Wednesday, March 31, 2010

uphill policy

public comments are still being accepted until april 4th. last chance to let the people in charge know how we feel. try to make comments constructive and positive. that is what they will listen to. thanks.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

sticky or windy

or both. some of the strangest conditions i have seen. the wind was coming right up the front of the mountain. fortunately it was not cold, or it would have been brutal. the snow was spring like soft, but had a cohesiveness to your skis that was different. it was not like the "herky-jerky" of super wet spring snow. skis just did not slide on it. it actually took effort to get some momentum down the hill.

and while everyone, and i mean EVERYONE concurred about these conditions, there was RB saying how great it had been. if that guy were in a tornado, he would call it fun. it reminded me of a time some 15 years ago, when an old buddy who now resides in Jackson Hole, said "that was the best blue ice i've skied in over 10 years" to describe some of the worst, harder than a table top ice conditions we have seen here. oh, to be an optimist.

it keeps trying to snow, but it just is not in the cards. an inch or two, a short burst of snow and grapple, but the reality of winter 2010 is that it is spring.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

cool and cloudy

yep, the weather turned cool and cloudy, and today the skiing stayed stiff. especially the top half of the hill. the bottom half was better, but far from the spring slush we have been enjoying. and unfortunately, the forecast is for more of the same, although we might get lucky with an inch or two.

i am hoping for some nice weather for the final weekend.

one nice thing about this poor winter is biking and boating are already getting close. yep, i have been out a couple of times on the mountain bike and some trails are starting to be pretty ridable. what is still snow covered are the access roads to the trails, like at spencer mountain. i have not been out to the pig farms, but bet there is some riding to be done there. i will be checking that out as soon as th hill closes.

and fishing? anyone been getting on the rivers at all? most lakes still have ice on them, but i have seen a couple boats on flathead river, on the warm, sunny days. should be a good early season on that front as well.

also, it is going to be green way before the norm here. oh, not like seattle or anything, where i imagine many flowers are already in bloom, but still we should see grass starting to grow, trees starting to bloom, and before too long, the first tulips and other bulbs should be pushing their way to the surface.

of course, if the weather persists with this lack of snow, we could all be shut indoors by july, as smoke would likely fill the valley. lets hope for some good spring storms and june rains.

Friday, March 26, 2010

new incident report, crystal mountain

follows is a long but interesting story. one very lucky guy. as we know locally from the incident in december on hellroaring, skiing alone has its dangers. but they can be limited with some thoughts and precautions. but mostly, if you are on your own, you really have to realize the danger and accept what be the end result.

but read just how incredible a job the patrol did! then think of our own patrol. remember the canyon creek incident of a couple years ago? yes, they were out there on that one, as were many of our friends on nordic ski patrol. doing very difficult and dangerous work, calmly, professionally. i am thankful for all you folks! hope i never put myself in that position, but it is part of the life we live, which is why we need to continue our education, correspondence and communication, and decision making protocols.

Dear Family and Friends,
Erin and I have been overwhelmed with the amount of love and prayers that have been showered over me this past 2 + weeks. The support has been very moving and buoyed my spirits immensely. I am sure that my surprising rate of recovery so far has been the result of all of your positive energy and thoughts. I truly feel blessed by your friendships and lucky to be able to write this thank you.

I felt it was important to give an update on my current status as well as an explanation of the events that led to my accident. The official Northwest Avalanche Control Incident report prepared by the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol was also released earlier this week which includes a very detailed overview with pictures of the site and a full analysis. I will add some of the pictures and the link to the report at the bottom for anyone interested in reading the full report. I encourage you to read it. It is very impressive and shows the high level of knowledge and skill that resides in the Crystal Patrol.

