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Avalanche warning for Mount Rainier, Cascades

WINTERSPORTS — It's spring, but wintery conditions still have a hold on the Cascades.

The National Weather Service is warning of avalanches on the west slopes of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon Thursday morning because of heavy snow and rain in the mountains.  
 
Forecasters say wet, loose slabs of snow could avalanche in the area that includes Mount Hood and Mount Rainier. Hikers and climbers are advised to stay out of the back country.  
 
More mountain snow is falling as the latest storm moves into the Northwest.  
 
Seattle is close to breaking a rainfall record this spring.  

Canada reels from rash of avalanche fatalities

WINTER SPORTS — Five avalanche deaths in a week — the first in Banff National Park since 2008 — have prompted a plea from safety officials for backcountry users to be cautious in tricky snow conditions.

It has also sparked a discussion about how to better raise awareness about dangerous conditions.

See the story:

Parks Canada to review warning process after avalanches kill 7

Avalanche danger continues to be high in Cascades

WINTER SPORTS — Massive avalanches have been triggered at Crystal Mountain Resort near Mount Rainier as ski patrollers try to mitigate the huge unstable snowpack and make the area safe. The slides are damaging facilities at the mountain. 

See more photos and details here.

Stevens Pass road clearing still underway after avalanche

DRIVING — Snow conditions are still dicey out there. 

U.S. 2 over Stevens Pass has been blocked since this morning after an avalanche blocked four lanes of traffic at least four-feet deep with snow.

The Washington Department of Transportation estimated it could reopen the Highway by 1 p.m., but the latest report says crews are still working and gives no estimate on a time for reopening.

Highway 2 across Stevens Pass closed this morning due to a landslide that occurred just west of the pass.

The Washington State Department of Transportation closed the highway between mile post 58, near Scenic, to mile post 64.5 while workers clear the road of snow and debris and perform avalanche control work. They estimate reopening of the highway by 1 p.m. today.

Highway 2 is open between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass. Stevens Pass Ski Resort closed for the day due to the road closure, weather and avalanche conditions.

Devastating Missoula avalanche was human-triggered

WINTER SPORTS — The avalanche that came down off Mount Jumbo on Friday and crushed a house in Missoula was human triggered, according to the Missoula Avalanche Center.  This is an eye opener.

Kootenay Pass avalanche fatality latest in spike of bad news

WINTER SPORTS — Several blog posts last week as well as my Sunday Outdoors section report about recent storms, unstable snow conditions and a spike in avalanche fatalities were both prophetic and out of date.

At least two more snow-goers died in Inland Northwest avalanches over the weekend:

  • A snowmobiler was killed Saturday near the Montana-Idaho border in the West Cabinet Range.
  • A backcountry skier was killed Sunday near Kootenay Pass, a popular British Columbia skiing and snowshoeing destination between Salmo and Creston.

The Kootenay Pass fatality involved a many in a party of four from Nelson. They were backcountry skiing in the Lightning Strike area, southwest of the highways yard at the top of the pass. 

In both fatal accidents, other members of the parties were partially buried by the slides but were rescued.

The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center had posted a forecast on Friday rating the avalanche hazard in the Selkirks-Cabinet region as considerable ranging to high in wind-loaded aspects.  The report noted that a human-triggered avalanche had been reported on Tuesday with no injuries. 

The Canadian Avalanche Centre had issued a special warning for British Columbia last week, as a result of an extended dry period in late January and early February.

“That long drought left the surface of the snowpack in very bad shape,” said the centre's Karl Klassen. “Now the new snow is sitting on one of the worst weak layers we’ve seen in a few years.”

The weakness is one to two meters deep, resulting in very large avalanches when triggered, Klassen said.

Click continue reading to read the sheriff's report on the Saturday, Feb. 22, avalanche near the Montana-Idaho border that killed Bryan William Harlow, age 49, of Libby.

Video details killer avalanche near Ketchum

WINTER SPORTS — The avalanche that killed a snowmobiler last weekend near Ketchum — while a woman survived even though she'd been buried for 90 minutes — is detailed in his video report from Sawtooth Avalanche Center.

