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Scott Kranz Image for Mountain Madnesss Use Website Social Trip Brochure SMK 9336

Smart Skiing on a High Hazard Day

I couldn’t believe my eyes; I even refreshed the web­site a time or two to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. We were sev­er­al days out from my next avalanche course and the Stevens Pass weath­er fore­cast was for snow, snow, and more snow. Start­ing Wednes­day and last­ing all through the week­end. This was that epic storm I dream about at night, pow­der bil­low­ing over my head and shoul­ders. But the storm wasn’t to be with­out its issues. The freez­ing lev­els act­ed like a 10 year old with a new yo-yo; up and down and up and down again. It was set­ting up to be great ski­ing but with very dan­ger­ous avalanche con­di­tions. Indeed the North­west Avalanche Cen­ter fore­cast­ed High avalanche dan­ger for both of our field days. High avalanche dan­ger is defined as nat­ur­al avalanch­es are like­ly, and human trig­gered avalanch­es are very like­ly”. This was going to be the real deal.

Crazi­ness at the ski area. No lines in the back­coun­try that’s for sure. Dal­las Glass photo

Ok, maybe one line in the back­coun­try. Just our group grin­ning on the ski track. Dal­las Glass photo

Through­out the win­ter I have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to teach a vari­ety of cours­es from free avalanche aware­ness cours­es all the way to pro­fes­sion­als. When­ev­er I talk about ski­ing on high haz­ard days, the reac­tion seems to be the same. Would you real­ly go ski on a high haz­ard day?” My answer, You bet!” It’s a lit­tle sim­plis­tic. The answer is right there on NWAC’s web­site, Trav­el in avalanche ter­rain is not rec­om­mend­ed.” It doesn’t say stay home, it doesn’t say go to the ski area, it doesn’t even say fear for your life. It sim­ply says, Trav­el in avalanche ter­rain is not rec­om­mend­ed.” So, that’s exact­ly what the class decid­ed to do, avoid avalanche terrain. 

Every bit of thigh deep. Lau­ren reaps the rewards of plan­ning and exe­cu­tion, ski­ing blow­er snow on a high haz­ard day. Dal­las Glass photo

With epic lift lines at the ski resort, we start­ed uphill into the snow cov­ered trees near Stevens Pass. Trail break­ing was deep, but reward­ing. We prac­ticed on-the-move snow­pack and weath­er obser­va­tions, find­ing exact­ly what NWAC had described, Wind Slabs and Storm Slabs. The group had already decid­ed that all avalanche ter­rain was off lim­its for the day, so we made sure that we didn’t even set a sin­gle toe in any­thing that resem­bled avalanche ter­rain. Our obser­va­tions con­tin­ued to line-up, and our ter­rain selec­tion seemed appro­pri­ate for the haz­ard. So when we final­ly hit the ridge, what do you think we did? That’s right, skied it! We dropped off the ridge into knee to thigh deep blow­er pow­der. The group could hard­ly con­tain them­selves. I’ve rarely seen such big grins. 

Learn­ing back­coun­try board­ing tech­niques makes for a sweet day. When it’s this deep it may feel more like surf­ing than snow­board­ing. Koranin says that’s why he loves the board. Dal­las Glass photo

Our group learned a very valu­able les­son, that good safe ski­ing can be had on a High haz­ard day. How did they do it, you ask? A sol­id plan and avoid­ing avalanche ter­rain. I’ll tell you what, fresh tracks and 20 – 25 degree glad­ed tree ski­ing; Amazing!

~ MM Guide Dal­las Glass

Mak­ing an indepth snow obser­va­tion. Best part of a pow­der day: falling into the feath­er bed. Dal­las Glass photo