I was airlifted from Crystal Mountain late on Sunday evening February 28th to Harborview Medical Center. My initial injuries were a dislocated right hip, broken hip, broken pelvis, broken fibula and a few lacerations to my liver. They were able to relocate my hip after several hours and drove a pin through my lower femur to keep me in traction until they could perform surgery. The liver issues sent me to ICU for two days. On Wednesday, they performed a seven hour surgery placing two long screws on the front of my hip to hold the femur in the socket and then two plates on my pelvis. I have an attractive 14" long scar (42 staples) on my right upper thigh around to my back and got a free butt lift out of the deal. I felt good enough on Thursday to test a walker and then graduated to crutches after a little pleading. I was discharged thankfully on Friday afternoon.
I must add that the whole experience at Harborview was way beyond my expectations. We are very fortunate to have this highly rated trauma center right in our back yard.
There has been a lot of discussion about the decisions I made that led to my predicament. First of all, I take full responsibility for my actions. I felt an explanation to you all about how the chain of events that took place that day would illustrate better how I let my judgment lapse. For those of you who I ski with regularly, you know that this was a rare exception to the way I approach skiing off piste at Crystal. The worst part is that I was I had no plans on going into Southback that afternoon.

On Sunday, I had skied all morning and went into have lunch at my condo at Silver Skis to watch the Canada USA Hockey game. I took off my avalanche beacon, my helmet and my jacket. After the game I looked outside and it was sunny and warm. It was 3:15pm and I thought I could catch one last run up Rex and ski the soft front side. I figured that for just one run I would wear my hat, glasses, a vest and heavy underlayer. On my way to the lift, I saw a good friend who was coming in and said he had just had a "Heli-type " run down "Joe's Badass Shoulder". 100 yards later I saw another friend who zipped by saying he had a similar amazing run in Southback.
On Saturday, the day before, 4 of us waited at the "Throne" gate entrance to Southback for 30 minutes with over 50 people while the patrol finished bombing and controlling "A" basin and Silver Basin. Our wait was rewarded by the first set of tracks in Southback down SE right(north of boxcar) the snow was 8-10" deep, wind condensed but stable all the way down. Since it was an eastern aspect I figured it was a good overall test of the stability in Southback.
Back to Sunday, if I rushed to Chair 6 - High Campbell Basin instead of Rex, maybe I could make it before the lift closes at 3:30. I got there at 3:28. I thought I could hook up with someone on the trail as I have done several times in the past. The trail was packed hard and fast. I passed 5 people on the trail, 3 that were headed out towards 3 Way Peak. I got out to 3 Way in almost 25 minutes. I slipped under the "leaving controlled area boundary" ropeline and continued on the traverse to Joe's (Also known as "Sparkle Party"). This would have been the time to make the decision that since I hadn't hooked up with anyone to stay in bounds and just ski down the 3 Way chute,.. but... As I looked at the bootpack up to Joe's I saw a couple people. When I arrived, about halfway up the bootpack there was an old family friend's son, Blair who is a professional snowboarder. He was climbing up to be filmed coming down the western Chute of Joe's. The photographer kindly stepped off the trail and let me pass. At the top of the trail Blair went right "west" up 40 feet to the top and I went left "east" to the 3rd chute of Joes's.
As I walked under the "Joe's" sign I could see my friend's 5 tracks down the run as it sweeps to the right. Better call would have been to ski among those tracks since they were already cut or better yet to alert Blair that I would ski down his chute after his filming. Instead I pushed out about 30 yards on the ridgeline to the 2nd of 4 chutes that was untracked. This chute has a grove of about 10 trees 200 feet below the top of the chute. You typically ski left or right of the trees to join back in with the main run that had the tracks. The chute is 60 feet across at the top and at its narrowest spot is about 20 feet wide. Before I jumped in I looked over and could see Blair setting up for his ride giving instructions to his photographer. This gave me a false sense of security that I was close to other skiers.
As I launched in off a small cornice, the first turn felt a little crunchy. I made 6 tight turns and when I reached the narrowest part of the chute the snow "puzzled" under my feet into 2 to 3 foot sections. Normally, you would try and ski off to the side, (I have been in several "slough" slides that break below your feet and have been able to ski out) but as I tried, it felt like a carpet was pulled out from underneath me. What I hadn't realized is that the chute had collapsed at the very top. There was an 18" fracture line all the way across the top. What still amazes me is how quickly the snow accelerated as it funneled down. As it raced down around me, the snow was moving faster than I was so it swept my skis right out from underneath me. I found myself moving at an accelerating speed right towards the trees. I was rudderless. I had no way to affect my direction left or right. In less than 2 seconds, I slammed into a 2 foot round tree. I had enough time to know how screwed I was and how this was probably it for me.

