Hello friends. I just did a final spin through this fabulous issue before we send it off to the printer; there’s a story for every taste, from the initial science focus to forecasting, storytelling, and decision-making. Here are some highlights:
Karl Birkeland of the National Avalanche Center genially agreed to my request for him towrite up the proceedings of the CSAW session on avalanche release (page 30). He has a gift of explaining complex concepts so that the less science-literate among us can understand them, and once again TAR benefits from that gift. Thanks so much, Karl. If you’re struggling with a Deep Slab problem this winter (who isn’t?), then you’ll appreciate the careful analysis and wry tone of Zach Guy’s story of last winter’s Flathead avalanche cycles (page 34).
Translating theory to practice, Joe Stock helps us incorporate the CMAH into careful trip planning and dealing with uncertainty on expeditions to remote Alaska with some remarkable photos and helpful graphics (page 38). If you like high resolution images and stories of impressive avalanches, go directly to our suite of articles on the February 2020 cycle in Little Cottonwood Canyon (page 24), where Mark Saurer shares a UDOT perspective and Tyson Bradley writes from the guide’s viewpoint. You will also find a graphics-heavy tips and tricks piece on using CalTopo to understand and refine your terrain choices (page 22), thoughts on Covid and avalanche decision-making from thoughtful ski patroller Tony Daranyi of Telluride (page 41), plus lots more to pique your interest.
Check out our A3 member spotlights on longtime avalanche professionals Becs Hodgetts of the CAIC and Mike Ferrari of Mt. Rose (starting page 9). These two have been quietly capable in our community for years now, and it’s time to see how they got to where they are and then for a round of applause. We will be honoring hidden hero avalanche professionals in an ongoing fashion in TAR—let me know if you want to nominate someone. We extend that applause and heartfelt appreciation for his career achievements to retiring CAIC forecaster Mark Mueller (page 12). As Halsted mentions in his From the President column, our community sustains us in many ways, and honoring our mentors and their stories brings insight and inspiration to the rest of us.
Finally, I am tremendously proud of all of you, persisting through Covid, crowding, snow drought, and deep slab conditions this winter. Here’s hoping you all get to ski or ride some deep stable powder soon! —Lynne Wolfe
Mid-November and the snow is piling up in my driveway. I am hopeful for the remainder of 2020. Minimal facets at the base can be an optimistic if not realistic short and long-term goal, as well as an apt analogy for current affairs.
I am encouraged and inspired by the energy and expertise that I see on screen on the virtual SAW circuit. People are determined to feed their curiosities and keep up their education even as nothing is the same as it ever was. It’s great to see old friends and new voices offer insight to our community. Behind the scenes I text ? beers to my buddies and on we go, trying to amass tools to make better and better decisions. I skim the lineups of the SAWs I couldn’t attend and find myself formulating questions, then saving yet another presentation for when I have time. Never enough time, though, and next year I hope to share an in-person toast with many of you.
This TAR feels full of that early season energy. It’s a grab bag of topics, so I bet you’ll find something interesting and applicable to your own practice. The Education tab is full this issue as we’ve tried to present a sampler of what different educators are doing during Covid to pivot towards virtual and field-based classes. As usual, the decision-making folder has some useful stories as Doug Krause weighs in on lessons learned across his career and Shawn Davis gives us a stack of reasons to incorporate the Timeout into our backcountry practice.
I had a great time putting together another round table in response to Henry Schniewind’s initial query about Islands of Safety. Some great photos and food for thought here.
Under the forecasting heading, Henry Finn and his colleagues at Simon Fraser University give us more insight into bulletin readers, aimed to help the bulletin writers, while Alex Marienthal of the Gallatin NF avalanche center ties stability test results to writing more accurate forecasts.
Crown Profiles brings you a Buddhist-toned interview with Jerry Roberts by the thoughtful Leath Tonino, reflections on ski patrolling during the onset of Covid from Andrew Hennigh, and part 2 of avalanche center season summaries, with a focus on our hardworking small centers.
Conspicuous in their absence in this issue are any science-based articles, which I am saving for the usual February science issue. Ping me if you have any topics you’d like TAR to pursue.
