Avalanche Safety Field Day 1

Posted on
On Friday my Avalanche Safety class spent the day hiking in the back country. We met at 9am in a town (more like a small collection of houses behind Keystone in the boonies) called Montezuma, and went over the day's itinerary and checked safety gear. We then split up into three groups with three different instructors and began our hike up the switchback's of Webster Pass. To say the least, this isn't a good class for someone who isn't in remotely good shape. We were out for a total of 6 hours, and around 4 1/2 of those hours was hiking up a snowy mountain.

We were hiking through the woods and our instructors were pointing to other peaks across the valley from us, explaining the different avalanche paths and the current conditions. It was interesting observing them from afar, but it really hit home when we came to our first avalanche path on our trail. The thick forest abruptly turned to a 100+ yard wide field of nothing but snow. We executed safety procedures by crossing one at a time, and it was crazy how long it took each person to get to the other side. As I crossed I took a picture looking up the path, and as you can see it starts at the peak of the mountain. The mass of this path was astounding, and it was an extremely humbling and nerve-racking feeling to hike across it.


We continued hiking and all of a sudden hear a "BOOM" with a rumbling in the distance. My instructor, who was directly in front of me, turned around in horror. After a few seconds we realized it was thunder, but it definitely freaked us out! After a mile or two my group stopped to dig some snow pits. Snow pits are dug to research the soundness and strength of the surrounding snow layers. Every snowfall leaves a different layer, and because there are so many types of snow, every layer is different. Avalanches occur for a number of different reasons, but what an avalanche is, is the failure of one or more weak layers in the snow pack, called facets. By doing a number of different strength tests on the snow pack, we were able to determine if there is any faceting, where it is, how it's going to react to pressure, etc. We also learned about the reactions of different combination's of layers, such as hard layers on top of weak layers.

(Not a picture from our actual hike because flat light made it hard to get good pictures of the layers. )

We then kept hiking up, observed a few more avalanche paths, and finally stopped for lunch. After lunch we continued up the mountain and stopped to do more digging. Instead of digging a pit this time, we cut out 2x2 meter blocks in a few different spots. By doing this we were able to have a skier stand on top of the blocks to test the real strength of the snowpack and possibly create a mini-avalanche.

HAHA! Look how deep that snow is!

It was really windy, and I was really chilly!

It was a really eye-opening day, and it made me realize how real avalanches are. Unfortunately an avalanche took it's 2nd victim of the season in Colorado yesterday, and it's only December 6th. Read the article here.

0 comments to “Avalanche Safety Field Day 1”

Post a Comment


 See What I See | Copyright © 2011