Skiing During Wartime

| January 7, 2009

The Wasatch Mountains have been getting some good storms lately and it has been dumping snow here all day.  Yippy!  I’ve had to plow out the driveway twice in eight hours, the wind is howling and the avalanche danger is on the rise.  All of which means it is a good time to go skiing this morning. *

Gusting to 34mph with lots of snow. Three feet to the viewers right and this person would be going down in a slide for sure.

Skiing during high avalanche danger is a double edged sword – on one hand there is no better way to experience unstable snow than to stomp around on it, yet at the same time stomping in the wrong area can be lethal.  Here are some thoughts on skiing during periods of high danger:

  • It is more about the experience than the turns.  Pick an ultrasafe area, scale back on your ambitions and think of it as more of a field trip than a skiing tour.
  • Look for low angle terrain and safe ridge-lines.  Especially avoid big hanging fields above you that might naturally release and sweep down on top of you.
  • A like-minded partner is essential to avoid getting peer pressured into steeper terrain.
  • Part of the challenge of going out on deep & dangerous days is to find slopes that are steep enough to ski down, but not steep enough to avalanche.  This may be impossible at times, so be prepared to get shut down and follow your skin track back.
  • Be aware of routes that are 95% safe.  If it is a four mile tour with one little 200′ exposed section, you can bet that during high danger that’s where the accidents will happen. 
  • Practice impeccable safe travel techniques.
There’s a time & place for Meadow Skipping, like during high danger storm days.

Help support and pick up a pair of Black Diamond Adjustable Probe Poles from Click on the photo below…

* It was not at all as expected!  I was geared up for a howling blizzard, and it turned out to be a full-on Pineapple Express – warm, balmy, hardly any wind and some really slooooow inverted snow.  The avalanche danger wasn’t anywhere near as touchy as I thought it would be, but then again, we weren’t pushing it too hard either.


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 (3)

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  1. Andrew_L says:


    I’d love to see you write more about safe travel in high-risk conditions. I tend to stay home on those days, which as you point out means I don’t get to see unstable snowpacks up close and personal.

  2. doubleA says:

    I love the posting “skiing during wartime.” I rarely get bluebird days, and when I do, I’m plain old lucky. I ski on my days off, if the weather is shitty, I still go skiing.
    This year in Colorado we received a huge amount of snow around Thanksgiving, and the storm cycle stuck around for a few weeks.
    One of those days I toured into a zone that I knew the conditions were going to be whiteout and -30 windchill above treeline, but it was challenging to see if my gear could withstand the temperatures and to test my navigational skills. I wasn’t in avy terrain,so that was one less worry.
    I believe if you could make friends with terrible conditions and weather, bluebird days are that much better.

  3. Andrew says:

    “Making friends with terrible conditions” is an excellent way to look at it! A lot of times, if you are geared up for it, you can have a blast in bad conditions.

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