Finally, keep up your energy and optimism for this winter, friends. —Lynne Wolfe
So far, 2020 has been a tumultuous year on large and small scales. In addition to the obvious factors (Covid, race riots, catastrophic fires, and on a personal scale, knee replacement), we’ve lost some towering figures in our country and our avalanche community: RBG, John Lewis, John Prine, Mario Ruiz, and Sam Wyssen (see TAR 39.2 for an obit) and now, closer to home, Art Judson and Tom Kaveney, our A3 ED Dan Kaveney’s dad. We’ve also lost 200,000 (as of print date) other vital personalities; we mourn them all and valiantly adapt to a brave new world with masks and distance. Here at A3 and TAR, we try to close the distance by invoking and promoting community.
As McKenzie and I were putting together this TAR, we chose the cover photo, refrozen rain rills in the Cascades from Andrew Kiefer, as an apt representation of the beauty and form that can be found in truly shitty conditions. As avalanche practitioners, part of our assignment is acting during times of uncertainty. Starting on page 30, you’ll find a range of Covid musings that chart paths through our current uncertainties, using our avalanche behaviors as basis. Let us know what resonates with you, do you agree, disagree, want to elaborate?
We’ve chosen to print half of our avalanche center season summaries in this issue, saving the other half for 39.2 in order to focus on our smaller centers. I need to thank Alex Marienthal of the Gallatin NFAC for wrangling the summaries; I couldn’t do this without you, Alex. I’m fascinated by how each center handled the uncertainty presented by Covid. Some stayed open, some closed; for each it was a considered and difficult decision. This coming season will present many similar challenges and some we have not yet encountered. Our avalanche training will once again give us tools for dealing with further uncertainty.
If you haven’t checked out our new digital TAR, theavalanchereview.org, go have a look. You’ll find a curated collection of our favorite stories from the last 15 years of TAR. Let me know if there’s something you’d like to see, and FYI, we’ll be highlighting LaChapelle’s The Ascending Spiral sometime this fall. —Lynne Wolfe
Sun’s getting higher in the sky but the powder hasn’t yet turned to corn. I’m sequestered in my home for the time being, with the distinct privilege of writing to you, my avalanche community. I hope that this packed issue helps sustain your intellectual curiosity this spring. I also hope to see you all in Fernie in October, but who knows what the future will bring. Stay healthy, friends.
Usually the April issue theme revolves around human factors and decision-making. That theme bled backwards into the February issue, so 38.4 presents mini-themes with two notable refrains, psychological first aid and a look at forecasting, specifically under-forecasting and bias.
Regarding the first topic, I’m glad that the avalanche community is continuing to freely discuss the potential psychological impacts of our work. Starr Jamison and Pete Earle lay out some personal stories, starting on page 29, while Drew Hardesty and Laura McGladrey offer professional and empathetic advice.
On our second theme, Drew has also been cogitating on nuances of forecasting. He found an insightful essay from Peter Donner, and asked me to query a few colleagues for their reactions. Independently up in Alaska, Heather Thamm and Nikki Champion use a low probability avalanche case study to drive a similar conversation about “Scary Low” conditions. Starts on page 36.
In another entry under our Forecasting Topics heading you will find an article from Anne St. Clair and her group at Simon Fraser University, looking at bulletin-user typology. I didn’t quite understand why this topic matters until Sawtooth Avalanche Center director Scotty Savage laid it out for me. His verbal explanation turned into a short introductory essay on page 33.
Our cover photo comes from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, where they have been pioneering avalanche education for motorized users for decades. Snowbikes are relatively new on the scene: their agility and power allow access into remote and complex terrain, so we are seeing more avalanche involvement from this demographic. Bill Radecky of 6 Points Avalanche Education shares some insights about snow bikes on page 10.
Other stories to capture your interest and imagination:
- A Sun Valley avalanche from 1952 brings up relevant current issues. Page 17
- Next installment of our women’s focus—meet Jenna Malone and Anne St. Clair, page 22
- Jerry Johnson, Andrea Mannberg, and Jordy Hendrickson share some insight into “social positioning” on page 26
- Is climate change affecting the snow and avalanche world? Read McKenzie Skiles’ concise and sobering report on page 47.
Deadline for the October/ISSW TAR is July 15. Email me if you have a story or a question, a photo from an avalanche cycle this winter, or a response to our fracture character question on page 45. —Lynne Wolfe
So far we have had two sunny days in 2020. Snowy and windy, roads closed. Here’s when we execute what we’ve been training for. Yup, that untouched alley looks enticing, but what’s underneath? Still those October facets? You know what you WANT to do, but what’s the right thing to do?