I hit the tree horizontally on top of the snow. I wrapped around it like a pair of pants draped over a hanger folded right at my waist. My head and feet were below my waist with the slope of the hill. I knew upon impact that I had injured my hip because of how hard I hit. Then the rest of the snow proceeded to sweep in behind, around and over me, pinning me to the tree. I had kept my hands raised over my head trying to preserve a pocket. Fortunately this saved my right arm from being crushed between me and the tree. It bounced off the side (it is very bruised and swollen) and remained over my head. Suddenly everything stopped. I could see light up by my hand and feel it was free above my wrist. I quickly flailed like a swimming paddle to clear the snow. Because the slope was so steep next the trees, the snow around my head fell away with ease. The snow behind me was another story. It set like concrete right away and prevented me from pulling away from the tree.
I suspected that I had at least broken my hip or pelvis because of how hard I hit, but in the beginning there was no pain. I figured it was the shock and adrenalin. After a few deep breaths, I tried to wriggle my toes and ankles. When they moved freely I was greatly relieved. I reached up with my right arm around the tree towards my leg and found a broken branch that was about 8 inches above my waist. It allowed me to pull my body up level to my waist. I stuffed snow under my waist for support and it allowed me to access my lower left pocket for my iPhone. I didn't even check for a signal, funny given AT&T's spotty coverage. I had the Crystal Ski Patrol emergency number in my contacts from when Sid broke his hand in a race 2 years ago. My direct call was a little shocking to the female patrol who answered the phone. According to the report, the time was 4:09. I told her I had been in an avalanche in the 2nd chute of Joe's Badass Shoulder and was pinned around a tree at the base of the chute. After some questions about my general condition I asked them to call my neighbor at Silver Skis to keep an eye out for Sid and Greg when they came in from training.

The whole discussion was surprisingly calm and matter of fact. I was told that the ski patrol had just begun their sweep of Southback and would be there in about 30 minutes. I was then asked to hang up the phone to preserve my battery and wait. I thought about calling Erin and other famiIy members but I figured that describing my situation would cause more fear of the unknown. I then thought about Blair and the photographer just one chute away. I yelled "help" for about 5 minutes but after no response I figured they couldn't hear me over the ridge. This would have been a great time to blow a loud whistle if I had one attached to my pass.

While waiting for the patrol, I tried to dig out the snow covering my waist and behind me. The snow was so hard that I had difficultly making much headway. After 15 minutes of digging I was able to use the branch to lever my upper body up some more but that was when the pain started. I knew for sure at that point that some part of my hip was broken. At 4:34, the first patrol arrived. Ben Bowen arrived at the top of the chute and established voice contact. He skied down to me and after taking my vitals he began digging around me to stage for my extraction. I remember my first words were apologizing to him for being so foolish and thanking him for getting there so quickly. I was starting to get cold so he took off his Patrol coat and wrapped it around me. Wearing only a vest and non insulated ski pants I was starting to shake pretty violently.

Over the next 30 minutes the hypothermia set in and the pain increased significantly as I shook more violently. At this point it was a beehive of activity as more patrol arrived on the scene and performed various tasks and tests. I am still amazed at how well trained and prepared they were. They all seemed to each know what their responsibility was. The sun had gone down behind the ridge and the wind picked up. They jammed a couple of heat packs in my shirt which provided temporary relief from the cold. Another couple patrol jackets were stuffed around me. I was asked repeatedly what my pain level was on a scale from 1-10. I stated that I felt like I was at a constant 9. The shaking was so severe that I was just focusing on breathing steady with my eyes slammed shut. I consumed 3 bottles of Oxygen.

