Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

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Conor
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by Conor » Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:15 am

JtheChemE wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 7:46 am
headsizeburrito wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 6:30 am
Possibly dumb idea I just had while in the shower.

It might be helpful to have known/regular avalanche areas marked in a caltopo layer the same way fire activity is. Obviously there is already slope shading that shows you some potential for avy terrain, but that covers a huge area and having an indication of where they have historically happened and where the highest risk is could be good information. Of course you don't want to create a false sense of security and would never have complete data, but I could see it being useful.
Cal Topo shows everything you need. The point is that anyone heading out into potential avalanche terrain should be able to combine CAIC information, with Cal Topo, with your own observations in the BC, to come up with a route / plan that is within your ability to mitigate avalanche hazard given the current conditions and within your accepted level of risk tolerance. Adding a layer to cal topo could lead to a false sense of security, as you mentioned.

Just because a path is not "known" within the context of historical observed avalanche, does not mean that anyone with a basic understanding of avalanche hazard should "know" that certain slopes can slide. For example, attempting to gain the SW ridge of Sneffels with the current conditions is very clearly a bad idea. Yesterday was was the first documented incident in that specific place I've scene, so it is not "known" from the historical context, but I absolutely know that it can slide under the right conditions.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that the best factor of mitigating risk is avoidance. Most winter peak baggers simply avoid avalanche terrain completely, unless the snowpack is stable without question. Or they stick to the long list of safer winter peaks that can be done under elevated hazard (many of those are 14ers).

I'm not trying to fear monger here, even with conditions as they are there are plenty of good options to get out and enjoy the winter mountains of Colorado. The point is that people need to actually think about things, and be very intentional with the risks that they take. What I've seen this year and last (through posts, trip reports), shows an alarming trend that many just roll the dice come out okay, and think whatever flawed decision making put them in a questionable situation can be applied to future outings with similar "success".
Jorts wrote:
Mon Dec 21, 2020 9:32 pm
If you can not recognize avy terrain nor affect a rescue, just stay out of it. Or find a trusted mentor. Seemingly innocuous areas can be quite hazardous. Few 14er summer routes are always safe in the winter as demonstrated by the Kelso incidents.
^^^ Jorts summed it up much shorter than I.
I dislike caltopo because it is nothing more than a planning tool. Which I think is the point you and many others are looking to make. I look at it, but it doesn't dictate what I do in the field.

It's not just about "reading terrain." It's about reading the snowpack. When I'm out, I looking for signs of instability, I'm looking for slides, I'm using the handle of my pole to check layers, if there are rocks with snow I "cut" a quick section. But none of that matters if you're going to avoid avy terrain all together.

As Tremper says, the best tool for someone looking to avoid avy terrain is an inclinometer. Humans are terrible at estimating things with their eyes. Get in a safe spot and check the slope angle. There are free phone apps available for an inclinometer.

Lastly, understanding weather trends and aspect can help tremendously. Approach on safe aspects that can be bare or hold little snow. If you're staring at caltopo you'll never leave the house. Be ready to turn the wagon around, make it a puzzle that you gather information for over time.
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by gb » Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:16 am

The Caltopo slope shading tool is an excellent resource for trip planning, but do keep in mind that observations on the ground are even more important (I think those of you who brought it up know that, but in case anyone was planning to use that tool as a shortcut...). This accident report does an excellent job of explaining the risks of using Caltopo: https://avalanche.state.co.us/caic/acc/ ... &accfm=inv
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by Jorts » Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:27 am

These two recent avalanches demonstrate the problem of heuristic shortcuts. Both parties were familiar with where they were skiing and had skied there uneventfully in the past avoiding steeper more avalanche prone slopes along the way. The thin snowpack is extremely sensitive but it is too thin to produce really large slides. These early season slides are occurring in relatively low angle (30 to 35 deg) terrain compared to a lot of the fatal accidents we see later in the season.

Unusual weather produces unusual avalanches. Identifying any given slope as avalanche prone would be impossible. Some normally barren slopes get loaded with the right wind conditions and produce slides. Cross loading, gullies, gulches all funnel and redirect wind in unusual ways such that a south slope of least concern could be fat and ready to slide even though the CAIC is not addressing any concerns on south slopes.

There are no shortcuts. Studying a topo helps but you have to be able to assess on the fly as well and be willing and able to deviate from a planned route based on new information gleaned in the field.
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by rijaca » Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:36 am

JtheChemE wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 7:46 am
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that the best factor of mitigating risk is avoidance. Most winter peak baggers simply avoid avalanche terrain completely, unless the snowpack is stable without question. Or they stick to the long list of safer winter peaks that can be done under elevated hazard (many of those are 14ers).
^ This!
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by JtheChemE » Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:46 am

Its apparent my comments may be misinterpreted so to be clear: Cal Topo is not the end all be all.

