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  1. #1
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    Tracks on the slope indicate stability for certain avalanche problems?

    I was touring alone today and came across a 38*ish slope w/ 15 or so tracks on it. In Utah today, our avalanche problems were new snow problems and wind slabs/loading.

    I had committed to staying out of avalanche terrain while alone, but it made me wonder: do tracks on a slope indicate stability for certain avalanche problems such as loose dry, storm slabs, or wind slabs? Would riding in/on/near someone's tracks be safer than riding, say, 10 ft left or right?

    Thanks for any info.

  2. #2
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    These tracks you speak of
    hippy dippy wasatch wiggle repeated jumpturn bobble head direct in the fall line
    Or
    Hcac bmf hauling mucho ass no more than 3 per 500ft possibly encompassing the entire slope
    Because I'd factor that into my personal well it's not a red flag sign of instabilty equation
    "When the child was a child it waited patiently for the first snow and it still does"- Van "The Man" Morrison
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by skifishbum View Post
    These tracks you speak of
    hippy dippy wasatch wiggle repeated jumpturn bobble head direct in the fall line
    Or
    Hcac bmf hauling mucho ass no more than 3 per 500ft possibly encompassing the entire slope
    Because I'd factor that into my personal well it's not a red flag sign of instabilty equation
    Not quite sure what that means


    But fuck yeah, if there’s tracks, you gotta send it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I might need more exclamations!!!!!!
    “Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Core Shot View Post
    Not quite sure what that means
    sometimes i try really hard to understand sfb and never quite feel like i do.
    you don't want no smoke.

  5. #5
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    Too many variables here.

    1. How many tracks
    2. How old are the tracks
    3. What the shape of the slope is (are there rollovers or other weird complexities where there aren't tracks)
    4. What the shape of the tracks are (like sfb was saying - were there people farming the shit out of the slope or just a few folks who bombed it?)

    If you don't know, you shouldn't go in my opinion. Tracks don't indicate a lack of instabilities, only that the previous skiers didn't trigger any. It could have warmed up, wind loaded, or otherwise changed between now and when they made them - or they could have gotten lucky, known something you didn't know, or just skied in the right place.

    If, given the avalanche danger and your own observations, you decide that some terrain is off limits for whatever reasons (skiing solo, likelihood of triggering a slide, a particular avalanche problem, whatever), I would recommend exercising discipline and learning to walk away. Discretion is the better part of valor.

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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by tgapp View Post
    Too many variables here.

    1. How many tracks
    2. How old are the tracks
    3. What the shape of the slope is (are there rollovers or other weird complexities where there aren't tracks)
    4. What the shape of the tracks are (like sfb was saying - were there people farming the shit out of the slope or just a few folks who bombed it?)

    If you don't know, you shouldn't go in my opinion. Tracks don't indicate a lack of instabilities, only that the previous skiers didn't trigger any. It could have warmed up, wind loaded, or otherwise changed between now and when they made them - or they could have gotten lucky, known something you didn't know, or just skied in the right place.

    If, given the avalanche danger and your own observations, you decide that some terrain is off limits for whatever reasons (skiing solo, likelihood of triggering a slide, a particular avalanche problem, whatever), I would recommend exercising discipline and learning to walk away. Discretion is the better part of valor.

    Sent from my Pixel 4a (5G) using Tapatalk
    Yup. And after you answer all those questions go ahead and throw the logic out the window. Buried weak layer don't give a fuck about tracks when you hit the right spot.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by snowaddict91 View Post
    Yup. And after you answer all those questions go ahead and throw the logic out the window. Buried weak layer don't give a fuck about tracks when you hit the right spot.
    Yeah I was just addressing OPs question about near surface instabilities. With a pwl it's a whole different ball game. No mercy, no prediction, no logic. Just don't go there.

    To OP: You do you pikachu but if I'm skiing solo on a day with considerable hazard (the winds have been nuking the wasatch pretty fucking hard lately), I'm not gonna ski avalanche terrain. Period. I don't give a fuck if some dude in a wookie suit just sent a backflip on the slope, no means no.

    Everyone figures out what level of risk they're comfortable with. Maybe as you progress as a skier you'll get better and better at managing near surface instabilities, and there might be a time when you feel confident managing them solo in avalanche terrain, but if you don't know how to safely and effectively do that (or you aren't 110% confident in your abilities), you might wanna avoid that kinda shit.

    At the end of the day, if you're skiing solo it doesn't matter if it's a 4" slide or a 40" slide if you lose an airway and die. They'll both kill you just the same if no one is there to dig you out. And this attitude of "well the pwl is gone so it's open season" - is a dangerous one. Am I getting on steeper and higher consequence terrain? Abso-fucking-lutely. Are there other avalanche problems that can kill you? No doubt.

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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by tgapp View Post
    I don't give a fuck if some dude in a wookie suit just sent a backflip on the slope, no means no.
    As Chewy always said: "Live to ski another day."

