Dave Carman (recent Ridgway local) and I developed and ran guide training courses at Exum for aspiring guides in 1970’s before the current national certification programs took hold. The photo above is on the summit of Mt. Owen during an early season guides training course, with the North Face of Grand Teton in background. We also developed the rock climbing program, along with Kanzler, at Minnesota Outbound School in the late 1960’s. I ended my guiding career at Exum in 2005, and continued on as a Director and partner until 2009. Dave and I officially retired together from Exum in 2009. This occasion called for a big bash at the Climbers Ranch, in summer 2009.
I entered the American Alpine Club in Golden late one evening into it’s reference room with a “Do Not Remove” sign, to read Peter Lev’s only print copy of “The Next Pitch” given to the AAC. It’s really an incredible slice of history tracing his youthful climbs, many international expeditions/avalanche forecasting days through his time as guide, director and partner in Exum Mountain Guides. Peter’s clarity of words/ideas and his empahsis and belief in mentors and mentoring was a cool refreshment.
Maybe someday, ‘The Next Pitch’ will be in chapbook (a book of popular ballads, stories) form so the many admirers in the mountaineering audience can enjoy a truly colorful history of this pioneer.
Two weeks ago I listened in on an “open media call” regarding Colorado’s continuing drought.
It was hosted by Western Resource Advocates, an environmental law and policy nonprofit founded in 1989, with headquarters in Boulder and offices across the Southwest. As it happened, the call coincided with announcements by two Front Range cities, Louisville and Lafayette, that they were initiating water restrictions in their communities.
Bart Miller, WRA’s water program director made an intriguing comparison between the years 2002-2003 and our present drought situation.
“Two-thousand-two was probably the driest year in [Colorado] history,” he said. “But in 2003, the state was saved by the largest snowstorm in Colorado history.”
‘Layton Kor is Dead’……CLIMBING……”I was fortunate to have spent a couple of climbs with Layton as a youngster in the early 70′s (Nineteen).” J.R.
Layton Kor and his son Arlan in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado, in 2012. Photo by Cameron Burns
4/22/13 – Layton Kor, one of the most prolific and accomplished American climbers of the 1960s, has died at age 74. Kor had suffered from kidney failure and prostate cancer. A resident of Kingman, Arizona, he died during the night of April 21.
Kor’s name was virtually synonymous with Colorado climbing during the late 1950s and ’60s. Starting as a teenager in Eldorado Canyon, he put up many of the sandstone canyon’s most famous and enduring classics, both free and aid, including Ruper(5.8+), Rosy Cruxifiction (5.10), The Naked Edge (5.11), and many, many more. He also did dozens of first ascents in Boulder Canyon, the Flatirons, Lumpy Ridge, Glenwood Canyon, and many other crags in Colorado. Original Kor pitons are still discovered today on obscure crags throughout the state.
Kor on the cover of Climbing No. 2 (1970), leading the Salathé Wall in Yosemite.
Branching into the mountains and beyond, Kor did many new routes in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the desert Southwest (Castleton Tower, the Titan, Standing Rock), and Yosemite Valley (south face of Washington Column, West Buttress of El Capitan). He took his skills to foreign mountains on walls like the southeast face of Proboscis in Canada’s Northwest Territories and the Harlin Directissima on the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland.
Kor was still climbing into his early 70s, including the first ascent of a 150-foot tower in Arizona with friends Stewart Green, Dennis Jump, and Ed Webster. Cameron Burns, who is writing a biography on Kor, said, “If Layton got a nickel for every person who ever climbed one of his routes, he’d have been a wealthy man.”
A new edition of Kor’s classic book Beyond the Vertical, edited by Stewart Green with newly scanned photos, will be out in June.
Click here to read a Brendan Leonard guide to seven great Kor routes, both famous and lesser-known, from Climbing 291.
Date of death: April 21, 2013
late April snow & dust
Corona storm board
“A flash from the past”- Mike Friedman and Michael Zimber on a climb of the the Mace in Sedona, AZ, circa 1978.
STILL BELOW AVERAGE – A view to the south east over Ophir Pass on Monday afternoon showed good coverage in the mountains. While snow conditions have improved, the state has only received 73 percent of average snowfall this year. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
WESTERN COLORADO – Knee deep. Ankle deep. Hip deep.
