Even if you’re an expert, you can never be too safe in the backcountry. It’s something two avalanche Forest Service forecasters learned last week after they triggered a slide.
Last Friday two avalanche forecasters from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center had a close call on Fisher Mountain.
The two forecasters had snowmobiled to an area on the mountain to dig snow pits. “One of them rode and then the second person came, and when the second person was coming, he triggered the avalanche from below.”
"It was a really close call because it was a big avalanche.”
Friends of Tuckerman Ravine and White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation, both longtime nonprofits of Mt. Washington Valley, have merged. The merger will support and promote the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, a Forest Service operation.
The new avalanche nonprofit will provide financial aid for Forest Service operations.
Friday started as a perfect winter day. About a foot of new snow fell overnight. In the morning the sky cleared. Then by the end of the day the Sierra Avalanche Center had received many avalanche reports. Some happened naturally but many were caused by skiers and snowboarders.
In the morning the Sierra Avalanche Center posted its forecast. The center stated the obvious - that storm slabs in the new snow were a big concern. They rated the avalanche danger as “considerable,” meaning that skiers and snowboarders were likely to trigger avalanches.
The Sierra Avalanche Center works to prevent accidents by issuing daily forecasts. The U.S. Forest Service hires three full-time avalanche forecasters who backcountry ski and then write reports. The Sierra Avalanche Center fundraises on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service to cover much of the payroll and related expenses. There are also three part-time paid observers who go skiing to check on conditions.
“We have a block of harder snow over a section of weak sugary facets of the ground, so we have something over nothing," said Dave Zinn, avalanche expert. "This is the recipe for an avalanche, all you need now is a steep slope and a trigger.”
“Really watch out for those signs of instability -- like shooting cracks. Do some avalanche testing - dig stability tests, do an extended column test, see if you get stable results," said Zinn. "And if you don't see (stable results), find a different slope."