On the picture below you see 13 points that every freerider should consider before making a decision. Not only to be safer in the mountains, but also to prevent getting wet feet in a creek and especially to ride more powder. With the right knowledge and expertise you can always ride powder somewhere.
Do you already have some knowledge of weather, snow, avalanches and the mountains? Then write the points 1 to 13 on a blank piece of paper, check the picture below and write down for yourself what they could mean. Then just scroll down and check whether it is slightly correct.
Lets see how your good your mountain knowledge is ?
"Wind is the builder of avalanches". Wind transports large amounts of snow and because wind destroys and reduces snowflakes while moving, it's the cause of so-called 'wind-blown snow'. Wind is not good. If the wind is strong or has been strong over the past few days, there is an increased risk avalanche risk.
Large corniches are a clear indication the wind was strong. A corniche is always away from the wind (Lee) and gives you an idea of the prevailing wind direction. Paradoxically, the first fracture rarely arises directly on or just behind the corniche. There is so much snow here that the chance that you hit a weak layer is very small. It is just a few to tens of meters below it where it becomes dangerous, because the snow cover there is usually slightly thinner and you hit the weak layer more easily.
3. Rocky faces
Wind stills arise in the vicinity of rocky faces due to the ruggedness of the terrain. You will always find wind-drifted snow near rocky faces (also smaller rocky faces) and especially below rocky faces. And that means an increased avalanche risk. Descend above a rocky face? An avalanche can throw you off with all its consequences. Take wind-blown snow and terrain traps into account!
4. Loose snow avalanche
A loose snow avalanche starts at one point and then takes the form of a cone. A snowflake decides to roll down (often triggered by your skis or snowboard) and a chain reaction takes place. A loose snow avalanche is the ultimate example of the snowball effect. The loose snow avalanche is a variant that is generally not as dangerous for freeriders, but should not be underestimated. The biggest danger of loose snow avalanches is that you get out of balance and possibly slide off a cliff that's too big to huck.
5. The sun
The direct radiation of the sun ensures that the snow cover can set itself after a period of time, which makes the snow cover stronger. But the sun does not reach every part of the mountain. Especially in the middle of winter the sun is so low that it does not shine directly on many faces. Where the sun can not reach the mountain it remains cold and weak layers in the snow cover can stick around for months. On the other hand, the sun can provide a crusty layer that can serve as a sliding layer after new snowfall.
6. Surface hoar
Surface hoar doesn't fall down from the sky, but is created on the snow cover itself and consists of large crystals, often in the form of feathers, wedges or some kind of icy flakes. Surface hoar is therefore not a form of precipitation, but rather a consequence of a cloudless sky during the night. Surface hoar itself is not dangerous, just like hail and Graupel, when it forms the top layer. It immediately becomes dangerous when a new layer of fresh snow falls on top of it. The layer with surface hoar is no longer visible. Layers with surface hoar are extremely weak and are a typical sliding layer for an avalanche. The biggest problem with a thick layer of snowed in surface hoar is that it can take weeks and sometimes months before the situation is stabilised.
7. Riding tactics
Before you ride down, it is good to determine the safe zones on the face. Safe zones are useful so that you can keep an eye on each other. A good riding tactic prevents you (and the whole group) from getting into trouble.
8. Slope angle
The ideal slope angle at which avalanches come down is 38 degrees steep. In any case, most avalanches take place on slopes between 20 and 55 degrees. Those slopes are perfect to ride. These are the types of slopes in which we cause the deadly avalanches ourselves in 90% of the cases.
9. Slab avalanches
Small slab avalanches can cause the snow cover to destabilise even more. Small cracks can continue to move invisibly and trigger large(r) slab avalanches.
10. Terrain traps
Terrain traps, or the 'traps' plotted by the terrain are those places on the mountain where you 'fall into the trap'. If you come in an avalanche and it comes across a terrain trap or when an avalanche ends up in such a terrain trap, then the chance of survival is considerably lower because the snow piles up high.
11. Avalanche gullies
Closed forests in which white channels flow down. These openings in the forest are a direct danger to you. These paths are not 'gladed' so that you can go skiing or boarding. These are the paths of spontaneous avalanches that descend every now and then. Small, young, widespread trees, especially those with branches that only grow downhill, are a typical sign that avalanches are regularly coming down here.