It's short, instructive and worth watching in this period of winter weather that's spawned a rash avalanche accidents

Huge Canada avalanche prompts warnings

WINTER SPORTS — Recent weather is creating hazards. Be careful out there.

Massive avalanche in B.C. prompts warnings there and in Alberta
The Canadian Avalanche Centre issued a high-hazard warning for British Columbia and Alberta after learning of a massive slide on Wednesday near Fernie, B.C., destroyed 200-year-old trees and ran past historical avalanche boundaries.
—Calgary Herald

Avalanche fatalities spike as new snow piles in mountains

WINTER SPORTS — Snow that piled up in Western mountains after snow-drought conditions in January has created hazards that have caused a spike in avalanche fatalities among skiers and snowmobilers.

The nine deaths from avalanches across the Western U.S. in the past 11 days have put a halt to what had been the least-deadly season for avalanches in 16 years.

An avalanche near Ketchum, Idaho, on Sunday buried four snowmobilers, killing an Idaho man whose wife survived being buried under the snow for about 90 minutes, officials in Blaine County said.  

Two Wisconsin men were killed Saturday in a Colorado avalanche while backcountry skiing.

Five people were caught in avalanches over the weekend in Montana.  

  • A 35-year-old woman suffered a broken leg Sunday after she was caught in a snow slide while back-country skiing near Big Sky in southwestern Montana. Gallatin County officials said she ended up partially buried and pinned against a tree.  
  • On Saturday, a snowmobiler triggered an avalanche near Whitefish Mountain Resort that partially buried four people. The Flathead Avalanche Center said all four made it out of the area safely.  

On Feb. 11, an avalanche in the Wallowa Mountains of eastern Oregon killed two backcountry skiers and seriously injured two others.

For most of the winter, primarily because of the dramatic lack of snow in the Western mountains, only six people had been killed in avalanches, according to data from the National Avalanche Center in Bozeman. This was the lowest number through the first week of February since at least the 1998-99 winter season.

However, with the nine deaths in the past week or so, the winter's total is now 15, which is about average.

“A lot of snow in a little amount of time, you get avalanches,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Burke in Seattle.

On average, about 28 people a year die in avalanches in the U.S., according to Brian Lazar of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. He said the deadliest seasons on record were 2007-08 and 2009-10, when 36 died in each of those winters.

When avalanche deaths were first tracked starting in the 1950s, an average of four people died each year in avalanches.

But the growth in winter backcountry recreation on skis, snowboards and snowmobiles has led more people into the potential hazards.

With more heavy snow falling in portions of the Inland Northwest — notably the North Cascades — backcountry travelers should be on high alert and willing to bail out for a backup plan.

 

Avalanche eduation scholarship will honor Sandpoint man

WINTER SPORTS — Friends of the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center are sponsoring an avalanche education scholarship in memory of Doug Abromeit, a Sandpoint native who was instrumental in starting the National Avalanche Center.  Abromeit died last fall.

” We will send one student a year to a Level 1 avalanche class under the Doug Abromeit Avalanche Scholarship,” said Kevin Davis of the IPAC based in Sandpoint.  ”Doug was born and raised in Sandpoint and his family still resides here.  Doug retired from the Forest Service in 2011, last stationed in Ketchum, Idaho.”

The scholarship will be introduded at a special public program on Friday (Jan. 17), 4:30 p.m., at the Caribou Room in the Day Lodge at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.  Several presenters will highlight Abromeit’s contributions to avalanche education, the history of avalanche control in the USA, and development of the National Avalanche Center and the Idaho Panhandle center.

Avalanche report: danger not apparent to victims

WINTER SPORTS — The avalanche that killed a snowmobiler riding in the Gallatin Mountains on New Year’s Day – the first Montana avalanche death in more than a year – was somewhat of an anomaly, according to an expert that spoke with the Billings Gazette.

“Most avalanches happen when people are on the slope,” said Doug Chabot, of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center. That can happen when a snowmobiler is riding across a hill or uphill, or when a skier or snowboarder is carving turns downhill.

