a tune… a haiku… an infrared loop

TALL TALES & STORIES OF THE SAN JUANS

los perros viejos celebran cumpleaños

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L to R~~~Andy Gleason, Jerry Roberts, Pat Ahern, Denny Hogan, Mike Friedman, Speed Miller


Morning post to Rōbert Repor

Jerry:
This morning I said to my wife, Dana, I need to check Jerry’s blog to see if he has his monsoon forecast out. It seemed past time. I logged in (early), half way down my cup of joe, but nothing new about impending summer drenchings. Of course, I then perused the latest posts to catch up on Jerry World. Then, after a couple of years of enjoying the Report, I somewhat impulsively submitted my application for a subscription. Why now? As Tom Robbins might have speculated: it must have been the twitch of an ancient frog leg in Timbuktu that made me click through my new level of devotion. And, then, within minutes, my just reward. Ding! went my computer and up popped your monsoon forecast. Serendipity? A cosmic tongue wag sent via the wispy morning breezes from our county road to yours? One can never know how these things happen, and should probably leave it all alone lest a bruja was involved.
But, thank you for your prompt reply to my telepathic request.
Cheers,
William Steding, PhD
Senior Fellow
Center for Presidential History
Southern Methodist University


“Freeeedom”… ~~ Richie Havens

‘Seldom Seen’ Denny Hogan has finally been freed (end of May) and is happily retired from his snow ranger position with the feds…  Below are photos from his younger days working in the San Juans.  Thank you George Corn for the photos from the San Juans 40 years ago….

 

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Capital City, Co.  near Lake City

 

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Denny with Mike Friedman and George Gardner later in life in the San Juans………

 

City of Rocks

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ALL THAT JAZZ by Jerry Oyama

Each encounter I have with Jerry O, usually to wander around the mountains, I come away with something new, a different way of looking at the world.  Dialogue shared on books, film, art, music or old bars like the Family Dog in Berkeley (where we both spent time watching New Riders of the Purple Sage or some other Bay area band)…  I depart wondering how someone becomes so creative? I had a conversation with mountain roshi, Peter Shelton, and he offered; “It’s amazing to me how Jerry, a wonderfully gifted sculptor that works in 3D, can produce such beautiful paintings in 2D after a single painting class.” Local painter extraordinaire, Susie Billings called Jerry O’s paintings “Inspired!”

Each painting was produced in an afternoon studio session at The Ah Haa School of Art. – J.R

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In the ceramics studio at Berkeley, the spirit of misrule reigned. Under the cigar chomping,

whiskey-swilling tutelage of Peter Voulkos, we were continually challenged to push out

beyond conventional notions of what is beautiful. “Death & Dump Ware” was the result of

having to make a teapot in under two minutes. Art & aesthetics discussion was ignored;

making stuff was the only thing that mattered.  “You might try a little something here”, was

detailed feedback.

With Robert Weatherford at Ah Haa we have been similarly urged to push against our notions

of beauty, discard our need for control, challenge our academic preconceptions, upset the

apple cart of Art and maybe find our authentic voice.

Good fun.

I’m often reminded of Henry Miller’s suggestion to “Paint as you like & die happy”.

As for subject matter, the sign in English on a Japanese music store in Nihonmatsu,

“Music is Vitamin of the Heart”, pretty much sums it up.

- Jerry Oyama 2013

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To view Jerry’s entire series  ALL THAT JAZZ  please follow this link 

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The old days….

 

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l to R, Davie Agnew, Paul Crooks, Denny Hogan and Matt Wells.  The early 70’s (nineteen) with stolen OB van~~ winters end in the Colorado San Juan mountains


Elasticity of snow………

Check out these cool pictures from Cathy Hartt in Montrose.  She was walking her dog around 7:30 this morning when she observed this “snowslide” at Buckley Park.

