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  1. #1
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    Mini-golf lines versus big faces

    Hi folks, just wondering if I could bounce a few ideas of you. Me and a couple of riding pals are in the mindset at the moment where we're steering well clear of big open faces and instead seeking out steep, short (i.e. 70-100 metre long), faces with plenty of features and small cliffs. This seems like a good way to limit your exposure, avoid terrain traps and lethal-sized cliffs while at the same time finding short but tough technical lines to ride. We have a lot of these sort of zones in Europe, I've attached an example below.

    Does this approach to minimising avalanche exposure make sense, or is there something I'm missing? Do short steep faces reduce risk, or is there an associated risk of burial due to the sharper transition at the foot of the face?

    Cheers, thoughts welcome

    Name:  GV face.png
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  2. #2
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    As with most things involving avalanche safety, it depends.

    Plenty of people have been killed in slides on small faces and features. In fact, all four of the fatal accidents in Colorado this year were on relatively short slopes. Two of the four were on slopes 50m tall or less, and the largest was approximately 150m.
    http://avalanche.state.co.us/accidents/colorado/

    Bottom line: small slopes can produce slides large enough to kill you, and if they are large enough to kill you, they will. A lot more goes into evaluating the potential consequences of whether or not a slope can and will kill you than how tall it is.

  3. #3
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    ^ well put, nothing to add.

  4. #4
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    I do think this is an interesting discussion though. Very much so.

    Mini golf features can seem so small they can potentially lull you into a false sense of security. On the other hand, if it's a mini golf feature on an otherwise relatively shallow slope, there can be something to that in terms of mitigating risk. But then you get into discussions of how a trigger point can cause a 28 degree slope beneath it to slide and all of that.

  5. #5
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    Good thread and hopefully good conversation.

    Looking at the length of the run as a way to minimize risk and exposure may be a bit reactive. Sure, the slide may be more manageable, but why take the chance?

    A 38 degree pitch loves to rip, weak layers love to shear and there can be many trigger areas, regardless if the slope drops 100 or 1000m

  6. #6
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    Skiing smaller slopes is a valid part of finding a terrain solution to the avalanche problem of the day. However the one pictured is still very steep (from an avalanche perspective) is full of terrain traps (cliffs which increase trauma) and has rocky outcrops and variable snow depth and unsupported areas (triggers) and it invites the chance to add additional stress to the snowpack in the form of lots of small airs.

    If you are worried about avalanches that day, then you are often going to have to do more than scale down the slope size, depending on the type of avalanche you are worried about.

    Have the patience and humility to ski non-avalanche terrain when required. Or, if you just have to be skiing something steep-ish with features, then ski very very clearly defined spine/ridges and accept that, despite your "efforts", you are still disrespecting the dragon it is cave, with very little margin for error.

    The key concern here is you still want to ski avalanche terrain at every opportunity, and are happy with non-lethal consequences (at least you guessed and hope they are non lethal)
    Life is not lift served.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by adrenalated View Post
    As with most things involving avalanche safety, it depends.

    Plenty of people have been killed in slides on small faces and features. In fact, all four of the fatal accidents in Colorado this year were on relatively short slopes. Two of the four were on slopes 50m tall or less, and the largest was approximately 150m.
    http://avalanche.state.co.us/accidents/colorado/

    Bottom line: small slopes can produce slides large enough to kill you, and if they are large enough to kill you, they will. A lot more goes into evaluating the potential consequences of whether or not a slope can and will kill you than how tall it is.
    Thanks for the reply, your point about all four Colorado fatalities being on short slopes is very interesting and really quite sobering. To be clear- I would hopefully never limit my slope assessment to "this is a small slope, it should be ok", but rather "my knowledge of the recent conditions and the avalanche report suggests that conditions are stable, I believe this aspect to be fine, but I know that there are deficiencies in my understanding of the bigger picture so I'm going to stick to small slopes".

    I suppose my question really was to what extent can riding small slopes help to lower the risk, in addition to taking other precautions- and I suppose really it's a daft question to which the answer is "a bit, but not much". But again thanks for the point about Colorado.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by TahoeJ View Post
    I do think this is an interesting discussion though. Very much so.

    Mini golf features can seem so small they can potentially lull you into a false sense of security. On the other hand, if it's a mini golf feature on an otherwise relatively shallow slope, there can be something to that in terms of mitigating risk. But then you get into discussions of how a trigger point can cause a 28 degree slope beneath it to slide and all of that.
    Sorry- by your last point do you mean that with a sufficiently weak layer you can expect to see slides on even low angle slopes- or do you mean that a steep feature on an otherwise shallow slope can contribute to triggering a low angle slide?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by neck beard View Post
    Skiing smaller slopes is a valid part of finding a terrain solution to the avalanche problem of the day. However the one pictured is still very steep (from an avalanche perspective) is full of terrain traps (cliffs which increase trauma) and has rocky outcrops and variable snow depth and unsupported areas (triggers) and it invites the chance to add additional stress to the snowpack in the form of lots of small airs.