This year I’ve been digging into the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard (CMAH) (see selected reprints on page 28 of this issue) as part of my homework for teaching in the Pro Track. One of the segments that jumped out at me was titled “Likelihood,” with sub categories Sensitivity to Triggers and Spatial Distribution. The descriptors stand for what we can test and sense and quantify. I strongly believe that good education helps you make better decisions in the moment, not just understanding broad concepts. What does “Possible” look like/ feel like/ where should we ski this next line?
Remember the college course Rocks for Jocks? Maybe we need an updated version of Statistics 101 for Backcountry Travelers? I have tried to provide some introductory reading materials for that class in this issue of TAR. Papers from Jimmy Tart and Scott Thumlert (beginning page 31) discuss whether terminology carries the same meanings to various user groups. Jenna Malone read the book Thinking in Bets and immediately knew that Annie Duke’s insights fit seamlessly into the avalanche world (page 34). I’ve been chewing on a few quotes from that book as I work on this Probability Project for TAR. “Treating decisions as bets” sent me to pattern recognition once again.
Right about now you might ask “What’s the difference between likelihood and probability?” In basic dictionaries each word is used to define the other, but it turns out that there are some subtle distinctions. I asked Eeva Latosuo to help shine some light on the issue on page 27.
The more we use the structure of the CMAH in our everyday practice, from pro-level observations to the simpler structure of a Rec 1 class, the better we can communicate across skill and experience levels. Bruce Tremper and Grant Statham both bring their characteristic clarity of writing and insight into CMAH creation to this TAR (pages 28-29).
In other features, Jake Hutchinson brings us insight from the military world in “Left of Whoomph,” on page 38; Chris Wilbur delves again into Colorado’s record-breaking winter of 2018-19 from an engineer’s perspective (page 22). Ron Simenhois shares his research into the importance of friction in avalanche release, on page 20 and Dick Dorworth shares his unique and nuanced perspective on page 24.
As part of the overall A3 Inclusion project, Emma Walker interviewed four of our female wise ones for TAR; you’ll find part 1 of this series on page 11.
At BendSAW I met John Scurlock, whose work I’d been admiring for years. He generously shared some of his striking photos—cover and centerfold shot—thank you John. You’ll find plenty of other rich material in these pages; despite how difficult it is to get people to write over the holidays, our pages are stuffed with education insights, poetry, art, SAW reports, and more. —Lynne Wolfe
SAW season just came to an end, leaving me simultaneously tired and energized. We work remotely on my A3 avalanche team. Dan K is in Bozeman, but he’s pretty quick on reply with texts or phone calls. Kate Koons is just down the road in Victor, but she’s been on the road and in the air a lot this autumn, meeting with course providers and guiding the Pro education program through growing pains and vision clarification. When she and I get together it’s a mile a minute, as you can imagine, and while we each seek out the other’s insights, overlap in our schedules is rare. Our graphic designer McKenzie Long and I also work remotely, mostly via Dropbox. I admire her creativity and vision so much; every so often we talk on the phone and we’ve met in person once.
I encounter you, my readers and authors, through the pages of TAR and the phosphorescence of email. When we connect in person, across the A3 table at a SAW or over a beer, I thrive on your energy, your ideas, and your experience. I want to know what you think about a presentation or how you used a TAR article in your practice. You inspire me, and in turn I want to share that inspiration.
Did you go to a local SAW this autumn? What tools or insight will you take into this winter? Look for SAW reports in the February TAR, and feel free to email me any comments on this topic.
Here’s a collection of tools, tips, tricks, insights, and inspiration from our community for this season. Need a visual reminder of last year’s avalanche drama? Black and white heightens contrast in the cover’s deep slab images—Snowmass from master photographer Art Burrows and the craggy Sawtooth from Tanner Haskins. We can always use some numbers to back up our intuition. Here’s an array of stories bringing data and subsequent insight into:
- weather patterns and deep slab problems (Andrew Schauer, p 16)
- a new formula for understanding interparty avalanches in the busy backcountry (Charlie Hagedorn, p 18)
- an increase in the ages of avalanche victims (Erich Peitzsch, p 40)
- Jeff Deems, in a reprise of his recent CSAW presentation, offers clarity into digital mapping technology. He has some clear take-home messages as well. Thanks, Jeff, for punctuating your busy schedule with an assignment from TAR. (p 21)
I had a great time bringing together an array of decision-making tools for you in this issue.