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‘Seldom Seen’ Denny Hogan waiting for his last storm {May 31, 2014}

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CDOT/CAIC Intern of the Year~~2005~~Tim Lane

Mr. Lane was assisted in his weekly recycling efforts by Fred, Silverton’s ‘Dump Monk’ 

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Don Bachman working a data pit on RMP in the old days…?..?…

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The photo was taken in about ’78 up along I-80 west of Laramie in a snow fence wind drift, probably in April. The Bureau of Standards was testing their FMCW radar which can remotely determine snow water content. I first did a ram profile then pulled the tube so that a backhoe could back in and do the pit wall’ about 15’. I then inserted the density tubes to verify SWE. The densities were so high that it was more comfortable to use an electric chainsaw that hacking away at the pit wall with a shovel.   Don Bachman


SKI TRIBES OF THE SAN JUANS

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Profesor Tim Lane, Poet in Residence-Bar National – Santiago Chile, Avalanche forecaster/consultant for the Chilean mining industry, CDOT/CAIC intern forecaster (at 62) & legendary San Juan ski pioneer….

Ski cultures are territorial, especially the old ones. The locals band up like gorillas claiming large swaths of alpine territory. The troops get protective when others invade. Guarding the stash can become a way of life. The local chiefs are elusive and operate in the shadows. These full-timers are the real silverbacks. The local tribe knows more than god about the terrain and roams in the less obvious. Their timing always seems perfect as you gaze upon their tracks from a distant ridge and wonder. They lurk in the areas that we all want. They arrive there while we are drinking coffee. They have spent a lifetime looking for these places and have discovered them. The lines are not documented but recorded in the minds and verbal histories of the privileged. This is their land, their terrain, and you are a visitor. You might see their tracks, but sightings are rare. Tracking them can be dangerous prospect. They might feel hunted and reactions are unpredictable. You should stick to what you can ski from the road.

Lisa Issenberg – Artist, “Former” Ophircan and CDOT groupie.

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This tribal phenomenon is rich in the Southwestern Colorado San Juan Mountains. This area is home to one of the oldest ski cultures in the country and is also one of the least developed. For example, there is no formal written documentation or publication of first descents and features are often unnamed; most significant information has transcended the generations through verbal history. At 13,000ft plus, alpine ridge crests develop distinctly segregated circles that separate the populations. This cultural division has always reminded me of the evolutionary history of minority groups in Southwestern China. Large groups of people separated by terrain that after thousands of years have distinctly diverged languages and traditions. Silverton, Ophir, Ouray, Ridway, Durango, Telluride all have separate castes of usual suspects operating in their respective terrain. They even have different names for the same futures seen from opposite sides. The explanation for this is simple. The terrain is constructed in such a way that discourages travel. One could ski tour from Silverton to Telluride faster than one can drive there. The biodiversity is limited. So is information sharing.

Asking about sking around the verbal history of the area is vague. I have picked up scraps of information in coffee shops, taverns, and road cuts. My casual research tells me the early ski explorers in this avalanche stricken terrain were some of the nations first avalanche forecasters hired by the state of Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and National Forest Service. Their job was to keep Highway 550 open for commerce. This effort was not in vain since during the winter of 2006 – 2007, CDOT triggered 464 avalanches with explosives for mitigation purposes. 159 of the controlled slides impacted Colorado highways. Veteran CDOT forecaster Jerry Roberts is a local living legend and wasAva mitigation philosophy, J. Roberts. Photo Johnathan Thompson part of the first the group responsible for most of original exploration and naming of the back country zones in the Silverton area in the late 60’s, 70’s & 80’s.  

                                            Señor Rō’bear

Due to the correlation with avalanche mitigation several of the ski runs here were named after slide paths that hit the highway. The only ski beta sold for years was the Colorado Department of Transportation slide path map. This is the most intact record of the San Juan ski history.

 The passes are still today mitigated by CDOT with artillery from a vintage Korean War howitzer.  One of the culprit paths is named “The Battleship” in its honor. Outside of these documented paths the consistency of names drift. Which name you use will indicate just how long you have been here. Roberts’s crew skied most of the drainages for better understanding of the continental snow pack.  Roberts stated ”We were not special skiers in any way, we were just the only ones exploring.”

The Battleship

Battleship-Tim Lane

The snow pack is technical. More, it is intriguing. To complicate matters there are six to seven micro climates in the San Juans that manipulate the weather. This is dependant on how the storm tracks into the range and how the mountains alter the air masses relative to the complex terrain. Telluride will get 15” and Silverton will accumulate 2” yet the towns are 12 miles apart as the crows fly. Truthfully, the opposite trend is typically the case, but Silverton wants Telluride to believe just what it needs to.  The local wind effect here makes it difficult to find the stashes at first. The wind here is the most powerful factor. Large wind events will strip windward faces to the ground. The snowpack will be transported in its entirety to the leeward aspect. This all making perfect avalanche country.