But the avalanche that killed 46-year-old Burton Kenneth Gibson of Bozeman and partially buried another rider was what’s called a remote trigger avalanche – when a slide is caused by collapsing of the snowpack from what may look like a relatively flat or safe area.

The story by outdoor reporter Brett French is instructive to snow goers.

“When there’s a weak layer in the snowpack, in order to get an avalanche we need that weak layer to collapse,” Chabot said.

He said the unstable snowpack found in the mountains of southwest and south-central Montana right now is like a book resting atop potato chips.

For more detailed information:

Illegal riders?

The snowmobiler killed in an avalanche on New Year’s Day, and his companions, were riding in an area of the Gallatin National Forest that is closed to winter motorized use.

“The area they were in, Onion Basin up Portal Creek, is closed to snowmobiles,” said Mariah Lueschen, a spokesperson for the forest.

Onion Basin is in the 155,000-acre Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area.

Merry Christmas, on and off the slopes

WINTER SPORTS — Have a happy, holy and safe holiday in and out of doors.

Use the kid-keeping tip above at your own risk.

Cheers!

Avalanche courses available at Schweitzer

WINTER SPORTS — The snow has barely piled up in the mountains and the first avalanche accidents of the year are being reported in the West.

Be prepared.

Two levels of avalanche courses are being offered in the next few months at Schweitzer Mountain Resort organized by SOLE (Selkirk Outdoor Leadership Education) based in Sandpoint. 

An AIARE Level 2 Course is set for Dec.7-8 and 14-15.

The four-day course provides backcountry leaders the opportunity to advance their avalanche knowledge from Level 1 instruction by adding the the evaluation of factors critical to stability evaluation and decision-making skill development.  Cost: $495.

An AIARE Level 1 Course is set for Jan. 18-20.

This three-day course on  Decision Making In Avalanche Terrain is open to students ages 16-25 with scholarships available.

An AIARE Level 1 Course is set for Jan. 18-20.

This three-day course on  Decision Making In Avalanche Terrain is open to students ages 16 and older with scholarships available for youths.

Colorado avalanche deaths stun Colorado backcountry snow goers

Saturday's avalanche was deadliest in Colorado in more than 50 years

On Saturday, five men participating in the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Bash on Colorado's Loveland Pass were killed by an avalanche, the deadliest in the state since 1962. 

The Backcountry Bash was a fundraiser for the area avalanche center. —Denver Post

Avalanche reporters find slushy conditions

WINTER SPORTS — “We had it going on for a while, the melt-freeze I mean,” said Kevin Davis in today Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center weekly forecast.  

“Last weekend the conditions were great and if you could have had this week off you would have been getting into some corn snow conditions. No solid overnight freeze put an end to that and you'll find slushy snow prevailing.  

“Possibly a little dust on crust up north and to the south will be slush on slush.  

“Be careful on steep terrain if you venture out today and this weekend.  Use you spring travel techniques.  I'll post that next week.  This is our last official advisory this winter.”

Storms left avalanche hazard in area mountains

WINTER SPORTS — “A lot of snow in the past week, and it fell with a lot of wind,” warns Kevin Davis in today's weekly advisory from the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center. 

Winds were mainly out of the west so use caution on the easterly aspects, NE through SE.  I found a decent slab over a weak layer of facets on a north aspect in the Selkirks yesterday and I wouldn't have been on any steep and exposed slopes with that under me. 

No shooting cracks or whumphing but if you dig down through the powdery snow you'll hit an ice crust, isolate a column on that and give er a whack and see what happens.  Go or no go?  It'll settle a little bit today but check it again this weekend.  Great conditions out there right now. 
  

Avalanche forecast: Warm temps prompt caution for snow goers

WINTER SPORTS — Warm temperatures have softened snow to the tops of the region's mountains this week, according to avalanche forecasters who were out in the Selkirk Mountains Thursday.

“It may have tightened up a bit at the higher elevations but it was wet yesterday, to the top,” says Kevin Davis in the intro to today's report on avalanche conditions from the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center.