The patrol had to winch the toboggan and backboard up the hill by hand from the bottom of the run. By the time they got the backboard into position behind me, 1 1/2 hours had passed. It was almost dark, and I just remember seeing a bunch of head lamps dancing around as they rolled me back from the tree and cinched me down on the board. For a couple of brief moments when they straightened me out on the board, my pain spiked way past 10 before settling back to that constant 9. They put a C collar on my neck and duck taped my chin and forehead to the board. I was given an inhalant pain killer at this time, but I couldn't feel any effect. They then placed me in the toboggan and proceeded to carefully lower me down the hill.

I am still so impressed with the control and precision with which the patrol handled me. They never rushed or got excited. Every move seemed very deliberate. When I reached the bottom of the slope I was attached to the back of snowmobile and towed out of Silver Basin, down Quicksilver (Chair 4) to the Ski Patrol Emergency Room at the base of the mountain. I arrived at 6:48. For the last hour I was so overcome with cold that it trumped my hip pain. The violent shaking with the dislocated hip kept me very focused. Arriving in the warm patrol room with hot wool blankets fresh out of the dryer was like heaven. A good friend Gary Bamesberger was waiting for me and let me know that my boys had been taken down the hill by a friend. I then proceeded to squeeze the blood out of his hand for the next 10 minutes while they prepped me for the ambulance. They cut off all of my clothes with a razor, wrapped me in a fresh blanket and taped my driver's license to my forehead. Nice visual! Bear ass naked with my ID taped to my forehead. Before leaving I remember thanking the whole team and promising Paul Baugher the director of the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol that I would fulfill his request to help spread the word about safety in the backcountry.

Immediately upon entering the ambulance, I was given an IV with a heavy pain med. Unfortunately, we had to wait in the parking lot for 45 minutes before the helicopter arrived. I remember hearing the helicopter arrive and being loaded in. From that point on, everything is fuzzy with spotty recollections from the emergency room at Harborview.
I want to close with a few lessons that I take away from this whole experience:
1.First and foremost, Never ski the back country alone. I can honestly say in over 20 years of skiing Crystal back country, I have done it twice. Never again
2.Let someone else know if you are skiing in the backcountry, even if it is a phone call or you have to leave a message.
3.Ask the patrol what the conditions are in the backcountry. They have knowledge of current conditions and risks and are happy to share it with you.
4.Check the NWAC report on Crystal's website located on the left column. It is updated daily and has very detailed info about snow conditions and the risk of avalanche from Mt Hood to Mt Baker.
5.Wear a whistle. I have one in my backpack which I wasn't wearing. Attach one to your pass or at least have one in your pocket. Blair or the last ski patrol sweeping 3 Way Peak might have heard a whistle.
6.Carry your cell phone. Add the Crystal Ski Patrol emergency number (360) 663-3064 to your contacts. Coverage is getting better and better each year.
7.Finally, avoid making intellectual shortcuts. There were a series of decisions that led me to the top of that chute by myself. Having skied Joe's many times in the past, having skied Silver Basin on Saturday, no new snow since Friday, 5 ski tracks on the run, 2 skiers 150 feet away. Because I felt so comfortable in this area, I let my guard down. If I had stopped and analyzed each one of these independently with the discipline of a pilot on the preflight checklist, it would have raised enough alarms to alter my final decision. Using this checklist approach, by itself the skiing alone issue would have led me to communicate with the last person I saw (Blair) to ask if I could ski the run with them instead.