Skiers, and ski areas, talk about snow in terms of inches on the ground, storm totals, base depths.
Water managers care only about the snow-water equivalent – what snow hydrologist Mark Rikkers calls the “snow bank.” How much water is up in the high country that can be counted on to flow into rivers, irrigate crops, fill reservoirs and recharge watersheds?
They measure the water stored in snow by river basin: the Upper Colorado River Basin, the Gunnison, the Dolores/San Miguel, the Yampa/White. And so far this water season the numbers aren’t looking great. “Pray for a good monsoon,” said Tri-County Water Conservancy District General Manager Mike Berry recently. “If we don’t have a wet spring, and rain in July and August, we’re going to be in trouble.”
This was the Saint Germain Foundation’s lodge and religious retreat, a former ski lodge, before it burned in January 1952. The group’s religious beliefs were upheld in a major U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1944, two years after the organization had bought the lodge.
ANDREW GULLIFORD/Special to the Herald
The lodge burned in January 1952, and that fall members of the “I AM” religious group built a garage on the site. The garage still stands immediately adjacent to U.S. Highway 550. Leigh Ann Hunt, forest archaeologist for the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest, says, “The Saint Germain group came planning to do big things and then it never materialized. The lake and garage are now landmarks in Ironton and they will be managed to preserve them.”
ANDREW GULLIFORD/Special to the Herald
A water tank and wooden platform still stand from members of the “I AM” religious group whose adherents moved to Ouray in 1942 and brought new perspectives to the old mining town. After their main lodge burned, members continued to camp on the site.
ANDREW GULLIFORD/Special to the Herald
Few structures remain on the 800-acre site, but one extant building is this cellar or storage area. It includes traces of yellow and purple paint on the interior.
ANDREW GULLIFORD/Special to the Herald
The concrete foundation of the original 1940s lodge can still be seen at the north edge of Ironton Park. Built as a ski lodge, the building became a retreat for the Saint Germain Foundation and “I AM” religious teachings.
Driving across Colorado and the West, I see historic buildings or structures that compel me to get out of my truck and take a walk. For years, I’ve driven between Silverton and Ouray and noticed the large stone garage just east of Crystal Lake in Ironton Park. I’ve always wondered what it was, but in my most vivid imagination I could never have created the story I’m about to tell.
No fiction. Just fact. Including: a ski area, a religion, loudspeakers sounding heavenly music, a couple’s spiritual beliefs tested all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a tragic fire, a yellow Cadillac, and the colors of the rainbow.
The story begins simply enough. A couple of friends decided to build a ski area.
Ouray businessman Joseph Condotti and Ralph Kullerstrand, president of Citizen’s State Bank, acquired patented mining claims on the north end of Ironton Park, and using lumber and bricks recycled from the Saratoga Smelter, built a two-story lodge with a full basement and attic. Ouray historian Don Paulson writes, “They built a ski lift with seven towers, the remnants of which can still be found, and cleared a run of approximately 1,800 feet.”
Across U.S. Highway 550, the partners created today’s Crystal Lake and stocked it with trout, which Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr ate while he attended the lodge’s opening ceremonies in 1940. But the lodge never succeeded. The business partnership failed.
Paulson writes, “Some believe that avalanche hazard was the cause of the disagreement. The Guadalupe slide runs just north of the lodge building and would have threatened the ski run.”
As the ski area sat vacant, a burgeoning religious movement, borne out of the desperation of the Great Depression, lost one of its founders. The religion’s practitioners sought solace in the San Juan Mountains. They bought the lodge and ski area.
In many cultures around the world, mountains are seen as sacred places. Ouray bills itself as “the Switzerland of America,” so maybe that’s why in the 1940s the Saint Germain Foundation bought the unused ski lodge for a religious retreat. A decade earlier in 1930, Guy W. Ballard, hiking on Mount Shasta in northern California, had encountered the Ascended Master Saint Germain. That experience was the origin of the “I AM” religious teachings.
