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Avalanche danger is real; skiers and snowboarders should stay in bounds

December 16, 2008 |  9:18 am

Search and rescue teams look for avalanche victims last January, when three skiers perished in one day.

With two feet or more of new snow on the local slopes, and perhaps another two feet on the way, it probably is only a matter of time before someone goes off-trail, gets lost or buried by an avalanche, and casts a pall over a suddenly wonderful ski and snowboard season.

Though it's tempting to go off-trail to ride virgin powder, and will be especially so after a second dumping scheduled to begin later today or tonight, it's also extremely dangerous. Remember last January, when three skiers were killed in a day in separate avalanches adjacent to Mountain High in Wrightwood?

Remember the snowboarder who became lost overnight and walked to safety, shivering and in a daze, the next morning?

Avalanches are not common in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, but with so much snow and perhaps a strong post-storm wind, danger probably will be high, as it was last January, after this second storm.

In the Eastern Sierra, where three feet of new snow fell during a very blustery storm, avalanche danger already is extremely high. In fact, the Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center issued an ominous warning this morning:

The avalanche danger is HIGH on all wind loaded slopes steeper than 35 degrees. Avalanche conditions are very dangerous today. Skiing and riding in avalanche terrain is not recommended. Extensive skill, experience and local knowledge are essential.

This danger rating applies to all areas with a previous snowpack and includes the Sherwin Ridge, the Mammoth Crest and all east and northeast facing slopes along the San Joaquin Ridge to June Mountain. All other areas that did not have a previous snowpack are rated as CONSIDERABLE. Human triggered avalanches are likely.

Search and rescue teams look for avalanche victims last January, when three skiers perished in one day.

Getting washed down the mountain and buried by unmovable snow is an awful way to die. Please exercise caution and common sense while skiing and riding, and avoid the  temptation to venture off-trail. You don't want search and rescue coming after you. Your mishap could spoil the holiday season for a lot of caring people.

-- Pete Thomas

Photos: Search and rescue teams look for avalanche victims last January, when three skiers perished in one day. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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