Location: Paradise Divide Area
Date of Observation: 01/29/2018
Name: Mark Robbins
Subject: Beyond Pittsburg
Aspect: North, North East
We skier triggered this R2D1 on a NE aspect at around 10,800’ today. I thought we were making the right call by heading to terrain that had already slid in the last storm cycle, but though there isn’t much new snow, the new slab hasn’t bonded to the bed surface and had just enough energy to potentially take you off your feet and into hazards. So I underestimated the hazard dropping into the zone, but once we were committed we recognized the danger and negotiated the terrain as best we could. We had stopped just above this convexity, and my partner (unintentionally) triggered it with his first turn and was able to quickly cut back to the safety zone from which I shot the second photo before the failure further propagated. It ran slowly about 250 ft(?) into trees below.
Hard to say how consequential it would have been if he’d been caught in it – definitely not enough to get buried, probably enough to take you off your feet, possibly enough to break bones hitting trees, definitely enough to scare the shit out of you – so both of us feel fortunate that we were already on guard and ready to make the quick move to safety. Avalanche problem was on the smaller side due to the thin snowpack where it had already slid, but magnified by the consequence of the terrain with trees below and continued exposure as we navigated our way out of the zone.
Feeling sheepish that I pushed to ski this zone, incorrectly assessing the dangers versus benefits of skiing the slide path. But we learn way more when things go wrong – after all we never really know if things went right in the backcountry, the danger of the positive feedback loop. Thanks to my partner shif for an educative and ultimately safe day, and to other tourers who also successfully picked their way through the tender zone.