- In his usual concise and entertaining fashion, Steve Conger has invented an acronym (no! Not another acronym) to help us make quick, efficient, and accurate decisions. I might even try to HUCKEM this winter, but only if it’s deep enough, haha. (p 36)
- Clinical psychologist and backcountry skier Sara Boilen cautions us about reverting to our “lazy brain” default setting on page 38.
- You guys know that Drew Pogge, formerly of Backcountry Magazine and currently of Montana Alpine Adventures and the Bell Lake Yurt, is now our A3 publications chair, and therefore my boss? I always need help balancing the intersection of guide and writing skills, and Drew is a pro on both counts. He shares some words of advice on selecting a backcountry partner on page 44.
- A3 at-large trustee Sean Zimmerman- Wall is a busy guy. So of course he has time to visit Croatia and write an article about his experience teaching avalanche rescue to the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service. (p 33)
Putting together a round table of ideas and reactions to a question is one of my favorite formats for TAR. I swing through Lou Dawson’s Wild Snow often as he hosts topics that interest me personally and professionally (is there much difference?). When he featured an essay about going One at A Time (OAT) in avalanche terrain, I immediately saw it as a topic for a great backcountry round table. With Lou and Manasseh Franklin (Wild Snow’s new editor)’ s permission, we re-worked the essay, which I sent out to a select TAR commentary team. (p 24)
Finally, I welcomed Travis Feist’s rant about a wedge between motorized and non-motorized parts of our avalanche community. He’s got a good point, and I’ve begun a reply from the perspective of someone who cares a lot about both the reputation and the effectiveness of avalanche education and forecasting. What do you think? (p 45)
Have a great winter and stay in touch. —Lynne Wolfe
Welcome to the first issue of our 38th season of The Avalanche Review. The first thing you might notice is our extra heft. Our tenacious ED brought in more ads from our business supporters, so we added four more pages so not to skimp on the content that you expect from TAR. These advertisers not only bring great images to our pages, they support our association and allow us to represent you better. We know you have lots of choices when buying your avalanche-related products; please remember with your dollars the companies who keep A3 in the game.
You’ll find this issue’s column from our A3 president, Halsted Morris, on page 9. He has tackled head-on the ticklish issues of gender equality in our industry and community, and I applaud his honesty. Let’s work to incorporate alternative perspectives and voices into our practices. We begin our new season with a critical review of the previous winter, which was remarkable and record- breaking on many fronts. Our question for the forecasters in writing their season summaries was,
“What were your forecasting challenges for this notable winter?”
I pay close attention to the patterns that emerge from reading many 1000-word summaries of an entire season. How other avalanche workers recognize and then deal with those situations can help me make more informed decisions in my practice and especially in my communications. Last year’s patterns brought deep snow and large avalanche cycles, which translated into good stories and great photos; a few jumped out at me in this batch.
From Colorado’s winter of excesses, I am reminded of how unusual conditions bring unusual avalanches. Record-breaking snowfall and avalanches force us to adapt practices while maintaining margin in unpredictable circumstances. Kudos to our colleagues throughout the West and especially at CAIC and CDOT for their hard work as the snow kept falling.
In Utah, in a spate of backcountry traveler fatalities, three sledders and a skier weren’t even carrying the basic complement of backcountry gear (beacon, shovel, probe). But a conversation with the UAC’s Mark Staples takes me deeper than the numbers into a more nuanced understanding of the long-term success of our avalanche message in infiltrating mainstream culture.
From the Bridger-Teton summary I note stories of another sledder buried without a beacon, then two separate accidents with complete burial and subsequent fatality even though the victims deployed airbags. No silver bullets; statistics once again underline the basics.
In addition to our annual avalanche center season summaries (plus a bonus overview summary from world traveler Roz Reynolds), you’ll find an array of other stories: from Bruce Jamieson’s ski cutting survey results to Dave Richards’ self-described rant about confidence vs competence, to some timely research about airbags.
Autumn begins the SAW season, where we tune up our brains, get our thought processes ready to interpret the patterns of a new snowpack. I‘ll be on the SAW circuit this year—hope to see you at NSAW, WYSAW, or Bend-SAW, representing A3 and discussing the art of debriefing. Let me know what piques your curiosity, gets you thinking and talking, and what is worthy enough to incorporate into your everyday rituals. —Lynne Wolfe