I stood on the saddle and looked down at the obviously fresh debris. My gut sunk. My guest was still a minute out on the skin track and I used the time to assess the options in front of me.
First, there was a set of tracks entering the sneak. Were they evidence of a skier triggered release? Was that skier still down there? I quickly threw my beacon to search trying to find a signal. I heard nothing until I picked up my client on the final pitch-
Second, what did this mean for our mission? I evaluated the similar angles and aspects surrounding us. There obviously wasn't much snow in play above us. The winds had battered the ridge that lead upwards. But clearly we were in and around avalanche terrain. We had closed the Basin in guide's meeting and the boss reiterated his concern with a "be real careful out there" warning to me on the way out of the shop that morning. Looking down at this slide, I fought gravity and the internal pull of wanting to drop along the dark timber on skier's right of the slab. When my guest arrived at the perch, I used the evidence below as a teachable moment and asked him, "what does this tell us? How can this inform our travel plans?"
Finally, the slide amplified and further cemented my strategic mindset for the day. We can only step out if we provide ourselves wide margins with connected and overhead terrain.
Wide Margins with Connected and Overhead Terrain-This is the mantra I have had on repeat in my head this year- this approach is very limiting in sketchy, low snow years. But hey, what's your life worth? But backcountry ski guides feel the pressure to find their guests the snow. You're balancing those desires with a less than desirable snowpack hanging in a delicate balance. I'm still not sure I'm going wide enough? Someone did not leave a wide margin on the terrain below us. And I've been guilty of the same so many times before.
I looked up at our intended route and what we'd be skiing under. I felt good about the terrain but at a different time, in different conditions, with a deeper continental snowpack overhead, we'd be sitting ducks. I continue to be awestruck on what it really means to focus on connected and overhead terrain. As persistent weak layers and tensile wind slabs compete for WHO's the SKETCHIEST across our range, I think about Craig Kelly and Ruedi Beglinger and an avalanche incident that illustrates the macro danger of the mountains and the fallibility of humans
I also think about the slide that took out Alex Low and Dave Bridges.
“There are old guides and there are bold guides, but there are no old bold guides”
Mother Nature Bats Last- There will be no extra innings. We manage the micro while in reality, the big hitter crushes us in the bottom of the ninth with a macro, walk off blast.
I try to pull my awareness and vision out to a wider angle and higher altitude- I look thru concentric circles of observation- I see the slopes we're on. I see the slopes around us. I focus on the slopes around those slopes. The slopes around those slopes around those slopes....and repeat. It's scary. It will drive you mad.
Wide Margins with Connected and Overhead Terrain
At home, I jumped online to see if anything had been reported. This slide had been observed and no one was hurt. Check it out.
I definitely think the D1.5 is justified. Those were some serious blocks in the debris. I envisioned what it would look like if this slab had propagated across the entire apron of the bowl. There were plenty of slides that you could see out in the Basin. The two major ski lines had both ripped. Just imagine if these slabs played connect the dots with the cliffs? We ski out in that bowl a lot. It's one of my most sacred and special places to visit. It's hard to stay out of there. Some of the best riding on the divide is in that bowl. But no old and bold for me. It's wide margins for sure.