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Avalanche Problem Web Series:
Part 5 – Loose Dry

How to Apply the Avalanche Forecast to Your Riding

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor splitboarders venturing into the backcountry, information can be the difference between an epic day and tragedy. In an effort to increase education and avalanche awareness, Spark R&D is presenting a 7-part web series called Avalanche Problems, which will explain the nationally standardized types of slides most commonly described in advisories by avalanche forecasters.

Understanding the characteristics of each type will help to determine where avalanches are likely to occur and what kind of terrain should be avoided. In today’s installment, we will cover Loose Dry Avalanches.

Loose dry avalanches in a nutshell

loose-drySoft and unconsolidated surface snow means there’s potential for loose snow avalanches, otherwise known as “sluffs”. Although outrunning monster sluffs in Alaska looks doable in the movies, the reality is that not everyone has the ability and experience, nor is it the right tactic for every situation.

What exactly is a loose dry avalanche?

• Often called “sluff” slides, this is when an upper layer of cohesion-less snow starts as a small, localized slide, gains momentum, and amasses more snow as it travels down slope.
• Natural releases often have a fan like shape, originating from a single point, and gain more width as they travel down slope (also known as a point release).
• These slides tend to be on the smaller side and are less dangerous than slab avalanches. But on large, steep slopes, like in Alaska, sluffs can become quite large and lethal.
• If there is a secondary slab problem, a sluff slide could be enough weight to trigger it.
• In the event that the storm snow is forming a slab, this would be referred to as “storm slab.”
• Loose dry conditions tend to be short lived if formed by new snow (hours to days), but can stick around for longer in periods of light wind and consistent, cool temperatures.

Where you might find loose dry conditions, and how to avoid it

• Loose avalanches tend to occur in steeper terrain, particularly approaching 40 degrees or steeper.
loose-dry-icon• Avoid steep slopes! This problem can be entirely managed by staying off of steep terrain until the new snow has settled.
• For big mountain riders, consider the consequences of being caught and what you could be pushed over (cliff bands, rocks, etc.). Avoid slopes that have these features.
• Also consider potential terrain traps, as even a small loose avalanche can pile up deep in the deposition zone.
• Plan your decent wisely, and think about areas out of the fall line to escape a sluff.
• Although an advanced technique, ski cuts can work well, as you can push off the top layer of snow and let it run out front, which may mitigate the problem.

How to look and test for loose dry conditions

• Observations about natural avalanche activity and recent weather are all useful.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA• Fan shaped natural releases on steep slopes during or after a storm event are good indicators that a skier could trigger these slides.
• Recent new snow and loose surface conditions (from new or faceting) are signs that are easily observed, and don’t require a formal pit.
• Ski cutting short test slopes can tell us if the surface is wanting to run or not.

Tips: Although new snow is likely the cause of sluffs, long periods of cold and clear weather can facet the surface and create loose snow conditions as well.

Disclaimer: Although characteristic, these descriptions are general, so make sure to read into any specifics mentioned on your local advisory. Also, this is just one piece of the puzzle, so remember to factor in the hazard rating and any field observations.

Find your local avalanche center: www.avalanche.org

Presented by Clark Corey
Splitboard Guide/Avalanche Educator

Avalanche Problem Web Series:
Part 4 – Storm Slab

How to Apply the Avalanche Forecast to Your Riding

storm-snow

For splitboarders venturing into the backcountry, information can be the difference between an epic day and tragedy.  In an effort to increase education and avalanche awareness, Spark R&D is presenting a 7-part web series called Avalanche Problems, which will explain the nationally standardized types of slides most commonly described in advisories by avalanche forecasters.

Understanding the characteristics of each type will help to determine where avalanches are likely to occur and what kind of terrain should be avoided.  In today’s installment, we will cover Storm Slab Avalanches.

Storm slabs in a nutshell

storm-snowLet’s face it:  The best riding is often experienced during or right after a big storm. But in the backcountry, this can mean the new snow has formed a soft slab.  The new snow may not be adhered to the underlying surface, or it may have an “upside down” structure.   The best practice is to stay off of steep terrain (35 degrees and steeper) until the new snow has had time to adjust, which could take several days.

What exactly is a storm slab?

• A storm slab is new snow, which is cohesive enough to act like, or form a slab.
• Sometimes the slab is not bonding to the underlying surface. In other cases, it may form upside-down, meaning colder lighter snow on the bottom (weak layer) and heaver or wetter snow on top (slab). These tend to be smaller in size.
• If the storm snow is not a slab, than this is referred to as “loose dry” (next post). If a persistent weak layer is involved, than see the “persistent slab” problem.
• These are often short lived, and are experienced during or post storm event. The problem can last for several days, but can last longer if the temperatures remain very cold.

Where you might find a storm slab, and how to avoid them

storm-slab-icon• Storm slabs are typically widespread, but think about where the storm totals are greatest. Upper elevations, or the wet side of the range, are likely to have more of a problem.
• Higher elevations and shaded slopes are colder, which can preserve the problem for longer.
• Avalanches are more likely to occur in terrain 35 degrees or steeper.  However, play it safe and stick to terrain under 35 degrees during or after the storm.
• Always be careful around natural avalanche paths during a storm, as start zones are becoming loaded and natural slides can occur.