12. Save your buddies after an avalanche? Practice, practice, practice
Avalanches that end up on flat sections are made of hard chunks make it difficult to carry out a rescue. It's simple: practice, practice, practice!
13. Convex slopes
The snow cover is often not so coherent on a convex slope, also called a rollover. The combination of gravity - to pull the snow down - in combination with the curvature of the slope ensures that we regularly see avalanches at the point where the convex is the strongest.
A good friend of Snow Safety, Jake Sims is one tough bloke! So happy to him still charging large lines in Australia.
"Jake is a father and war veteran who suffered a stroke last year and came very close to loosing it all. He made an amazing recovery, although he had to learn to snowboard again. His passion for the backcountry and drive for life is incredible, a true inspiration"
Life had got complicated fast and priorities had shifted for Lach, a life-long mate and new father, but the underlying froth for snowboarding was evident in the weeks leading up to his leave-pass weekend. Young Jack was put to bed... we hit the road.
It was a narrow weather window, there had been a recent storm and crystal balling the forecast indicated a half day with a high freeze level front and possibly white-out fast approaching. It wasn’t an ideal weekend to be heading out in honesty, so we prepared for the worst and made the most…
We rounded the Twynam dome; the shredable lines of the Siren Song face emerged from the rolling landscape - somehow impressing on-lookers even after repeat visits. Rocks were rimed, snow was scoured and the best face to ride was still being juggled in the mind. We approached the Knoll and new hints appeared - unexpectedly, consistent patterns of wind loaded powder of 20-30cm depth became evident. The juggled balls landed and lines to ride suddenly became clearer - some gems were in the mix for sure!
We skinned on and one particular face likely to be on was mentioned, a mountain face that requires caution - it was wind-loaded, there are rock bluff hazards below, and you end up in a remote corner far from any rescue team. There was apprehension in Lach’s response.....a shift from previous trips we’d been on – I could tell he was thinking of young Jack smiling his 9 month old smile. With the front approaching, we needed intel and we needed confidence of a safe return to family.
We scoped and talked through hazards, safe zones, snow-pack and checked beacons....a breath…I dropped in, tender turns avoiding a convex pocket into the chute entrance and I bee-lined it to protection. Stability was evident and I continued into the chute - wide enough to open it up a bit and narrow enough to keep it interesting. It was loaded with wind-blown powder, sluffing, but stable. I linked a turn under mid-face protection and called Lachy in on the radio......A handful of linked turns and Lach flew past at warp speed hooting with stoke – although he’d had a break from snowboarding, the years in Chamonix and free-ride skills instinctually came to the surface.
An elevating freeze level narrative spoke through the ice fall as we exited Crags Creek, dense cloud cloaked over and we were in a vertigo matrix of whiteout. We navigated that matrix back to the dome and home, keeping glimpses of the corniced ridge at a safe distance, contemplating how scary it would be to do this in a glaciated landscape or a knife edge ridge.
The stoke was high...a rare treat it was to slay such perfect stable powder on a complex Aussie mountain face...practicing team work skills, spotting and watching a good mate slay it too. It doesn’t get much better out there, we were happy that our preparations were up to the conditions on this day and realised how lucky we were. Lach confided his thoughts of free-riding in relation to Jack and family on the return trip – it’s important to keep life priorities in check out there…
Words from Antony von Chrismar
By Greg Hill
In 1999, while I was beginning my backcountry adventures I was fortunately unfortunate to witness a major avalanche. I know this sounds odd but as a young wild adventurous boy I was fairly oblivious to the true hazards of the mountains. I was young fit and driven to explore but really blind to the mountains. I had enough self-analysis to understand that I knew nothing so I took my Canadian Avalanche Level 1 course.
It was during that course that I witnessed a class 4 avalanche and was part of a full blown rescue. Sadly Shane, an acquaintance, passed away in this slide; also a great friend, Frank, suffered multiple fractures. I remember standing on the side of Mt-Macdonald, watching the last patient being long lined off into the setting sun. While watching them fly away I vowed that I would learn as much as I could to avoid such a catastrophe happening to me or the people I ski with.
This video “ my rules”, are my rules to minimize these risks, because I know that I cannot stop and will not stop going out in the mountains and taking risks. It is such a big part of who and what I am. Yet I can do it in a way that is smart and has a process to it. I am not blindly wandering around.