                                 Notorious San Juan Desperado

Nixon in Portillo

Contemporary bands of elusive locals from Silverton are the contributors to recent King Lines. Not naming names to protect the innocent, they can be found all living on one of the most unassuming back alleys on the other side of the tracks in the town of Silverton. They are a group of unsung heroes without team name or sponsor. They are tackling the never skied bold lines San Juans 13K peaks and taking the secret home with them. A few of them are responsible for a descent of Hunter in the Alaska Range. Mount Hunter is a entry test piece of American mountaineering to climb let alone ski. They sneak into the deep corners of the San Juans, redefine the standard, and slip back into town to saddle up to the Miners Tavern. That’s the way its been done here for decades and that’s the way the trend seems to remain. The most common trend in the terrain accessed from the Highway 550 these days is the presence of more people. The rapid pulses of public interest in back country skiing due to the advances in gear, media, and its availability are making places like the San Juans more accessible.                                                            

Helitrax, San Juan Ski Co, Adventure Guides are all services bringing the public into the snow. Andrew Klotz is the author of new guidebook “Cold Smoke” writes about San Juan backcountry and showcases 25 classic tours of the area. This book has had little effect on the true secrets of the area covering only few of roadside classics. Recently the town of Silverton has transformed from a mining boom town and has seen a resurgence as a ski advocates epicenter. The Elementary School even has PE classes on skis for local kids.  The sleepy town hosts collections of boutique manufactures like Venture Snowboards and Skis, Mountainboy Sleds, Montanya rum distillery, and the Silverton Brewing Co. The town’s exports have become cold powder, skis, split boards, local brews, and kicksleds

All of these factors are encouraging new activity to what is easily seen from the road and the ski are, bringing a new resident culture to the range with it. Yet, the core tribes of the range are still skiing the lines that have never seen second descents by outsiders. The silverbacks’ wish to keep it that way.  Approach at your own risk.

Written story by OR Brand Ambassador By Mark Allen, November 19, 2012.


Tashi Hackett places 3rd in Telluride Freeride Tour

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Tashi Hackett (son of proud father Dr. Peter Hackett) came in third place this weekend in Telluride in the Freeride Tour, and won the overall Mountain Award, given to the kid with the best spirit.  Cool!


Master, schools disciples on tidal effect~~Lisa Issenberg photo

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Peter Lev going over tidal charts with Friedman posse on RMP.


Fundraiser for the George Gardner Scholarship Fund~~3/7/14~~Providing Wilderness Education for Ouray County Youth

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For more information about the GeorgeGardnerScholarshipFund

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El Cap, Back to Back’ Climbing Presentation Supports George Gardner Scholarship Fund

RIDGWAY – Friday, March 7, Jim Nowak of Ridgway gives a presentation about his back-to-back “old school” ascents of El Capitan’s North American and Mescalito Walls, way back in 1994.

The event takes place from 7-9 p.m. at the Sherbino Theater in Ridgway, and is a fundraiser for the George Gardner Scholarship Fund.

Nowak is an avid climber and adventurer who has accomplished plenty of impressive feats in his lifetime, including co-founding the dZi Foundation that is transforming thousands of lives in Nepal. But his 1994 adventure on Yosemite’s iconic granite monolith stands out as one of his all-time favorite capers.

He did it with a climbing buddy named David Nettle, a well-known American mountaineer, rock climber and adventurer from Tahoe whose career has encompassed mountains in Nepal, Alaska, Europe, South America and North America.

“He’s still a hard charger, and a ferocious alpinist,” Nowak said.

The two had never climbed together before their Yosemite adventure, “but we tied a rope on and spent the next five days climbing the North American Wall,” Nowak recalled. “When we were done with that, we drove down to Sequoia National Park, walked in 17 miles, and then did the first ascent of Angel Wings [an 1,800-foot granite wall at the entrance to the Valhalla Cirque] and then walked out, and then drove back to Yosemite, and then jumped on Mescalito, where we spent the next seven days. It was a pretty good link-up for us.”