According to the Saint Germain Foundation, Jesus Christ was an Ascended Master, and Joan of Arc and Benjamin Franklin were earlier embodiments of Mrs. Guy Ballard. In the 1930s, Saint Germain inspired Guy Ballard to write books titled Unveiled Mysteries and The Magic Presence. The books communicate theosophy, and volume No. 3 is The ‘I AM’ Discourses, which are sacred scriptures and part of the Ascended Master Teachings religion. In 1939, Guy Ballard became an Ascended Master.
The “I AM” movement grew spectacularly during the dark days of the Depression. In 1942, the federal government indicted his wife, Edna Ballard, their son Donald Ballard and other affiliates on 12 counts including mail fraud. They were convicted of organizing a moneymaking scheme, and the same year the foundation bought the lodge and members moved to Ouray seeking privacy. The Ballard family appealed the convictions, and two years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in one of the most important decisions about religious freedom in the 20th century.
The Ballards won. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned their conviction in United States v. Ballard 322 U.S. 78 (1944). In a victory for the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the high court ruled that the tenets of one’s religious faith could not be legally challenged.
Now comes her yellow Cadillac, Mrs. Edna Ballard, and members of the “I AM” religion. They preferred the colors of the rainbow, including purple and yellow, and her inner staff wore formal clothes. One story is that a local Ouray teacher involved in the “I AM” religious group would not tolerate red and black crayons in her schoolroom. The lodge held a sanctuary on the main floor for regular services. Sounds of violins, carillon bells – at the time the highest in the world – and harp music wafted down the canyon. Nearby were plans for a music healing temple.
Lifelong member Bud Thayer knew Mrs. Ballard and he told me, “She was guided by Saint Germain in what she did in purchasing the property. We were very near a concentration of spiritual energy in that whole area for a number of miles around. We regard that property as very sacred.”
Followers of the religious group produced radio broadcasts “that went all over the world” through wire connections from the property. Normally five to 10 people lived on site, but when Mrs. Ballard arrived there could be as many as 25 assistants.
“She came three to four times a year. She absolutely loved it. She was at her happiest at the lodge in Ouray,” Thayer says.
On the site, a root cellar still has traces of purple and yellow paint. A careful hiker can find little patios under pine trees, short hand-stacked stone walls, and other rock masonry architectural features.
To this day the Chicago-based Saint Germain Foundation exists worldwide with over 300 “I AM” sanctuaries and centers, including one in Santa Fe. But not in Ouray.
After buying the ski area in 1942, the religious group purchased mining claims until they owned an 800-acre site.
According to Paulson, “In 1947 they announced plans to open a large summer camp able to house over 500 people but that never materialized. Unfortunately, in January of 1952, the lodge caretaker accidentally set the building on fire using a blowtorch” while melting snow and icicles on the roof. Because of prevailing canyon winds the old mining timbers burned instantly. Terraces show where summer cabins would have been built.
Today, only the concrete foundation of the lodge remains and I like to hike around it. I think about the ski area and summer camp that could have been but never was. The stone garage built in the fall of 1952 is locked. Plans included rebuilding the lodge one or two stories atop the garage, but instead it became a truck and storage area.
The foundation held on to the property for a few more decades and members of the organization camped on site. On Feb. 10, 1971, . Edna Ballard died in Chicago and took her ascension as the Ascended Lady Master Lotus.
Assisted by federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Red Mountain Project and the Trust for Public Land purchased the 800 acres and transferred it back to the U.S. Forest Service. What was private is now public land.
Leigh Ann Hunt, forest archaeologist for the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest, has written a cultural resource inventory of the site. A stout metal and wood picnic table remains, and I love the stone walls and terraces that look like elves built them.
I agree with the Saint Germain Foundation. Mountains are sacred places. The foundation established more permanent quarters at Mount Shasta, and their former Colorado religious retreat is once again public domain. For me, the silvery San Juans meet my spiritual needs, and though I like rainbow colors, I prefer blue – sky blue – the color you see at 12,000 feet.
Every winter as conditions become unsafe, bombs are used on Ajax Peak to set off a massive avalanche to protect life and property in Telluride, Colorado.