Again, Erin and I want to thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. We couldn't have done it without you. All the flowers, notes, emails and dinners have been greatly appreciated. We can definitely feel the love around us. Also, we will keep you posted on a fundraiser for the Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol that we have tentatively scheduled for sometime in May. We hope you can join us to show our appreciation for the very well trained and talented team that keeps Crystal a safer place for all of us.
Please follow this link to the Crystal Ski Patrol incident report that is posted on the Northwest Avalanche Control site. I copied a couple pictures from the report below, but the overlayed

Monday, March 22, 2010

it is official, spring

spring started out about perfect, if you are ready for spring. 50 degrees and total sunshine.

hopefully, if you had a day to pick to ski, you took saturday, with all the sun and warm weather. because sunday was overcast and cool, and nothing, i mean nothing! softened up. i skinned up again, trying to do something to keep up the interest, and found it quite difficult, as the run was frozen and slick. many hikers, including myself, did not even go to the top, as the steep pitch on super slick snow made for tough travel. leads me to continue to believe we need another route to supplement skiers right of toni matt.

with two weeks left, is it time for the late season snow storms? weather service is actually calling for 3-5 today, but with high winds. a few inches will certainly help, and mostly cool, overcast weather should ensure another two weeks of lift operations. but man, some lower mountain runs are certainly thin.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

no new snow

nope, nothing new to shout out about.

more sun, but the snow is holding up. it will be very thin at the end of the season, but we should make it.

just hiked up via the new uphill route. not as easy as taking it thru the benches. at least we have that much though, and hopefully more come this spring and next season. keep those comments going to the resort and the USFS.

did have the lucky opportunity to run into old todd williams at day's end yesterday. i missed him last time he came thru. always fun to catch up with old friends. wish some of them would move back to town, but that is just a part of life.

i did just learn that an old high school friend died of a heart attack just 9 days after turning 50. man, life can be fleeting. having just turned that age myself, it makes it just a bit more real that i am no longer a young man.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


hard to complain about sunshine. and actually yesterday, as nice as it was, it did not get too soft. it is spring skiing, and it is what we have for now, so may as well enjoy it.

some snow is expected this week, but likely to be another 2" storm, at best. but at least some cooler temps and clouds should help keep the snow around and the season going.

frabert on a st. patrick's day! that can only be fun.

i really wish i had more to input here, but there just is not. i have not been out on any great tours. i am sure some others have, but maybe nothing epic or funny. perhaps as we get into more avy cycles with warm spring temps we might hear some interesting stories. i did hear there was a big avalanche in revelstoke, with a couple dead, but not much about it.

wear sunscreen.

beer is your friend.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

new snow, really

yes, we did get some new snow. 2". "the year of the 2" storm" was spoken last night at frabert. it helped, but really, that stiff snow still lurks underneath. this was obviously not a powder day, as i skied a completely untracked line near chair four at four. i would say it was C+.

as i read big dave's reports, and watch some people just ski enthusiastically every day, i admire their consistency. but i just cannot match it. perhaps for me it is just because i can no longer take some non prescription meds that make skiing less mundane, even when it is just groomers. (do i need better drugs?) or perhaps i am not young enough in mind. (perhaps i should grow a mustache, (see post from last week) or even better, a scruffy beard preferred by the under 25 crowd). or maybe, just maybe, we need more snow. like 10". and a week of it. but it is 2010, the year of the 2" storm.

is anyone else starting to think about mountain biking, hiking, fishing and boating?

Monday, March 8, 2010

is it april?

yep, this weekend felt like the last weekend of ski season. beautiful blue skies and super warm temperatures. a fun hockey tourny, a beer fest, a fun and crazy event(the dummy derby, which should be during the last weekend)crowded decks at the stube and hellroaring. just a ton of fun. and we are, after all, ton of fun hogs!!! but it is early march, and the snow is melting fast. i hope we actually make it to the last weekend. but, if spring is going to continue its path, then the trails should begin to clear for some early season biking, hiking and running. the gardens can get an earlier start and maybe my tomatoes will ripen before the frost of fall take their toll. soon trees will be blooming, flowers will be coming out and grass will turn green. i guess that is not the worst of all things, really. but i sure hope we get one more powder day!

during this weekend i also had the chance to turn 50. and no, my life did not end. or change. but my head did hurt some.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

spring has sprung

yep, it is official. at least until it is not. spring is here. super warm sunny days sunday -wed. made for great spring bump skiing on the hill, and likely some good southern and eastern descents in the BC. but was it too warm? not just because the meltdown has begun and is already too fast, but because the skiing was just getting sloppy.