It’s just the kind of adventure that the late George Gardner would have loved. The Ridgway-based outdoor educator had a simple, yet profound, philosophy: Get outside and play.

“He was a great believer in the outdoor classroom,” said his wife Colleen Gardner, who helped found the George Gardner Scholarship Fund after her husband died in a mountaineering accident on the Grand Teton in 2008. The fund’s largest endowment is provided through the Ouray County Winter Sports Swap, held each October at the Ouray County 4-H Event Center, which typically raises $6,000-8,000 annually.

Last year, the fund (now a licensed Colorado nonprofit organization that operates under the umbrella of the Telluride Foundation) assisted six college-bound students from Ridgway Secondary School, helped another spend a day with Exum Mountain Guides on a rock climbing course and provided the opportunity for a special needs student from Ouray to participate in several Telluride Adaptive Sports programs throughout the summer, in addition to its ongoing mission to underwrite the Ridgway Elementary School Learn to Ski Program and provide scholarships for Ridgway seniors participating in the senior Outward Bound River Trip that Gardner started many years ago.

This year, GGSF board members decided to re-align their mission with Gardner’s vision, focusing solely on providing financial assistance to Ouray County teens ages 14 to 19 who wish to pursue alternative/nontraditional educational opportunities or self-designed adventures – and especially outdoor educational programs. Examples of programs that will be supported are Outward Bound, National Outdoor Leadership Programs, and accredited avalanche and guide programs.

But really, anything goes, as long as it fits within the scope of the George Funds’ mission. As GGSF Board President Jerry Roberts said, “We’d love it if a group of kids came to us with an idea for their own self-directed adventure to go backpacking in the Weminuche for five days.”

Best of all, the board has done away with deadlines for applying for funds, which will now be awarded on an ongoing basis as new applications role in.

“Deadlines tend to paralyze people,” Roberts explained. “Especially 16-year-olds. We are just looking for kids with enthusiasm. I hope there are kids out there to get excited about stuff like this.”

Roberts, who has worked as an avalanche forecaster in the San Juan mountains for the past three decades, met Gardner in the mid-1970s when the two worked together as Outward Bound instructors near Marble, Colo.

“He was such an inspiration,” Roberts said, recalling the huge grin on Gardner’s face the first time they met. “That’s what George was about. Getting kids to experience the outdoors so they could become better people.”

Roberts and Nowak, who is on the GGSF advisory board, hope that the upcoming “El Cap, Back-to-Back” presentation will not only help fill the George Fund’s coffers, but also serve to “let people know what we are doing. We have been under the radar,” Roberts said.

Entry is $10 and there will also be a silent auction featuring goodies from Marmot and local supporters. But most of all, audience members should expect a good, old-fashioned climbing story, augmented by some great photos. “Just don’t expect any GoPro video,” Nowak grumbled.

Remember, this is “old-school,” folks.

For more information about how to support the George Gardner Scholarship Fund, or how to apply for a scholarship, visit GeorgeGardnerScholarshipFund.org


Undertime

A joke I shared with several other Ava. forecasters working for CDOT/CAIC in the old days.

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February ?’s still linger~~~2/13/05

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Playing Risk: Dick Dorworth Meditates On How We Mitigate The Dangers Of The Wild

OLD & NEW THOUGHTS ON RISK TOLERANCE

 

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Like many older people I find in recent years that I learn more from those younger than from my peers. I recently gained a new sliver of insight into the matter of risk tolerance from my youngest son, Jason, who lives in Santa Cruz, California and is an avid surfer. Several years ago I heard about Mavericks, the famous, big, dangerous wave an hour north of Santa Cruz. I asked Jason if he knew about and had been to Mavericks. “I don’t do that kind of thing, Dad,” he replied. As a parent I was understandably relieved. Last year the fine biographical film “Chasing Mavericks,” about two Mavericks icons, was released. It is, in my view, a superior film about the human quality of risk tolerance and much more. After I saw it I asked Jason if he had seen it. He knows some of the people portrayed in the film but his busy life as a parent, husband, firefighter, surfer and mountain bike rider had left him no time for the film. But he said something that resonates with lessons for those willing to learn them. He said, “You know, there are only a handful of surfers in the world capable of riding Mavericks, and within that handful there are only a few who want to.”