However, my post regarding Sneffels was geared towards newer hikers with limited experience. I still feel that for beginning / intermediate hikers, Cal Topo can be valuable as an upfront go/no go in conjunction with CAIC.

Example:
- Newer hiker with limited BC experience reads the CAIC report it says "Travel in avalanche terrain not recommended, stick to lower angle slopes"
- Newer hiker with limited BC experience can go to cal topo and quickly realize the route or approach is guarded unavoidably by avalanche terrain
- Newer hiker with limited BC experience (hopefully) does not go out into avalanche terrain.

If a "go" is in the cards, it is then vital to take into account some of the other things that conor/BG/jort mention, especially during marginal conditions. That said, understanding weather trends, the effect of wind scouring, etc are all well beyond the scope of people who cannot even recognize avalanche terrain on a topo and identify / avoid it in the field.

Again I agree the onsite evaluation is key (particularly under moderate conditions) as people progress beyond the basics. Micro terrain is not apparent in cal topo, and can be just as deadly as the obvious big open face. Nobody should be in avalanche terrain without the knowledge to assess the situation onsite. Counterintuitively, the same onsite assesments that Conor mentions can be heuristic traps to the very experienced and still produce accidents. That's why for hikers the best tactic is avoidance.
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by CaptCO » Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:51 am

Juan word, ridges.
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by Conor » Tue Dec 22, 2020 9:03 am

JtheChemE wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:46 am
Its apparent my comments may be misinterpreted so to be clear: Cal Topo is not the end all be all.

However, my post regarding Sneffels was geared towards newer hikers with limited experience. I still feel that for beginning / intermediate hikers, Cal Topo is really valuable as an upfront go/no go in conjunction with CAIC.

Example:
- Newer hiker with limited BC experience reads the CAIC report it says "Travel in avalanche terrain not recommended, stick to lower angle slopes"
- Newer hiker with limited BC experience can go to cal topo and quickly realize the route or approach is guarded unavoidably by avalanche terrain
- Newer hiker with limited BC experience (hopefully) does not go out into avalanche terrain.

If a "go" is in the cards, it is then vital to take into account some of the other things that conor/BG/jort mention, especially during marginal conditions. That said, understanding weather trends, the effect of wind scouring, etc are all well beyond the scope of people who cannot even recognize avalanche terrain on a topo and identify / avoid it in the field.

Again I agree the onsite evaluation is key (particularly under moderate conditions) as people progress beyond the basics. Micro terrain is not apparent in cal topo, and can be just as deadly as the obvious big open face. Nobody should be in avalanche terrain without the knowledge to assess the situation onsite. Counterintuitively, the same onsite assesments that Conor mentions can be heuristic traps to the very experienced and still produce accidents. That's why for hikers the best tactic is avoidance.
This conversation always goes down the same road with people throwing out the word "heuristic" like they're writing their phd thesis. The problem with avalanche assessment is that very few people ever get feedback. Say I deem a situation to be "Safe" and don't get lanched. does that mean the next person will be "Safe"? Or flip it around, so I make a no-go decision, how do I know that is the correct one? Unfortunately, there are very few people who get the true feedback they need. Ski patrollers who asses, make an assessment and then actually toss a bomb on it to see if they are correct or not would be one example. Otherwise, we're all just gathering more clues that may or may not reduce our risk. I will continue to do so, as it can mean I am willing to accept a risk or not. But I am not under any thought that doing tests in the field without a proper feedback loop is anything more than slightly lowering, maybe even insignificantly so, one's risk.

So get that inclinometer and avoid, all though I think most people cross avalanche terrain at some point in most hikes. Depending on what one is calling avy terrain...25 deg, 30 deg etc. I always think of it as 25 deg, but that's me.
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by Chicago Transplant » Tue Dec 22, 2020 9:57 am

As noted above, people are terrible at estimating slope angle and I second the recommendation for an inclinometer. I doubt many people even think of 30 degrees as being steep enough to slide when actually in the field, even if they have been told numerous times 30 degrees is dangerous. They don't necessarily equate the slope they are on to the steepness. In reality, 30 degrees is less steep than most staircases, so people probably don't think its steep because they are used to that type of steepness and probably walk it every day and just don't think it feels steep when they are out.

I work in architecture, building code max for an exit stair is 7" rise to 11" run, which is 32.5 degrees. I took this photo of my inclinometer on the railing of the stair at my condo complex, 31 degrees. I don't want to oversimplify because snow evaluation is complex and changes by the minute due to wind, sun, temperature etc. You can cross a slope on your ascent that might be perfectly stable, then on the descent it can be a death trap. But if you don't have the tools/education/mentor to help you evaluate the snow, avoiding avalanche terrain in the first place is the best idea. In that regard, at its simplest, know that a stair case is probably 30 to 32.5 degrees, if you start getting into terrain that is as steep as a staircase, you are on an avalanche slope.
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by greenonion » Tue Dec 22, 2020 10:10 am

Chicago Transplant wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 9:57 am
As noted above, people are terrible at estimating slope angle and I second the recommendation for an inclinometer. I doubt many people even think of 30 degrees as being steep enough to slide when actually in the field, even if they have been told numerous times 30 degrees is dangerous. They don't necessarily equate the slope they are on to the steepness. In reality, 30 degrees is less steep than most staircases, so people probably don't think its steep because they are used to that type of steepness and probably walk it every day and just don't think it feels steep when they are out.

