5 – Staying High with Athey

| February 17, 2012 | 5 Comments

Part 5 in 10 of my personal avalanche avoidance theories…

If you’ve spent time skiing in the Wasatch Mountains, you’ve most likely crossed tracks with Bob Athey, aka The Wizard of the Wasatch. Bob has excellent snow science skills and observations, but more than that he is the grand master of avalanche avoidance through terrain management/route finding. After decades of skiing here, he not only knows every little ridge and pass, but he also knows how and when to connect them all up. Like rats supposedly being the only survivors of a nuclear war, when avalanche conditions are high or extreme, Bob is still out scurrying around in the mountains dodging the apocalypse.

A large part of this comes from being intimately familiar with the terrain, but the basics apply anywhere; stick to the high ground, watch out for run-out zones, move from safe-spot to safe-spot, work the ridgelines, watch your aspects and make the most of any naturally protected areas.

Another component of this is to not get lazy. I was once trading off trail breaking with a friend who finished the climb by wrapping around a peak and cutting directly through a fat, wind loaded pillow right in the starting zone. It didn’t slide on us, but when I asked him why he went that way instead of taking the longer and safer route up the ridgeline, he said “I was so f*cking tired that I just didn’t care.” Like Wizards and rats, you have to care.


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Category: 07 Avalanche Avoidance

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (5)

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  1. David says:

    There might be a lot of bleeps, but Bob would make an interesting subject for a documentary.

  2. Michael says:

    1.) exactly how did the “grand master of avalanche avoidance” end up wrapped around an aspen tree at the base of gobblers knob back in Feb ’10?

    2.) well, did you follow the kook up the barrel-of-the-gun or did you “care” enough to find your own safe route to the ridge before the interrogation?

  3. Andrew says:

    Food for thought Michael. Take it or leave it and learn from your own, as well as other people’s experience. The ultimate avalanche expert would know better than to even go outside if there is snow on the ground.

  4. Matt Kinney says:

    Thanks Andrew for this series. Good stuff.

  5. athey says:

    Hard to be perfect, Michael.
    Every 3500 days or so, a mistake is made.
    Best to keep that in mind. I know I do.

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