About 20 years ago I was talking about the latest casualty of the mountains with a friend, a fellow climbing guide. It is a theme that people who live, work and play in mountains return to all too often. Our discussion that day veered away from the specific most recent death of a climber we knew to all the people we had known who had died in the mountains over the period of our lives. Some of them had been friends, a few close ones. For reasons I’ve forgotten, we decided that we would search our memories and each make a list of all the people we knew who had died in the mountains. The next day we resumed our conversation with our respective lists which totaled more than 70.

We were both surprised. We should not have been.

   ~~~~    READ MORE    ~~~~

 


RESTARTS HURT AHERN OF U.S.~~1984 Winter Olympics

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SARAJEVO, Yugoslavia, Feb. 11— Pat Ahern of Breckenridge, Colo., lost an opportunity to win an Olympic medal in Nordic combined skiing today when controversial rulings by the jury canceled two rounds of jumping and wiped out his jumps, two of the longest of the competition.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 8.28.41 AMOfficials canceled the rounds in the 70-meter jump, the second time with only four skiers left, because the competitors were jumping so far that the jury considered it dangerous. Both cancellations nullified strong jumps by Ahern. When the competition was completed, he could manage only a tie for 16th with his subsequent jumps.

”I feel lousy,” said Ahern. ”If they had counted just my second ride, I think I would have won the gold medal.”

    READ THE HISTORICAL PIECE 

 

          youtube video of Pat’s jump    


ROCC Annual Spaghetti Dinner-Guest Speaker, NWS Meteorologist, Joe Ramey

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If you want to know more about western Colorado weather, climate change or how they mix it up in the San Juan Mountains show up Saturday night, the 8th.  I worked with Joe for nearly 20 years and he saved my b— on many lonely nights driving Hwy. 550 in hideous storms wondering what to do?…  I’d call Joe for counseling.  Everything I know about weather forecasting came from Joe Ramey….  j.r.

 


The Ascending Spiral ~~ By Ed LaChapelle

Ed LaChapelle in 2006
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The theme and the wisdom that Whymper (1871) handed to us many years ago.  He spoke of mountaineering in general, but his words are just as cogent today in this “decision” context: “Climb if you will but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and  that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime.  Do nothing in haste, look well to each step; and from the beginning think what might be the end.”

 

 

“Look well to each step” covers many individual actions or observations on the way to acquiring bases for decisions.  Here I will look at a couple in detail.   First, there is the eternal business of digging snow pits…how many, how  often, where and in what detail (the ascending spiral is spinning fast here). McCammon and Sharaf (2005) cite Peter Schaerer’s sensible admonition to be quick, an approach to snow pits I can readily endorse.  Let’s look closer at this whole pit digging business, one that sometimes can become the tail that wags the very large dog of avalanche data collection.  Snow pit digging is a necessary but far from sufficient action to understand snow stability.  If it is only part of the picture why does it so often come so much to the fore?  I suggest that this is because we can observe and record a select body of detail like crystal type and size, hardness, density, layer thickness, etc. And why do we record these particular features?  Because they are readily rendered into numerical values and logged in notebooks, an act that may convey comfort in having acquired “objective” data but not always be what we need to know.  For example, rate of change of viscosity in a snow layer might be more informative, but this is a tough one in a cold laboratory and impossible in the field.  So, we are often led down the easy primose path of the possible. Let me put forth the heretical notion that we do not need more data from a given snow pit, but less.  The act itself of digging with a shovel is the culmination of the Schaerer Quick Pit concept.  By the time I have finished digging a snow pit, I usually know about 90% of what I am going to find from it about snow stability.  Logging pit details is a good educational tool and expands knowledge about a wide range of snow properties, but should not be confused with the backbone of avalanche forecasting. In the larger picture of snow stability, snow pits provide a quick but static snapshot of conditions at a given time and place.  From the external perspective of a passing observer, snow on a mountainside is just sitting there, apparently dormant.  The snow cover, however, is neither static nor dormant, but a positively seething mass of activity.  Snow is constantly gliding, creeping and settling.  Layer by layer the physical properties are constantly changing as crystals metamorphose.  Waves of changing temperature sweep through the snow cover while radiation works at the surface.  Snowfall and wind drifting change the amount and distribution of loading with each passing storm.  Understanding the complex behavior of snow is a problem in rheology, the science of deformation and flow of matter.  In this case the problem is further compounded by the matter in question being a granular visco-elastic solid close to its melting point.  You can’t make it much more complicated than that.