I work in architecture, building code max for an exit stair is 7" rise to 11" run, which is 32.5 degrees. I took this photo of my inclinometer on the railing of the stair at my condo complex, 31 degrees. I don't want to oversimplify because snow evaluation is complex and changes by the minute due to wind, sun, temperature etc. You can cross a slope on your ascent that might be perfectly stable, then on the descent it can be a death trap. But if you don't have the tools/education/mentor to help you evaluate the snow, avoiding avalanche terrain in the first place is the best idea. In that regard, at its simplest, know that a stair case is probably 30 to 32.5 degrees, if you start getting into terrain that is as steep as a staircase, you are on an avalanche slope.

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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by Jorts » Tue Dec 22, 2020 11:25 am

Conor wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 9:03 am

This conversation always goes down the same road with people throwing out the word "heuristic" like they're writing their phd thesis.
Jeez, man. Who are you and why do you seemingly hate me? I've taken several avy courses and helped run some as well. FACETS is a great acronym to consider to be aware of and avoid heuristic traps that can get you in trouble.

Familiarity
Acceptance
Consistency
Expert
Tracks
Scarcity

With more experienced folks in particular, a person has skied a slope hundreds of times without event. As a result, they may be blind to the unusual factors that they have never encountered on that slope before that could make it more dangerous.

I didn't write a phd thesis on heuristic traps but I'm familiar (no pun intended) with them and their role in avalanche accidents. Not sure why you're dismissive.
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by Conor » Tue Dec 22, 2020 11:48 am

Jorts wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 11:25 am
Conor wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 9:03 am

This conversation always goes down the same road with people throwing out the word "heuristic" like they're writing their phd thesis.
Jeez, man. Who are you and why do you seemingly hate me? I've taken several avy courses and helped run some as well. FACETS is a great acronym to consider to be aware of and avoid heuristic traps that can get you in trouble.

Familiarity
Acceptance
Consistency
Expert
Tracks
Scarcity

With more experienced folks in particular, a person has skied a slope hundreds of times without event. As a result, they may be blind to the unusual factors that they have never encountered on that slope before that could make it more dangerous.

I didn't write a phd thesis on heuristic traps but I'm familiar (no pun intended) with them and their role in avalanche accidents. Not sure why you're dismissive.
I didn't actually see you wrote it...my bad. So, if me not reading what you wrote and apparently someone else used after the fact gets you offended, I'm not sure I can help you with that.

My issue with it is the use to make one sounds smarter (regardless if they are or not). Strunk & white had something about never using a dollar word/phrase when penny words suffice. While I understand it to some degree, how does it help in a thread that is supposed to help people who are new to traveling in avy terrain? If you want me to say you're cooler/faster/10x the athlete I'll ever be..."you're cooler/faster/10x the athlete I'll ever be". I apologize if I offended you in this thread. now can we move on from you?
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Re: Avy concerns: Unusually dangerous conditions

Post by cottonmountaineering » Tue Dec 22, 2020 12:05 pm

Conor wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 11:48 am
Jorts wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 11:25 am
Conor wrote:
Tue Dec 22, 2020 9:03 am

This conversation always goes down the same road with people throwing out the word "heuristic" like they're writing their phd thesis.
Jeez, man. Who are you and why do you seemingly hate me? I've taken several avy courses and helped run some as well. FACETS is a great acronym to consider to be aware of and avoid heuristic traps that can get you in trouble.

Familiarity
Acceptance
Consistency
Expert
Tracks
Scarcity

With more experienced folks in particular, a person has skied a slope hundreds of times without event. As a result, they may be blind to the unusual factors that they have never encountered on that slope before that could make it more dangerous.

I didn't write a phd thesis on heuristic traps but I'm familiar (no pun intended) with them and their role in avalanche accidents. Not sure why you're dismissive.
I didn't actually see you wrote it...my bad. So, if me not reading what you wrote and apparently someone else used after the fact gets you offended, I'm not sure I can help you with that.

My issue with it is the use to make one sounds smarter (regardless if they are or not). Strunk & white had something about never using a dollar word/phrase when penny words suffice. While I understand it to some degree, how does it help in a thread that is supposed to help people who are new to traveling in avy terrain? If you want me to say you're cooler/faster/10x the athlete I'll ever be..."you're cooler/faster/10x the athlete I'll ever be". I apologize if I offended you in this thread. now can we move on from you?
heuristic trap is the term, not a made up dollar word

google heuristic trap and youll see its all avalanche related
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