“Temperatures seem to be coming down a bit, from 40 last night, but they may go up before they drop back down.  When its this warm you want to be a little more cautious of steep terrain.  

“Some surface slushies were running yesterday.  More snow on the way by Saturday night, with strong west winds.”

Avalanche danger ranging to high in area mountains

WINTER SPORTS — Be careful out there winter snow goers.  The warm front with heavy wet snow is creating high avalanche danger in the region's mountains, as you'll see in this National Weather Service warning for the North Cascades issued Wednesday evening.

The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center  posts its weekly advisories on Fridays.

Avalanche forecast: Slopes stable, but watch for changes

WINTER SPORTS — Backcountry snowgoers have been finding great conditions here and there, an reasonably safe slopes.

“Look for sheltered areas to have the lightest surface snow,” says Kevin Davis in today's avalanche conditions report from the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center

“Exposed slopes were firm from wind and sun.  Some shears in the upper 1-2 feet of pack but nothing pulling out with energy that concerned us.  You will want to be concerned when the new snow comes in, possibly wet, heavy, and windloaded.  Bad combo.  Know your lee aspects.”

Avalanche hazard generally low in area mountains

WINTER SPORTS — Snow conditions are “mostly stable” in the region's mountains going into the weekend and  the weather forecast calls for improving stability from the slight weak layers discussed in this week's avalanche advisory by the Idaho Panhandle Avalance Center.

Avalanche conditions changing with weather

WINTER SPORTS - Weather is causing changes in snow stability that backcountry skiiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers should be aware of when traveling in the mountains today and this weekend, according to the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center's weekly report on mountain snow conditions.

“On easterly aspects we have a layer of buried surface hoar that is unstable and mostly isolated to sheltered slopes but it can be found from NE, E, to SE slopes with varying degrees of weakness,” said Kevin Davise, avalanche forecaster. “Due east seems to be where it is weakest.  Other slopes are mostly stable but as temps go up today watch for weak layers developing on any steep slope.”
  

Man saves girlfriend from Utah avalanche

WINTER SPORTS — Read the story of a couple that beat the odds of disaster.

Also, read the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center's weekly forecast when it's posted on Friday before heading into the winter backcountry.

Avalanche film romances the fury

WINTER SPORTS — This film, “Ode to Avalanche,” will be awesome to some winter recreationists and frightening to others.

Either way, I hope it at least prompts you to check in with a regional avalanche forecast — such as the weekly bulletin by the Idaho Panhandle Avalance Center — before heading into the winter backcountry.

Update: Read this new enlightening Elk Mountain avalanche report on an slide that buried a skier near Marias Pass in Glacier National Park.   It was close to being much, much worse.

To avoid a state of confusion

I'm glad The New York Times special coverage of that avalanche took pains to note that it took place in Washington “State”.

Otherwise, I'll bet people might have suspected it all took place in the Georgetown district of D.C.

www.nytimes.com

Merry Christmas, on and off the slopes

WINTER SPORTS — Have a happy, holy and safe holiday in and out of doors.

See the Idaho Panhandle avalanche advisory if you're heading to the mountains.

Use the kid-keeping tip above at your own risk.

Cheers!

Last season’s Stevens Pass avalanche tragedy detailed

WINTER SPORTS — Our newspaper covered the Feb. 19, 2012, avalanche tragedy that killed three expert skiers at Stevens Pass, and I wrote a column that week explaining why avalanche tragedies must be explored.

And my blog followed up with a video interview with a survior and a blog post and series of links to help focus on the group effect that allows even experts to become blind to potential disaster.

But 10 months later, The New York Times has put together a long, in-depth, informative and fascinating multi-media report on the incident. 

It's called, Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek — A group of world-class skiers and snowboarders set out to ski Tunnel Creek. Then the mountain moved.

Video captures near disastrous avalanche accident at Crystal Mountain

AVALANCHE — A woman who was buried by an avalanche at Crystal Mountain on Wednesday was rescued by a group of skiers, one of whom had a helmet cam on during the entire event.

