Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Choose Wisely

As new snow finally begins to fall upon the Sierra Nevada and the ranges of the Great Basin, the importance of making good decisions is at the forefront, whether you slide in or out of bounds. In short, don't be dumb. The outcomes of poor decision making will be exponentially greater in the coming 72 hours. Why?

  1. Where snow currently exists, it is faceted, shallow, and weak.
  2. Many aspects are devoid of snow.
  3. Many shredders have been deprived of quality days thus far (road-trippers and those with good attitudes and/or high levels of creativity notwithstanding).
  4. Several feet of classic Sierra cement are expected to blanket the crest over the next couple of days.
Integrating this information yields the following conclusion: Chances of disaster are high, chances of human factors driving disaster are high, and consequences are high. Oh, and the avalanche forecast will be high as well. Do something dumb and the positive reaction you will get from friends and family? Chances are it will be low.

The main problem is demonstrated here:

The coming avalanche cycle will be an interesting experiment in snowpack dynamics throughout the western cordillera as the incoming liquid equivalent represents a dramatic increase in snowpack (from 0 to something, or at least a doubling of current liquid!). This significant loading will force rapid rises in instability. The current snowpack is incredibly weak but the availability of many anchors will offset this. Sample a ride with the white dragon, however, and you will also engage in a sharp, bumpy ride; not highly conducive to minimal trauma or cracking beers post whiteroom. In ranges with few to no observations or remote data sources, use the fact that far below average snowpacks imply weak strength and high probabilities of faceting throughout. When in doubt, dig. It is only a meter to the ground...maybe...

Slopes that previously had no snow will gain some essence of coverage, meaning that they look skiable (it's almost February, right?). The gloriously smooth Sierra C will allow for high velocities to be quickly and effortlessly attained, yet the consequences of dry docking or hooking up with submerged plant or geological matter will be catastrophic.

The human factor represents the primary hazard. It is your choice to go out at all. It is your choice where you go and how you travel through that environment. It is also your choice to accept or reject, based upon observations of the situation, what your instincts tell you, what your knowledge tells you, and what your group is telling you. The heuristic trap is not fun (McCammon 2002), and once again, don't be dumb. There is no honor in succumbing to the agendas of others who do not have your best interests in mind, particularly when a bad outcome is realized (occurs). There is great honor in making an informed decision and returning to shred another day, again, and again, and again. When style matters most, returning to civilization safely and stoked is good style. To have achieved your goals safely and with minimal impact on the natural environment is the best style. The style meter plummets into the negative when people get hurt or have their experience tarnished by a lack of good decision making.

The previous statements are intended to be dire. Avoiding poor outcomes is a good strategy in life, and nobody will be bummed if you told them that you opted for something mellow rather than risk your life for something dumb. Once you let others, or your perception of how they perceive you, to make decisions for you, it's a dark, painful road that leads to a net regression of positive change and human existence. Keep praying for snow, and think about groovy arcs on steep corn slopes rather than rehab and a second job, all because you wanted to be 'rad' or get the cool photo. Consider discussing with your group (or just yourself if you are a solo ninja like I) the ideas expressed by Grant Alexander here.

Be safe, shred smart, and always pursue style.



  1. Though it's tempting, Backcountry pow can wait until we get a better, safer base. fingers crossed for a lingering trough and weekly storms