February ?’s still linger,
sounds of the past drifting back-
still here now….
gracias Matt Wylie y Greg Harms
Durango Herald Newspaper
Saturday, February 2, 2013
A 23-year-old Durango man died and another was injured when their backcountry skiing group was caught in an avalanche Saturday afternoon near Silverton. A third member of the group, another Durango man, escaped without serious injuries, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office reported.
The skier who died was Peter Carver, said Melody Skinner, administrative assistant with San Juan County Dispatch.
John Duncan Rothwell, 53, suffered a possible broken femur, Skinner said, and Nate Klema, 23, escaped without serious injuries.
The accident occurred about 1½ miles north of Gladstone on Bureau of Land Management land outside the boundaries of Silverton Mountain Ski Area, Skinner said.
Skinner said three others in the vicinity witnessed the avalanche, and one member of that party went to the ski area to report it and to seek assistance. The Sheriff’s Office was notified at 2:53 p.m., she said.
Ski area staff and Sheriff’s Deputy John Jacobs responded to the scene and removed the body, Skinner said.
A Flight for Life helicopter responded to the scene, but Rothwell declined the flight and was transported to Mercy Regional Medical Center by ambulance, she said.
Three skiers approached the top of ‘Clothesline’, a ski run off of the Corkscrew Pass road. Skier 1 entered the run and skied part way down the slope before stopping behind a tree. Skier 2 entered and skied a similar area before stopping below Skier 1. Skier 3 entered the run to the right of the previous tracks, began to ski, and triggered the avalanche. Skier 3 was pushed up against a tree and partially buried. He was able to quickly extricate himself and could see Skier 1 from his location. Skier 1 was mostly on the surface of the snow but wrapped around a tree. Skier 3 helped Skier 1 out of the snow and accessed his injuries. Skier 1was injured but able to travel downhill. Skiers 3conducted a beacon search and found Skier 2. Skier 2 was fully buried under approximately 5 feet of snow. Skier 2 had no pulse and was not breathing. Skier 3 performed first-aid until Skier 1 arrived. Skiers 1 and 3 decided to go for help. Skier 3 descended into the valley and met up with another group of backcountry skiers. This group reported the incident to the Silverton Mountain ski patrol. Ski area staff responded offering medical care to Skier 1 and transport for Skier 2.
CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored for Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13 and into spring 2013.
During November 2012, the Pacific Ocean reflected ENSO-neutral conditions. Equatorial sea surface temperatures (SST) anomalies were slightly positive across all of the tropical Pacific Ocean except for the far eastern portion (Fig. 1), as also indicated in the Niño indices (Fig. 2). The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) was also slightly above average (Fig. 3), with largest amplitude in the east-central part of the basin (Fig. 4). Despite the subsurface and surface Pacific Ocean being slightly warmer than average, the tropical atmosphere remained in an ENSO-neutral state. Upper-level and lower-level zonal winds were near average, and convection was slightly suppressed over the eastern and central tropical Pacific (Fig. 5). Thus, both the atmosphere and ocean indicated ENSO-neutral conditions.
Relative to last month, the SST model predictions increasingly favor ENSO-neutral, with many remaining just slightly above average in the Niño-3.4 region through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13 and into spring 2013 (Fig. 6). While the tropical atmosphere and especially the ocean suggested borderline ENSO-neutral/ weak El Niño conditions at times from July to September, these signs have now largely dissipated. Therefore, it is considered unlikely that a fully coupled El Niño will develop during the next several months. ENSO-neutral is now favored through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13 and into spring 2013 (see CPC/IRI consensus forecast).
This discussion is a consolidated effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA’s National Weather Service, and their funded institutions. Oceanic and atmospheric conditions are updated weekly on the Climate Prediction Center web site (El Niño/La Niña Current Conditions and Expert Discussions). Forecasts for the evolution of El Niño/La Niña are updated monthly in the Forecast Forum section of CPC’s Climate Diagnostics Bulletin. The next ENSO Diagnostics Discussion is scheduled for 10 January 2013. To receive an e-mail notification when the monthly ENSO Diagnostic Discussions are released, please send an e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What this tells me. J.R.