I made this video for the simple purpose of scaring people a little bit and getting them to think and understand the risks they are taking. This is a first in a little series of videos I am making. The second I am calling “tricks of the terrain” it is a more on the ground approach to backcountry skiing. These little tricks that have been taught to me by my mentors and by the mountains. Ideally the rules I share and the tricks I teach help you make good decisions in the mountains and enjoy them for years to come.
MAIN RANGE NSW:
UPDATED: 19TH / AUG /2018
REPORT CONFIDENCE: STRONG
CURRENT UNTIL: 20TH / AUG / 2018
CONSIDERABLE AVALANCHE DANGER.
Field observations in today are of natural and skier triggered avalanches size 1 over the entire Main Range down to 35cm.
Lots of new snow today falling at 2cm / hr. The lee slopes will have 3-5 times more loading so be care as slide are happening in these zones. Slides were triggered and witnessed on 25 deg slopes so even simple terrain is unstable ATM
Heavy snowfall today and continuing over the weekend . The new 30 cm of snow will be more like 50 by Sunday and this will be sitting on a melt freeze layer. Below this melt freeze layer is a touchy layer of buried surface hoar, so we could see large slabs on lee slopes. Snow falling to 900m on Saturday night so the whole Main Range will be getting some love from the snow gods.
This added weight on the snowpack will most likely see natural avalanches on steep loaded terrain. The Buried surface hoar below the 15cm of melt freeze will continue to be a issue moving forward so we will continue to monitor its bond strength.
Stay in simple terrain and steer clear of terrain traps and natural hang fire while skiing and touring. Enjoy the touring on the weekend and stay safe.
There is a heavy melt freeze crust on the surface (@11am) and doesn't look to soften with the colder daytime temps forecast today and for the weekend. Stormy weather rolling in as obs were being done. East CT results and easy ECT results @20cm on buried Surface Hoar. CT9 @70 cm as well on hardness change on Rounds.
There is forecasted snow coming in the PM today and continuing all weekend so it will be interesting to see if the new snow will bond to the melt / freeze crust .
There is a large storm due to in the PM today. This added weight on the snowpack will most likely see natural avalanches on steep loaded terrain. The Buried surface hoar below the 15cm of melt freeze will continue to be a issue moving forward so we will continue to monitor its bond strength.
Stay in simple terrain and steer clear of terrain traps and natural hang fire while skiing and touring. Enjoy the touring on the weekend and stay safe.
The landscape has changed with the last storm. 30-50cm of snow has fallen and the backcountry has a nice new layer of powder snow on it. The Snow continued late on Sunday and was falling at 1cm / hr in the PM. We had easy results on Hand shear and compression tests. CTE4SP@15cm on buried surface hoar. CTM16SP@31cm on buried surface hoar. CTH24SP@84cm on buried graupel. This deep result has changed since Friday when it was only collapsing, now its planar shearing. This deep persistent weak layer @84cm could be a concern on steep terrain so be careful on lee to the SW on slopes over 35 deg.
There is a large storm due to hit late Tuesday night. This added weight on the snowpack will most likely see natural avalanches on steep loaded terrain as the buried surface hoar will be very touchy.
Stay in simple terrain and steer clear of terrain traps and natural hang fire while skiing and touring. Let this storm cycle move through and enjoy the touring on the weekend.
The temps have be warm over the past few days. There is a melt freeze crust on the the surface and 60cm of new snow under that. That new snow is sitting on a 5cm layer of graupel sitting on a solid melt freeze layer from the last rain event. in that 60cm new snow layer there is buried surface hoar @20cm. We got CTE 2 SP @20cm on buried surface hoar. We also got CTE 9 SC @61cm on the buried graupel. No results from deep tap test .
We also got a ECTP 3 @ 20cm on the buried surface hoar. This means that we will have propagating slabs in the backcountry on loaded lee aspects on steeper terrain.
There is a large storm due to hit late Friday night but will start with rain and then turn to snow. Fingers crossed this bonds well to the melt / slush layer from today's warm temps. This added weight on the snowpack will most likely see natural avalanches on steep loaded terrain as the buried surface hoar will be very touchy.
Stay in simple terrain and steer clear of terrain traps and natural hang fire while skiing and touring. Let this storm cycle move through and enjoy the touring early in the new week.
Snow Safety Australia is a NSW based information website.