The observational role of the snow pit in all this compared with a broader and more lengthy data collection is clarified by a concept in rheology put forth by Meiner (1964), the Deborah Number.  Meiner pointed out the significance of the Prophetess Deborah singing that “the mountains flowed before the Lord”.  In the limited time frame of human perception, the mountains are static and eternal, but for the Lord, whose time frame is infinite, they flow. Meiner defined the non-dimensional Deborah Number as follows:

D = time of relaxation/time of observation

A high Deborah Number means the subject in question appears to an observer to be a static and unchanging solid.  The brief observation from a snow pit implies a high D snow cover and hence a static view of what actually is an active (“flowing”) snow cover.  To gain insights into the dynamic character of the latter, observations extended in time are needed to lower the value of D. In other words, stability evaluation has to be an on-going process, the longer the better. Ideally, the estimate of snow stability evaluation on a given avalanche path begins with the first snowfall of winter.  More about this in a moment.

A second relevant action, consulting some sort of checklist, appears when George (2005) describes the NivoTest.  This is where the ascending spiral really starts to spin.  Check list have been around for a long time and in various formats and the NivoTest stands out as possibly the most sophisticated one to date.  Looking into history, the earliest check list I can find is G. Bilgeri’s Six Points (three for terrain, three for snow conditions) already in use by the 1930’s, described by Seligman (1936).  Later, as one example, we have Atwater’s (1952) Ten Contributory Factors, initially with equal weight but later informally modified by various weighting schemes. I like the NivoTest because it nicely condenses terrain, snow features, current avalanche activity and human factors.  However, it is disquieting to see it illustrated in TAR by a photo of a guide consulting it in the field in the middle of what appears to be avalanche terrain.  This brings the checklist concept into play far, far, too late.  If you wait until standing on the edge of an avalanche path before considering snow stability and risks, very poor decisions can ensue. Again, evaluating snow conditions is an ongoing process, not a single event (reduce the Deborah Number!). The NivoTest, or any similar scheme, needs to be constantly in play days prior to any avalanche exposure, when evolving weather conditions contribute to the checks. Early entries to the NivoTest may be hazy as to detail, but even then a picture will start to evolve than can be constantly updated until the final moment of  decision in avalanche terrain.

Seligman (op. cit.) nearly seventy years ago placed strong emphasis on anticipating snow conditions from weather patterns long before going into the field.  More recently I have made the same point (LaChapelle, 1980). Of course, the weakness of any checklist system is the risk of rigidity and thus locking out unusual thinking demanded by unusual conditions.  Whether a  NivoTest or any other scheme, check lists have to be reminders and not  substitutes for constantly paying attention to a wide spectrum of clues  about snow behavior.  I view George’s mention of mandated us to use checklists like the NivoTest with much alarm.  Plantiff’s lawyers can have a field day with mandates.

Among the various TAR articles about decisions, only Stewart-Patterson mentioned luck, where he named it one of the three main factors in decision-making, though only in passing.  This topic needs wider recognition.  Let’s face it, most of us in the avalanche game have been saved many times over by luck.  George (op. cit.) mentions that even experts say they are right only 50% of the time.  Now we know that experts don’t get caught in avalanches 50% of the time, so the obvious conclusion must be that luck along with undocumented skills is right in there as a major player.  This is not surprising when we consider that most places and most times the alpine snow cover is stable in the face of normal triggering forces.  The whole business of evaluating snow stability and making decisions hinges on recognizing those fewer times when it is not.  Thus the odds more often favor a mistake on the safe side than one that raises risk.  Of course, by random chance, bad luck as well as good can follow even the most skilled and careful decisions. “… from the beginning, think what might be the end.”  This really gets to the heart of the matter, emphasizing the idea of stability evaluation as an ongoing and continuous process mentioned above.  