The tropical Pacific Ocean temps were slightly above average but the tropical atmosphere remains in ENSO-neutral state. Both the atmosphere and ocean indicated ENSO-neutral conditions. ENSO-neutral is now favored through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13 and into spring 2013 by a majority of the models. Not good news for normal/average conditions for SW Colorado.
Patagonia Catalogue Field Report
Featured in our Fall 2004 catalog
My work involves forecasting avalanches on a highway in southwest Colorado. Once you begin the life, it’s not easy to go back and learn from another. There’s just no time. I recently revisited an old ‘60s favorite, Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, and he stressed that re-education is a necessary and important life process. I decide it’s time for re-education.
Saturday, July 5, 2003. I arrive in Chile to study under master snow-viewer, very old friend and avalanche forecaster for Ski Portillo, Señor Frank Coffey. An unusual six percent, low-density storm is my companion on arrival. Frank and the patrol go to work. One shot into the main gully above the plateau triggers a large slab avalanche that is heading uncomfortably toward us. Henry Purcell, the owner, suggests we cover up. We bend over in unison to take our punishment from a large powder cloud.
Frank descends into the Gargantita cliffs to retrieve a dud and triggers a meter-deep slab. He’s stuck on a 40-degree slope. A line is dropped and he climbs back to the land of the living. What’s the “sage wisdom,” I wonder to myself. “Experience is a series of nonfatal errors,” I conclude. In darkness, Coffey and I walk to La Posada for counseling. Six centimeters-an-hour stellar dendrites fall as we enter the warmth of the refugio for lomo pobre and pisco sours.
Monday, July 7, 2003. Seventy-six centimeters of wet, 14-percent-density snow falls from a morose sky. An inverted storm! It’s snowing eight centimeters an hour and things are starting to get ugly. A break allows us to get the avalanche work started. “Most of the control work is done by the storm,” Frank says. I hear avalanches running on both sides of the valley.
Tuesday, July 8, 2003. A storm stalls over the Andes with dying winds in its low-pressure spin. It’s snowing four centimeters an hour, with decreasing density. We’ve gotten over 200 centimeters in three days. I anticipate widespread slab avalanche activity, but there is little evidence. I don’t understand what’s happening. A half-meter of delicate snowflakes followed by 14 percent high-density snow with wind. The storm dies with goose feathers. Should I throw out everything I’ve learned? I think of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book.
Thursday, July 10, 2003. Sitting on my pack high on a ridge above Portillo, I spot Frank as he digs the first of many snow pits to prepare for heli-ski clients. Silence surrounds me as condors circle above, looking for fresh meat. I descend to inspect the pit and pucker as I stare at three centimeters of weak graupel lying between two slab layers. Frank smiles. “A little paranoid?” he says. “The two meters that dropped here was a pretty big shock to the snowpack. There are rounds mixed with the graupel, good bonding and warm snow/air temps.”
My life experience in a cold/unstable Colorado snowpack has jaded me. My mind drifts back to the Little Red Book. We ski one at a time from the cliff bands to the landing zone. A series of fine powder turns all the way to the valley bottom. Encantado!
About the Author
Jerry Roberts is an itinerant adventurer, mountaineer and guide. He also is an avalanche forecaster for a highway in southwest Colorado and pursues winter snow in the southern hemisphere as a snow safety consultant for the Chilean mining industry. For a diversion from his real life, he sails his motorcycle south.
CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS
and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society
3 May 2012
ENSO Alert System Status: Final La Niña Advisory
Synopsis: La Niña has transitioned to ENSO-neutral conditions, which are expected to continue through northern summer 2012.
La Niña dissipated during April 2012, as below-average SSTs weakened across most of the equatorial Pacific Ocean and above-average SSTs persisted in the east (Fig. 1). The Niño 4 and Niño 3.4 indices were warmer than -0.5oC throughout the month, and the Niño 3 and Niño 1+2 indices remained positive (Fig. 2). The oceanic heat content (average temperature in the upper 300m of the ocean) anomalies also became positive in April (Fig. 3), as below-average sub-surface temperatures largely disappeared and above-average sub-surface temperatures expanded in both the central and eastern Pacific (Fig. 4). Consistent with the demise of La Niña, enhanced trade winds and reduced convection over the central equatorial Pacific were much weakened during April, and the area of enhanced convection that had previously dominated the western Pacific and Indonesia became disorganized (Fig. 5). Collectively, these oceanic and atmospheric patterns indicate a transition from La Niña to ENSO-neutral conditions.
