I woke up New Year’s Eve morning at 1.30 A.M. with a bad feeling about a line I was planning on doing in 6 hours. I sent out the appropriate text messages, letting my partners know that I was aborting the mission. We instead went for a little sled n’ shred mission at a popular spot on Tahoe’s West shore. Having checked the avalanche advisory at the Sierra Avalanche Center website, and noting the “Low with pockets of Moderate” conditions, we began shuttling each other around to get some runs in. Dave Hatchett was the third person onto the face after Ryland Bell and skier K.C. Deane. The slide, pictured above, ripped when Dave was just below the top middle fracture…directly above a 50 foot air! Hatchett was able to swim and steer his way to the looker’s right, narrowly avoiding being swept off the cliff. Below, Dave takes a moment to ponder his avalanche.
We stayed away from any exposure the rest of the day riding mellow pow lines, and saw 2 more slides of the same size rip.
I learned a few lessons that morning. First, I was very happy that I’d listened to my gut and aborted the line I was planning. Second, knowing the avalanche forecast can be useful, but is really just the start to being responsible in the backcountry. Third, make sure your partners below are aware that you’re riding and have a close eye on you; multiple sleds zipped over to Dave immediately, but others, that could have potentially been needed for digging, were unaware. Finally, knowing where to expect an avalanche on any given face and formulating an escape route is extremely important. This slide broke where you should expect it to; right near the apex of a convexity on the face.
So, be careful out there and make sure you’re aware, even when the forecast looks stable! Check out Seth Lightcap’s post on avalanche awareness from late December.