    If you are worried about avalanches that day, then you are often going to have to do more than scale down the slope size, depending on the type of avalanche you are worried about.

    Have the patience and humility to ski non-avalanche terrain when required. Or, if you just have to be skiing something steep-ish with features, then ski very very clearly defined spine/ridges and accept that, despite your "efforts", you are still disrespecting the dragon it is cave, with very little margin for error.

    The key concern here is you still want to ski avalanche terrain at every opportunity, and are happy with non-lethal consequences (at least you guessed and hope they are non lethal)
    Good points, the main principle I suppose is that short, heavily featured faces contain a lot in the way of trigger points and rocky terrain traps, even if a burial might be less likely. I'd hope that we'd never ride a face like this (or even a low angle face) on a high/moderate risk day, the decision to preferentially ride shorter faces is tagged on to the end of an otherwise (hopefully) reasonable assessment of the risks, and is added on because my knowledge of snowpacks and stability is basic (have read Tremper a few times, thats about it). Despite being untracked the photo I attached was taken about a week after the last snowfall.

    One way to stay safer in the backcountry is to only ever ride very low angle angle slopes, I suppose every slope falls somewhere on the spectrum from "safe" to "deadly". If you feel a need to ride high angle slopes when the stability seems ok, is choosing short slopes a way to nullify the risk? I guess the answer is only slightly..

  10. #10
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    Choosing smaller slopes is a valid way to use terrain to find a solution to a given avalanche problem. Some advantages:

    1. smaller avalanche if you are wrong. Benefits = less chance of deep burial unless there are terrain traps. Less momentum over short paths so possibly less impact trauma. And less area to search, so easier to conduct a fast and successful companion rescue in the debris field (but all of this presupposes that you are already ok with being wrong in the first place and have invited an avalanche into you life. A very bold step to take)

    2. MUCH easier to manage your group's exposure and communication on small slopes

    3. shorter exposure times

    4. easier to get off the slope if you are unhappy with it

    5. less snowpack spatial variability challenges on smaller slopes => single point snow observations become slightly less useless

    6. easier to access the slope without exposing yourself to it on the slow ascent

    These address the components of risk: exposure, vulnerability/consequences and to some degree, probability. So they are good things.

    Quote Originally Posted by shredcity View Post
    "my knowledge of the recent conditions and the avalanche report suggests that conditions are stable, I believe this aspect to be fine, but I know that there are deficiencies in my understanding of the bigger picture so I'm going to stick to small slopes".
    What you have identified is your level of Confidence in the conditions. There are numerous things which increase or decrease Confidence. It is a key concept, so keep working with it. When your Confidence is low, use terrain (and group size) to address that situation. As already said, sticking to smaller slopes is one way of using terrain to reduce risk. But it is not the only one, and it is not foolproof.

    Also, develop the habit of placing the avalanche problem on the terrain. Do not view them independently. Look for the interaction between snowpack and terrain character before deciding if a smaller slope is the best solution to your current avalanche problem. For some avalanche types, it is a good measure. For others, eg, deep persistent slabs, or persistent slabs, a slope like you pictured ain't much of a solution. This is what the CO guys are possibly thinking. But for a surface soft storm slab instability, a small slope like you pictured with disconnected features and a discontinuous slab might be more appropriate. It may still slide, but in soft cookies. You'll notice a lot of skiing is on small pillow lines during storms in coastal areas.

    Just because I am saying this, does not make it right.

    It is a fun topic, but keep it in context and try not to over think it. It is just skiing. Avalanches are [mostly] easy to avoid and skiing is still fun so long as you realize that what you desire has absolutely nothing to do with reality.
    Last edited by neck beard; 04-23-2016 at 07:07 PM.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by shredcity View Post
    Sorry- by your last point do you mean that with a sufficiently weak layer you can expect to see slides on even low angle slopes- or do you mean that a steep feature on an otherwise shallow slope can contribute to triggering a low angle slide?
    Not that the former isn't possible, but I was referring to the latter.

  12. #12
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    I'm way more comfortable in mini golf lines than huge lines with lots of exposure. It's a mental thing but the shorter tech to fast open run out gives me more confidence so I actually ski it stronger and it's just more enjoyable for me.
    dirtbag, not a dentist

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by TahoeJ View Post
    Not that the former isn't possible, but I was referring to the latter.
    Got it, thanks

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by neck beard View Post
    Choosing smaller slopes is a valid way to use terrain to find a solution to a given avalanche problem. Some advantages:
    A lot of very helpful advice there, and a lot to think about, much appreciated

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