The current and evolving conditions, combined with model forecasts (Fig. 6), suggest that La Niña is unlikely to re-develop later this year. A majority of models predict ENSO-neutral conditions to continue from April-June (AMJ) through the June-August (JJA) season (Fig. 6). However, at least half of the dynamical models predict development of El Niño conditions by JJA. Still, from JJA onward there is considerable forecast uncertainty as to whether ENSO-neutral or El Niño conditions will prevail, due largely to the inability to predict whether the warmer SST will result in the ocean-atmosphere coupling required for a sustained El Niño event. The official forecast calls for ENSO-neutral conditions through JAS, followed by approximately equal chances of Neutral or El Niño conditions for the remainder of the year (see CPC/IRI consensus forecast).
What This Means……….JR
Looks like we’re leaving La Niña behind and slipping into Neutral conditions with a lot of uncertainties. The Neutral may or may not lead to El Niño conditions this summer. If El Niño conditions develop as a majority of the models predict, we could see a strong monsoonal season July, August and possibly into September.
Daffodils bloomed in St James’s Park in London on March 1.
Some people call what has been happening the last few years “weather weirding,” and March is turning out to be a fine example.
As a surreal heat wave was peaking across much of the nation last week, pools and beaches drew crowds, some farmers planted their crops six weeks early, and trees burst into bloom. “The trees said: ‘Aha! Let’s get going!’ ” said Peter Purinton, a maple syrup producer in Vermont. “ ‘Spring is here!’ ”
Now, of course, a cold snap in Northern states has brought some of the lowest temperatures of the season, with damage to tree crops alone likely to be in the millions of dollars.
Lurching from one weather extreme to another seems to have become routine across the Northern Hemisphere. Parts of the United States may be shivering now, but Scotland is setting heat records. Across Europe, people died by the hundreds during a severe cold wave in the first half of February, but a week later revelers in Paris were strolling down the Champs-Élysées in their shirt-sleeves.
Does science have a clue what is going on?
The short answer appears to be: not quite.
The longer answer is that researchers are developing theories that, should they withstand critical scrutiny, may tie at least some of the erratic weather to global warming. Specifically, suspicion is focused these days on the drastic decline of sea ice in the Arctic, which is believed to be a direct consequence of the human release of greenhouse gases.
I’m riding in the backseat of a vintage 1948 Buick RoadMaster running late for a flight at the Santiago airport. My head rings with a Pisco buzz, the result of a four hour lunch at the El Perón with an old friend. We reviewed lies and good times that we’ve shared while skiing the Rockies and Andes and in other adventures. In my mind I compare the old ride, belching out fumes and rattling down the highway to my old friend, Señor Tim Lane. Both genuine, classic originals…..
Peter Shelton second from right, enjoying lunch with old friends in Rio Blanco Chile……………………
We interrupt this Catalina Island coming-of-age trilogy to comment on the recent spate of avalanche deaths.
I wrote the news story this week about 18-year-old Norwood student Garrett Carothers, and it broke my heart. “Dear, sweet Garrett,” read the caption on a Facebook photo.
By all accounts Carothers and his snowmobiling friends and family were not behaving badly on Saturday when the last in line of their little motorized train was snuffed by an avalanche that released above them. They weren’t high-marking some wind-loaded, primed-to-slide alpine bowl. They were struggling in deep snow on a summer road and had decided to turn around. Too late, as it turned out. Innocents abroad.
Other accidents recently in the news revealed evidence of hubris. In November, there was famous skier, cliff jumper Jamie Pierre, ignoring all the classic signs of instability, including natural and triggered releases everywhere around him, to attempt a narrow, thinly covered chute at Snowbird before the ski area was open. The moving snow didn’t kill him, the rocks he bashed over did. He was beloved, too.
