If you are going to go out of bounds in these mountains you need to know what you are doing,” I'd like to use this Sunday's Cowboy Ridge ski as an example. At the outset, to my knowledge no one got hurt that day and no one triggered an avalanche.



    Sunday March 18, 2012 was a busy day. We counted possibly 15 groups in the Musical Bumps area. We were among the first groups to ski out past Oboe and to Cowboy Ridge. We set a good portion of the leftmost blue skintrack in the picture which is in dense trees and away from downhill tracks. We wanted to ski either one of the three middle lines of Cowboy Ridge (the lines are split by bands of trees). A note on these lines. They had been skied the day before so there was lots of downhill tracks on them. There is a convex roll on a good portion of the middle lines so people skiing those lines have no way of knowing if there are other parties on those lines before dropping in.

    It was pretty much perfect skiing conditions. Over 1m+ of storm snow had fallen. Winds light, ski pen was about 20 - 30cms. Temps were minus 8 to 10.

    Our party dropped in the slope where the "e" of Convex Roll starts. As I crested the roll, I saw about 100m vertical below me two people skinning right up the slope traversing across it (I couldn't see them before I dropped in and immediately stopped). I told them that my party was dropping in and at the same time radioed my party to stop till this group had cleared out. I told them they were vulnerable to danger from people like me who couldn't see them and one said that they just followed the skintrack.

    These two people cleared the skintrack and my group dropped in on the centre of the slope. I dropped in last and skied skiers right. To my amazement (and horror) as I was skiing downhill (at a good rate of speed) at about the "l") in the "lemming" part of the wording on the picture there were five people on the skintrack also going up the slope. I avoided them by splitting the group and kept going downhill. I had no opportunity to see this group and would not have skied that part of the slope if I knew there people on it. I did not trigger any sluff release or avalanches on any of these people.

    My point is that there are so many other safer ways to get to the top of Cowboy Ridge which do not expose people on the uphill to overhead hazard (ie either convexities or skiers going downhill). For example, the skintrack marked "good" on picture left is through dense trees, avoids potential downhill traffic and does not have convexities above the track. The skintrack marked "good" on picture right goes through low angle terrain. Both the "good" tracks might add perhaps 5 to 10 minutes (at most) to time spent on the uphill over the "WTF" skintrack

    I've seen some stunning skin tracks in Whistler and the Duffey this year. I urge people to think for themselves and not to simply follow tracks just because they're already there. I urge people to think about overhead hazard. You spend the most time on the uphill and are therefore the most exposed on the uphill. Use your head accordingly

  2. #2
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    well hey, maybe they all dug pits!

    honestly tho, being in an area that get's frequented by the masses, you gotta expect anything and everything all at once. typical shitshow stuff.

    rog

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by icelanticskier View Post
    well hey, maybe they all dug pits!

    honestly tho, being in an area that get's frequented by the masses, you gotta expect anything and everything all at once. typical shitshow stuff.

    rog
    See, if I kill someone by triggering a slide on them I'll feel pretty bad about it but they'll be dead. I think its up to them to use their heads and not skin up a slope that's obviously used for skiing. This totally reminds me of the gigantic shitshow debate on Teton AT (RIP) about the guy who cleaned out an entire slackcountry Teton bowl by dropping a cornice; it went for ever about who was in the wrong. I don't really want to get into who's into the right or who's on the wrong.

    btw - if it wasn't clear I'm pretty much in agreement with you about pits.

  4. #4
    Hugh Conway Guest
    Good post Lee.

    The gangbang every group has their own different skin track route to the same goal is, IMO, another one of those North Americanisms

  5. #5
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    I know in Schruns there is nothing better than to tour and feel proud about the weight of your rucksack and smell the pines and to look forward to arriving at the hut. We would sunburn and drink schnapps and sleep on mattresses stuffed with beech leaves and it would be our favorite memory. If you are there regularly you begin to know the terrain both for pleasure and survival but even when you think you know the terrain there are surprises. These days of course they have mortars to loosen the murderous slopes but years ago we used another secret and foolproof method. The neighbor had a gardener with a feeble-minded son. He was able to perform a few useful services like peeling potatoes for the kitchen or carrying firewood but mostly he was a good-natured dolt.