She was wearing no avalanche beacon to help her rescuers with the search, according to news reports, but that's not confirmed here.

This chilling video shows how very, very close she came to dying in a tomb of snow and how her well trained and equipped rescuers kept calm, focused and did the job.

There's no gore here, but a lot to see, hear and absorb if you're a backcountry skier, snowshoer or snowmobiler.

The avalanche happened at minute 4:30 in the video. The rescuers found her and were yelling to give her a breath at 12 minutes — more than 7 minutes after she was buried!

After a visit to a hospital, she was OK.

Unbelievable.

Piles of new snow a joyous danger to skiing powder hounds

WINTER SPORTS — Following the big storms is a thrill for skiers and boarders, but noting yesterday's close call with an avalanche at Crystal Mountain, please enjoy the powder of today's incoming storm with a measure of caution.

This near-tragedy follows the burial of skiers at Schweitzer Mountain Resort earlier this month.

Today's Associated Press report has details:

Young woman buried

in WA avalanche rescued unhurt

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN, Wash. (AP) — A young woman buried by an avalanche for at least 10 minutes Tuesday at Washington’s Crystal Mountain ski resort was rescued unharmed, the head of the resort’s ski patrol said.

She was part of a party of three skiing in a steep area of expert terrain when the trio triggered a small avalanche, said Paul Baugher, ski patrol director. Two young men were partially buried but able to dig themselves out.

They or nearby skiers immediately called the Crystal Ski Patrol emergency number and a ski patrol member reached the spot within five minutes, Baugher said. Ski patrol personnel and other skiers equipped with collapsible metal probes searched the area and found the buried woman.

“They were able to get this gal out in 10-15 minutes,” Baugher said Tuesday night, adding she was checked out by a doctor and was fine. He didn’t have additional details about the skier.

The buried skier was not equipped with an avalanche locator beacon or an air bag. Baugher estimated she was “a couple of feet down.”

“There is air in the snow, you can breathe that for a while,” he said.

A major storm this week dumped more than 40 inches of snow on Crystal in about 36 hours, Baugher said.

“This is one of those things that creates phenomenal powder skiing but with that comes an increase in the avalanche hazard,” he said, adding avalanche control crews had been working all day.

Ski patrol personnel were pre-positioned in the area because they had just completed some avalanche control work nearby. No avalanche control work had been done in the “random little pocket” where the slide occurred because “you would never expect an avalanche in this particular place,” Baugher said.

He stressed that “this came out great” because everyone was prepared — the young woman was skiing with companions who could report where she was last seen, skiers had the direct number for the ski patrol, patrol personnel were nearby and everyone involved had the equipment needed for a quick, effective search.

“There’s always luck,” he said. “But when a good outcome comes, we make a lot of that. The skiers helped make some of their own luck.”

Crystal Mountain is located on the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
  

Avalanche at Schweitzer points out ice layer

WINTER SPORTS — I'm just picking up on in-bounds snow slides that buried at least two skiers last Friday on the Headwall at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Both were rescued by other skiers and no injuries were reported, but apparently the situations could have easily gone the other way.

Conditions change, but the main thing to be aware of is the underlying ice layer that could persist in some areas.

Read on for Schweitzer avalanche incident posts from last week on Epicski.com:

Ortovox 3+ avalanche transceivers recalled for defect

WINTER SPORTS — Ortovox has issued a recall notice for Ortovox 3+ avalanche beacons within certain serial number ranges.

During search training, avalanche transceivers of the ORTOVOX 3+ model switched to transmission mode unintentionally after 120 seconds in search mode. Internal tests showed that a certain production batch of the 3+ can exhibit this behavior.We are responding immediately and, as a precaution, are recalling all devices shipped to vendors after October 17, 2012, for inspection and a software update. These devices can no longer be used without an update.

The manufactuer's website allows customers to check their website for the range of beacons that are being recalled.  If you have this product, check this out before taking it into the field.

  • Click here for Inland Northwest Avalanche advisories.