On Stevens Pass in Washington, a giant, unwieldy group of “experts and industry insiders,” 13 of them, decided to ski off the backside of the ski area immediately following a two-day, 26-inch storm that came with strong winds. They claimed they were using proper protocol – skiing one at a time, stopping in safe zones – but somehow five of them got caught by a monster slide. Three were buried and killed.
Then, there was Telluride’s own Nate Soules tragedy, though I don’t use that word. Soules chose to snowboard into Bear Creek, alone, on the first real powder day in a long time, with two inches of water and all of that attendant weight added to an especially rotten San Juans snowpack. He knew what he was doing. But he was blinded by what long-time avalanche forecaster Jerry Roberts calls powder shock. You’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I was mad at him then, and I’m still mad. As a father and grandfather. Yes, as many have said, he died doing what he loved. But he also loved his wife and young son. What was he thinking?
I haven’t skied the backcountry for a few years now, after devoting the better part of the last 40 years to it. The reasons are complex and include two hip-replacement surgeries and the digging out, just before the first hip, of a friend who barely survived an avalanche on Red Mountain Pass. That friend was one of the most knowledgable and conservative wild-snow skiers I have known. His triggering a big slide, and getting tumbled and crushed blue by the weight of the snow on top of him seemed to prove the adage: that if you are out there enough, you will eventually get caught.
RIDGWAY – The George Gardner Experiential Education Scholarship Fund is a Ridgway organization with a big name and an even bigger heart.
Founded in 2008 following Gardner’s death in a climbing accident on the Grand Teton, the GGEESF has supported the Ridgway School Learn-to-Ski Program and the Ridgway High School Senior Outward Bound River trip. Now it is expanding its umbrella to offer scholarships to Ouray County kids who are motivated and want to further their learning outside of traditional educational settings. With Gardner, that always meant the out-of-doors.
Programs that will be supported by the new GGEESF scholarships include Outward Bound, the National Outdoor Leadership School, accredited snow and avalanche courses, and guide training programs, among others. Scholarships are open to county teens age 15-18. (In future, said GGEESF board member Deb Willits, the fund hopes to be able to offer scholarships in Ouray, San Miguel, and Montrose counties.) Priority will be given to those with financial need. Applications are available at both high schools, from Counselor Rick Williams or from Ouray School Dean of Students Di Rushing.
Chris Laundry observing avalanche mitigation on RMP. J. Roberts photo
WESTERN SLOPE – The Colorado River Basin is losing water at an ever-accelerating rate, and snow scientist Chris Landry wants people to know about it.
But spend a day with Landry, and you will accumulate more questions than answers: How much snow falls (or doesn’t); how dense and water-laden it is (or isn’t); and is there enough of it to reflect surface radiation back into the atmosphere and preserve it, or is it destined to continue to melt away earlier every coming year?
Each winter since 2003, Landry, the director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, a research organization in Silverton, has been on the job at his two research plots, Swamp Angel and Senator Beck Basin, near the summit of Red Mountain Pass. Here, Landry digs over 100 snow pits over the course of each winter to observe the layers of dust that accumulate on this outlying garrison of Colorado mountain ranges.
J. Roberts photo Snow/Water equivalency scale
WESTERN SAN JUANS – As snow continues to fly across Colorado on a steady basis, bringing a sense of winter normalcy back to most areas, state snowpack levels have improved. But to realize an average end-of-season snowpack after a dismally dry start to the season, March needs to be a very, very snowy month.
“If you look where the statewide snowpack totals are right now, we are where we typically should be on February first. As snowpack levels go, we are kind of a month behind,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey Supervisor Mage Skordahl on Monday. “Currently we are at 77 percent average statewide, which is an improvement from 72 percent at the beginning of February. The percent of average snowfall needed next month (to get to 100 percent average) is 178 percent of average. We are still playing catch-up.”
After a high pressure ridge kept most of Colorado relatively dry in December and for the first part of January, the Pacific jet stream finally shifted southward and positioned itself over southern Wyoming and northern and Central Colorado, bringing precipitation to basins to the west of the Continental Divide. Relatively speaking, Colorado’s southern mountains had a better start to the winter than the central and northern Mountains. But as a typical La Nina precipitation and snowfall pattern returned to Colorado in January, the southern basins saw a significant decrease in precipitation.