    He was a magician with seal skins on his skis, however. We even took him to the Arlberg one spring season because we didn't know it so well and conditions were treacherous that year. We would send him up all manner of slopes as a canary in a coal mine and he would always find the safest way up and down. A heavy new snow had come and was not bonded whatsoever with the old snow. Heedless Berliners on vacation would cast off without guides because the guides would refuse to lead them. Soon enough these Berliners would bring the whole damn slope down in a tidal wave and after some digging there would be Berliners stacked around like cords of wood.

    But my wife and I would tour all over the hills with that feeble-minded gardener's son. All he needed in the morning was a crust of bread and a chunk of cured meat and I guessed that if you could somehow feed him a real American breakfast he would break trail to the top of Everest. At night even though we would drink wine and dark beer and sing mountain songs and argue he would just sit by the fire with a blank look on his face. Later I heard he died in a fire but I will always remember him quiet and strong, sitting by the window and eating jugged hare with his fingers.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeeLau View Post
    See, if I kill someone by triggering a slide on them I'll feel pretty bad about it but they'll be dead.
    and life goes on. pure and simple.

    I think its up to them to use their heads and not skin up a slope that's obviously used for skiing. This totally reminds me of the gigantic shitshow debate on Teton AT (RIP) about the guy who cleaned out an entire slackcountry Teton bowl by dropping a cornice; it went for ever about who was in the wrong. I don't really want to get into who's into the right or who's on the wrong.
    if folks wanna go ski/tour where others are doing the same thing then all of those folks should expect the unexpected, or not. i never got the whole herd mentality thang. easier to just sit in traffic or in the collins lift line after a dusting.

    btw - if it wasn't clear I'm pretty much in agreement with you about pits.
    most folks that (really) have spent/spend a shit ton of time in the bc and have so in different mtn ranges with different snow stack ups agree with us about the whole pit thing.

    another good discussion, thanx lee.

    rog

  7. #7
    spook Guest
    i'm sure this is stupid but aren't the people using the good skintrack on the right still in danger from people above if something bigger than sluff rips?


    Quote Originally Posted by LeeLau View Post
    With this bit of caution from local papers with the quote: "“If you are going to go out of bounds in these mountains you need to know what you are doing,” I'd like to use this Sunday's Cowboy Ridge ski as an example. At the outset, to my knowledge no one got hurt that day and no one triggered an avalanche.



  8. #8
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    spook - good question. The slopes above the skin track on the right is about 25 degrees with a 20 deg bench in the middle (that's about where the arrow is) so its way lower angle.

  9. #9
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    Lee, at least no one had the nerve to yell at you for "dropping in" on them. If they were to get caught in a slide from above, even if they did not trigger it, my take is that it is their responsibility to travel safely. One can never be certain that they are the only people out there, or for that matter, that a cornice might not naturally fail. Any number of things might cause a slide.

  10. #10
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    That's what you get for skiing with the sheeple in the GVA Gong (JONG) shadow.
    I don't work and I don't save, desperate women pay my way.

  11. #11
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    Completely agree on the route finding (my preferred route is to the right), but just curious if you've ever seen the main lines slide? I've never noticed debris, but if they ever ran to the bottom where everyone skins up, it could get deep fast.

  12. #12
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    Another post on the same topic;

    http://bivouac.com//dsxpg.asp?dsxid=1235

    "Description: Cowboy Ridge, immediately east of Singing Pass in Garibaldi Park, has become an increasingly popular backcountry destination in the past 10 years. On 050102, I counted a total of 36 tourers on this ridge in a three minute period.


    Cowboy Ridge from Oboe Summit East

    Tourers are attracted to the consistently angled intermediate slopes and enjoy the relatively quick access from the Whistler Valley via the Singing Pass Trail or the Whistler Ski Area. Unfortunately, there are generally some differences of opinion on how to climb this ridge and how to ski it. Often, multiple climbing tracks cross obvious avalance zones, and skiers often cut across the most severe convexities, as the two skiers who skied the left hand line and started the avalanche did.