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by tgapp View Post
    Too many variables here.

    1. How many tracks
    2. How old are the tracks
    3. What the shape of the slope is (are there rollovers or other weird complexities where there aren't tracks)
    4. What the shape of the tracks are (like sfb was saying - were there people farming the shit out of the slope or just a few folks who bombed it?)

    If you don't know, you shouldn't go in my opinion. Tracks don't indicate a lack of instabilities, only that the previous skiers didn't trigger any. It could have warmed up, wind loaded, or otherwise changed between now and when they made them - or they could have gotten lucky, known something you didn't know, or just skied in the right place.

    If, given the avalanche danger and your own observations, you decide that some terrain is off limits for whatever reasons (skiing solo, likelihood of triggering a slide, a particular avalanche problem, whatever), I would recommend exercising discipline and learning to walk away. Discretion is the better part of valor.

    Sent from my Pixel 4a (5G) using Tapatalk
    Thanks for this info. And yes, I'm just asking about the problems I named. And I'm only asking for knowledge; I'm not doubting my decision to not ski the slope today.

    Edit: and really, all I'm asking is: it's been said many times this year - and in general - that tracks on the slope don't indicate stability for a PWL/deep slab-type problem (like snowaddict91 said). And I'm asking if that rule applies to the other avalanche problems that I named. Because I don't know.

  10. #10
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    I wouldn't put any weight (one way or another) on a few tracks regardless of the problems of the day. Too much possibility of variation, both spatially (previous skiers may have missed trigger points on the slope), temporally (conditions may have changed since they skied), and just plain random chance. Previous avalanches are obviously a red light but the lack of them isn't a green light.

  11. #11
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    OP asked
    Would riding in/on/near someone's tracks be safer than riding, say, 10 ft left or right?
    ‘All else being equal — Probably Yes’ is what the science would say. But it’s rare in an actual slope for all other factors to be ‘equal’. So that Yes doesn’t help you much.

    As you’ve seen, there’s a hallowed tradition in which we all pretend you asked ‘would skiing in those existing tracks guarantee safety?’ and then that question, which you didn’t ask, gets answered with the obvious No.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by CirqueScaler View Post
    I was touring alone today and came across a 38*ish slope w/ 15 or so tracks on it. In Utah today, our avalanche problems were new snow problems and wind slabs/loading.

    I had committed to staying out of avalanche terrain while alone, but it made me wonder: do tracks on a slope indicate stability for certain avalanche problems such as loose dry, storm slabs, or wind slabs? Would riding in/on/near someone's tracks be safer than riding, say, 10 ft left or right?

    Thanks for any info.
    Take an avalanche course and a simple answer to your question is NO! Do you know about F.A.C.E.T.S. or A.L.P.T.R.U.T.H.S.?

  13. #13
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    Unpopular opinion it seems, but I think tracks on a slope (with evidence that they are fresh relative to the speed of changing conditions) are a data point in decision making. It shouldn’t be the sole factor in green lighting a slope, but with only surface instability, it’s hard to argue that you are equally likely to trigger a slide on a previously skied slope as a virgin one. This certainly doesn’t mean open season, and if other days points also align with the decision to ski, it’s still important to choose micro terrain carefully (ie avoiding start zones regardless of tracks, same as you would without)

    I also believe that from a surface avalanche perspective, the more confined the slope (bowl > face > couloir), the more previous tracks (again this is all relative to how quickly conditions are changing) become stronger evidence of stability.

  14. #14
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    At the most literal this seems pretty weird: are you planning to ski right in (or even mostly in) someone else's tracks? Because, sure, that's a little safer (emphasis on the "r"). All else being equal, I think I'd prefer a slightly safer slope with no tracks. For safererness and because why else am I hiking out there in the first place?

  15. #15
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    Oct 2010
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    I think its very snowpack dependent. In the blackcomb backcountry there a couple of gnarly lines to open up, but generally once people have skied it im happy to jump in. Bearing in mind we rarely have anything but storm snow to manage, and lots of skier compaction from these lines being skied to death during and after every storm.

    So for me, in my environment, yes tracks give me confidence to ski something, solo or in a group. Maybe I wouldn't open some of these lines solo, but would drop 2nd or 3rd solo without batting too much of an eyelid. Having said that we have very different snowpack to anyone outside of the coast mountains (one of the reasons its near impossible to leave here)

  16. #16
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    Everyone has the freedom to make their own risk assessments, but the Tunnel Creek slide at Stevens Pass was triggered by the 7th skier. Storm slab in coastal snow, stepping down to an earlier crust layer. I'm sure there are plenty of other examples.

    http://media.nwac.us.s3.amazonaws.co..._2-19-2012.pdf

  17. #17
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    To paraphrase Bruce Tremper, “Never believe that previous ski tracks are a sign of good intelligence.
    "True love is much easier to find with a helicopter"

  18. #18
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    I wouldn't put any weight (one way or another) on a few tracks regardless of the problems of the day.

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