March 12, 2012

Sideways


A big size 3.5 natural avalanche coming off Eastpost yesterday. I took this shot from the N. Frenchman and all of a sudden the terrain hanging over my head felt a little more threatening.

It's been a while since I posted anything and I suppose it's easy to say that I was too busy and didn't have time. But I guess it's all a matter of priorities. Winter can be a hectic season for Canadian Guides and it's hard not to make hay while the snow falls and the ice is fat. During the past few weeks, I've guided some great ice days, heli-skied all over the CMH Bugaboos tenure, and run a four day AST 2 Avalanche Awareness course. This variety of work is super stimulating and keeps me motivated day after day.

Making a life in the mountains is not without risk though and late last week, the back country ski community lost a couple of well known and uber-experienced members in Grand Teton National Park. Steve Romeo - the creator of  www.tetonat.com - and his partner Chris Onufer, were killed in a big avalanche in their backyard. 

When something like this happens, it's hard not to wonder what these extremely knowledgeable and talented guys missed?  Infact, this is a question I've askied myself a lot lately - how do people who spend years skiing in the backcountry and studying the snowpack get surprised?

I don't want to speculate on the details of the accident because I don't know anything about the specific snowpack or terrain. But here's the crux: my guess is that they didn't miss anything. Steve and Chris probably knew exactly what was happening in the snow and what the concerns were. They probably weighed the risks, and decided that the objective was reasonable and could be managed with careful route selection. This is something that happens all the time in guiding, we choose extremely conservative, heavily traveled terrain when we are concerned with weaknesses in the snowpack. But guiding and personal passion are two very different things, and it's not always easy to opt for the conservative option when it's just you and your buddies on a day off. We weigh the factors and decide  - okay, this is cool, we can do this with a thin margin of safety, or conversely, no, we can not do our intended objective safely today. Oddly, I think that the more experienced a person becomes, the harder / grayer this area can be. 

I guess this is just my way of trying to understand how experienced people die in the mountains. Peace to Steve and Chris and their families.


J Mac on a full moon mission in the Bugaboos last month. After a full day of skiing, we left the lodge around 9:30 pm, toured up a run called Fearless and skied down in 20 - 30 mm surface hoar that sounded like broken glass. Props to helicopter pilot Paul M for providing the motivation!



Flying below Crescent and Bugaboo Spire


The ice cave below Bill's Pass


Getting dropped off at the top of the Pigeon ski line


Doug D and Alison S below Mt. Chester on Day two of an AST 2 Avalanche Course 


Climbing at Hafner. Photo courtesy of bmbimages.com


Climbing 2 Low 4 Zero in leanish conditions with Dani L last week.  If you have a few minutes and are interested in reading some funny - if not poorly written - musings, check this out.


Dani L on 2 Low 4 Zero in Evan Thomas Creek


The contentious 2 Low 4 Zero 


K-Country


Evening light in the Bugaboos