    In the spring, I've seen the avalanche debris pile up over eight metres deep in the bottom of the pass. While this year's snowpack isn't sufficient to do this yet, there seems to be little question that this convexity would fail on the facets beneath the December 19th crust if it were loaded by a skier. It appears the skiers chose to ignore this hazard, suggesting that they thought the risk was not great. Note that their climbing track was covered by the slide debris.

    It seems there are a number of observable factors that would suggest this line should not be skied. What do you see?"
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  13. #13
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    Another cautionary tale about the importance of careful routefinding.

    http://jhnewsandguide.com/article.php?art_id=8373

  14. #14
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    Here's a route-finding exercise from the CAC Online Avalanche Course

    http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training...ding-exercises

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spark View Post
    Here's a route-finding exercise from the CAC Online Avalanche Course

    http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training...ding-exercises
    Fun! Reposted on my facebook.

  16. #16
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    I don't want to make too many excuses for them, but is it possible that some of the people you encountered (particularly the people who were "just following the skin track") hadn't been there before and didn't really know the slope well?

    If this is a popular area for it's intermediate slopes, I'd say the chance of seeing someone who hasn't been there before is pretty good.
    Goal: ski in the 2018/19 season

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shorty_J View Post
    I don't want to make too many excuses for them, but is it possible that some of the people you encountered (particularly the people who were "just following the skin track") hadn't been there before and didn't really know the slope well?

    If this is a popular area for it's intermediate slopes, I'd say the chance of seeing someone who hasn't been there before is pretty good.
    Either way, being able to encounter new terrain and select a safe route is pretty key to staying alive. On the approach to Cowboy Ridge, you descent from Oboe, the next ridge over, and have access to the view that's in Lee's pic. I'd say you have a pretty good opportunity to observe the terrain and plot your route.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by D(C) View Post
    Either way, being able to encounter new terrain and select a safe route is pretty key to staying alive. On the approach to Cowboy Ridge, you descent from Oboe, the next ridge over, and have access to the view that's in Lee's pic. I'd say you have a pretty good opportunity to observe the terrain and plot your route.
    You're right. Everyone has to learn somehow... but it amazes me how many people venture into the backcountry unprepared.
    Goal: ski in the 2018/19 season

  19. #19
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    Skiing musical bumps on a weekend is like going to the mall. Don't do it.
    Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature... Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. -Helen Keller

  20. #20
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    there were one or two reckless and pretty stupid routes I've selected.. my first few times out. I'm still here and have a better feel for where not to go. Didn't have to learn that lesson the hard way. just got lucky I guess..

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by theshredder View Post
    there were one or two reckless and pretty stupid routes I've selected.. my first few times out. I'm still here and have a better feel for where not to go. Didn't have to learn that lesson the hard way. just got lucky I guess..
    This is sort of the point I was trying to make. Again, not making excuses, but I think back to stuff I did skiing before I knew better and shake my head at what I got away with.
    Goal: ski in the 2018/19 season

  22. #22
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    Knowing how to read a map is a fairly useful skill set for avoiding this sort of thing.

  23. #23
    Hugh Conway Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by homemadesalsa View Post
    Knowing how to read a map is a fairly useful skill set for avoiding this sort of thing.
    there's a rather large number of people who tour without a map thesedays and based on memory the common Whistler Backcountry touring map isn't particularly great at showcasing what Lee showed in his picture.


    meh, most people recreate to turn their brain off these days. Including many people on this board based on their actions, so dickwaving is stupid. Turning your brain off and longterm successful ski touring are mutually exclusive.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by homemadesalsa View Post
    Knowing how to read a map is a fairly useful skill set for avoiding this sort of thing.
    Which is one of the differences between being a 'backcountry skier' and a 'skier in the backcountry'.

    Most people have no interest in being backcountry skiers. They only have an interest in backcountry.
    Life is not lift served.

  25. #25
    Hugh Conway Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by Hohes View Post
    Most people have no interest in being backcountry skiers. They only have an interest in backcountry.
    well, that and checking boxes.

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