Whymper spoke to anticipating risks in mountaineering: his words speak with equal force to anticipating risks in avalanche terrain.  Here is where the experts get sorted out from the beginners.  My idea of an expert is a person who constantly follows evolution of the snow cover and repeatedly thinks ahead to “what might be the end” for one risk situation after another.  The end might be an avalanche fall, and even more important might be consequence of an avalanche fall.  I learned this many years ago from Andre Roch (personal communication) who pointed out that two questions are involved.  First, will an avalanche occur, and, second it if does occur what will be the resulting risk?  For example, a small avalanche poses much less risk to a skier if it has a gentle outrun onto safe ground than it does if it carries a victim over a cliff or into a crevasse.

The whole business of expertise is examined by Conger (2005), who allots analytical skills in decision-making to persons ranging from novice to proficient, but reserves the role of intuition for experts.  He is onto something here, raising the whole question of just what constitutes intuition.   Perhaps this is a case of of not being able to define intuition but being able to recognize it when we see or exercise it.  Certainly we can all recognize the  “seat-of-the-pants” factor in evaluating snow stability, but just what do we mean?  Here I will make a try at answering this question and defining intuition in this context. To begin, consider what intuition is not.  It is not some magical quality bestowed on mature people of wide experience along with gray hair and slowing reflexes.  It is not some sort of extra-sensory perception; quite the contrary.  Intuition is the lifetime accumulation of precisely those sensory perceptions of snow, weather and avalanche behavior that have accumulated, often in the sub-conscious, that cannot readily be quantified, logged in a  notebook or clearly explained.  Such perceptions, nevertheless, are based on the physical behavior of the real world, not on vague mental constructs.  An example is the meteorological perception of a mountain snowstorm evolution based on subtle changes in the spectral distribution of light filtering through clouds as the sun descends in the sky and cloud layers come and go in shifting fashion.  No doubt a wide-spectrum recording light sensor could construct graphic records of these changes and eventually build a quantitative document.  But the expert integrates all this under the guise of intuition and recognizes the likely next storm trend. Here is another example from my own experience.  I once was involved in a field training program for heli-ski guides.  The exercise was preceded by a very light fall of fluffy snow, followed by a substantial fall of mixed snow types and mid-range densities.  This combination produced widespread instability with the fluff acting as lubricating layer.  Two days of field training produced ski releases everywhere, excellent for demonstrating how, and how not, to test ski an avalanche path.  On the third day the first helicopter flight took several of us to a ridge top.  One of the experienced guides skied 100 yards down the ridge and stopped.  I followed close behind and joined him.  He turned and said, “There is no tension in the snow today”.   I replied, “I agree”.  That day-long exercise never started another ski release no matter how hard we tried.  So here were a couple of presumed “experts” putting their intuition accurately to work.  What did we actually sense about the snow?  We can throw around words like kinesthetic perception and psycho-rheology, but what we actually had was many years of experience with the way our skis and legs reacted to snow structure, accumulating this experience somewhere in our heads.  Did we actually experience “tension” as physics would define it?  Probably not, this is another convenient word to toss around, but we both knew what we meant.  How many readers of TAR know what we meant? As the spiral ascends and scientific and technical knowledge about snow continues to grow, are we coming closer to improved training and safety practices for avalanche risk management?  Or are we locked into Wilde’s  (1994) risk homeostasis trap?  The dialog needs to continue.

Ed LaChapelle was born in 1926 in Tacoma, Washington. He spent two years in the U.S. Navy 1944-46 as an electronic technician, then graduated in math and physics from the University of Puget Sound in 1949. Professionally he has been a guest worker at the Swiss Avalanche Institute 1950-51, a snow ranger with USFS at Alta, 1952-72, done glacier research in Greenland and Alaska 1952-1956,and on the Blue Glacier on Mt. Olympus 1957-1970. He was appointed to the faculty of the University of Washington in 1967, retired as Professor Emeritus of Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences in 1982. He has been active in snow and avalanche affairs for all of his professional life, including retirement.   Ed died February 1, 2007 enjoying some new powder at Monarch Pass after attending his ex-wife (Dolores LaChapelle’s) memorial in Silverton a week earlier…  JR


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