i skied until 4pm yesterday, and runs that were totally packed out, with bumps or grooming were fine all afternoon, some other areas were getting too soft. chair four trees were sloppy, sticky and sketchy, as was anything lower mountain that wasn't totally skier packed. this is something we can see mid winter, if we have some rain events, but rarely see this early due to warm temps and sunshine. as the snow throughout the valley quickly fades, and lower mountain snowpacks begin to add to river run-off, i wonder how much longer the resort can hold up.

after catching a late chair, i skied by a group of folks hanging on for the last run of the day. most of this group of 10 or so were over 40 year old males. and many of them had mustaches. do we guys, as a group, think this is a feature to ensure our youthfulness? or do so many of us want to look like cops? i don't know, but am glad i still can only grow peach fuzz, even as i near 50, and don't have to make that decision.

so then i went down to ski the abandoned nordic course. a few people continue to get in some skiing or snowshoeing, but again, by 4:30, it was too soft. there was no kicking, gliding or skiing to be had. it was a mushy walk on skis. even the dogs were troubled.

and now with the golf course done, and stillwater just about done, even nordic skiing is limited. sounds like blacktail is holding up well, and i imagine issak walton is as well, but they have reported in to the glacier nordic website in some time. besides some snow, we could just use some cold weather.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Skiing Marias Pass

The powder is getting harder to find and the forecast for Marias Pass was "6-8 mph south winds" so we thought we'd go explore Little Dog since it has such a cute name. "LD" sits east of Elk Mtn and west of Summit just north of the pass. Winds, of course, were 30 mph gusting to 40 out of the north. We climbed from the Autumn Ck. trail up the SW ridge to the westerly basin and then skied the NE face of LD, then back up the ridge and down the south face from the saddle between LD and Summit. Very little snow - maybe 18" at the pass and anywhere from none to enough to ski above 8000 feet.

Good front pointing up the SW ridge.

Cruising up the west ridge of LD on some of the only soft snow of the day.

Jess finding a rare pocket of soft snow on the wind hammered NE face.

Awesome view of Brave Dog from the backside of Little Dog. Are they related?

Making sure the skis don't blow away. That's the NE face we skied in the background. It would be great turns if one could find soft snow - probably a rarity up here.

We returned from the low point on the saddle. Much more skiable than it looks. The narrowest point is about 30 feet wide. At noon when we descended the south facing snow was pretty good, but much later and it would have been sketchy. A combination of softening crust, heavy powder and fresh corn. You never know 'til you go.

wx guru

please read the post by erich from febuary 25th. great info and graphics on our weather and el nino and ENSO, etc. and keep track of the uphill ongoings. apparently, the mountain management and USFS are now taking comments.

Monday, March 1, 2010

spring skiing

well, it is officially spring skiing now. cold, clear nights,and warm, sunny days. it is fun and beautiful, and enjoy it while we can. if this weather persists, our season will be short lived.

nordic skiing is HURTING. still fun and fast early in the day, but all areas are showing exceptional amounts of dirt, grass and ice. sketchy. except for blacktail. i have not been there this year, but reports are outstanding.

a good hike up last night, although not as many people as i thought there would be. but it was warm and wonderful on the way up. and as soon as the sun descended, it was cold and the snow refroze. so the skiing down was not going to be great. but who cared?

the moon rise was EXCEPTIONAL. and then the descent i agreed to with birthday boy, down inspiration, had incredible lighting, but very bad conditions, as it had not yet been groomed, and was refrozen ruts and grooves. when we got to places without moonlight, well, i could almost say dangerous, but let's just say difficult, so the mountain management does not find more reasons to take away our rights.

great efforts by the youth last night as well. parkin easily ascending the mountain, on trekkers (not the lightest or easiest gear), and the youngest, aiden, on some tele gear. we did not see him at the top, but he was having fun when we last saw him.