How to look for and test a storm slab

• Hand pits and skin track cuts are nice tests if storm totals are under 1.5 feet (about 40cm), as they are very quick, can be done many times throughout the day, and give information on how well the snow is bonding. They allow you to look for patterns throughout the day.
• Ski cuts or stomps on steep slopes are great indicators for these surface conditions.
• Compression Tests (CT) are good for testing the bonding (lower scores or sudden planer sheers), and Extended Column Tests work if the new snow isn’t too soft.

Tips: If you get out for a few days in a row, watch for settlement cones around trees and bushes. Also, look for trends in your test scores:  Higher scores, or more resistant hand sheers, mean the snow is starting to stick.

Disclaimer: Although characteristic, these descriptions are general, so make sure to read into any specifics mentioned on your local advisory. Also, this is just one piece of the puzzle, so remember to factor in the hazard rating and any field observations.

Find your local avalanche center: www.avalanche.org

Presented by Clark Corey
Splitboard Guide/Avalanche Educator

 

Avalanche Problem Web Series:
Part 3 – Deep Slab

How to Apply the Avalanche Forecast to Your Riding

deep-slab
For splitboarders venturing into the backcountry, information can be the difference between an epic day and tragedy.  In an effort to increase education and avalanche awareness, Spark R&D is presenting a 7-part web series called Avalanche Problems, which will explain the nationally standardized types of slides most commonly described in advisories by avalanche forecasters.

Understanding the characteristics of each type will help to determine where avalanches are likely to occur and what kind of terrain should be avoided.  In today’s installment, we will cover Deep Slab Avalanches.

Deep slab avalanches in a nutshell

deep-slabWhen deep slab conditions exist, it’s time to ratchet back the terrain and play it safe. Once persistent weak layers are buried deep in the snowpack, it becomes hard to test and evaluate them, and the consequences can be dire as the slide is going to be large. Read into the advisory on where these conditions might exist.  Until the layer has healed, either stick to lower angle terrain, or gravitate towards slopes where this structure isn’t present.  Be cautious of runouts when the weak layer has been recently loaded.

What exactly is a deep persistent slab?

• A deep slab is essentially a persistent slab, but thicker (see previous post). The slab is going to be approaching 3 feet or more. Sometimes it can even involve the season’s entire snowpack. This strong slab is resting on a softer, persistent weak layer beneath.
• For review, persistent weak layers include facets, depth hoar and surface hoar. These weak layers form under cold and clear conditions, and when buried under a slab, become very problematic.
• Deep slab conditions are very tricky. Because of the slab thickness and nature of persistent weak layers, they can produce very large, and often times un-survivable avalanches.
• Given the fact this involves a persistent weak layer, deep slabs can stick around. These can be problematic for weeks to months.
• Like the persistent slabs, after periods of warm weather and little additional stress, they can slowly being to heal.  After periods of being dormant, however, they can be reawakened if large loads are applied or drastic warm-ups occur.

Where you might find a deep slab, and how to avoid them 

• Deep slab problems are as widespread as the persistent weak layer. This means the layer can exist on many slopes and elevations (although this depends on how exactly they were formed), or it could be localized.
deep-slab-icon• Read your local advisory carefully for information on the distribution of this layer and think about where it existed before it got buried.
• When sensitive, very conservative decision-making is crucial. Stick to lower angle terrain (under 30 degrees) and be mindful of what’s above.
• Often times, before the layer fully heals, we enter a period of “low probability, high consequence”, meaning there’s a smaller chance you’d trigger it, but if you do, there’s a big price to pay.
• With this in mind, even when the layer is beginning to stabilize, try to avoid steep slopes with this structure. Your best bet is to read into the advisory to get an idea of where this layer exists (aspect and elevation) and avoid steep terrain in these areas.
• Stay away from rocky slopes or areas of shallower snow, as the weak layer is closer to the surface, and can be easier to trigger.
• Remote triggers are possible with this layer, so be aware of what’s above and be careful of runouts (especially if cracking/collapsing is experienced).
• Keep in mind that large avalanches mean safe zones must be selected carefully. These are the kind of slides that can run full path and are very destructive.

How to look and test a deep slab

deep-slab2

Example of deep slab pit analysis. Photos courtesy of Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center (sawtoothavalanche.com).

• Field observations become difficult, even for experienced professionals.
• Snowpack tests become less useful.  When a layer is that deep, tapping on a shovel is not always going to produce results. Instead, you can focus on structure, so dig just to look for the layer and check for hardness.
• Signs of natural avalanches as well as cracking or collapsing while touring certainly are indicators, although these signs won’t always be present.

Tips: Deep slabs can often produce “false stable” snowpack test results (ECT or CT), meaning the lack of failure in your tests make the conditions look more favorable than they actually are. Instead, if the structure is present (slab over weak layer), one could assume it’s possible to trigger in the right spot. Until the weak layer actually becomes stronger and firmer, it should not be trusted.

Disclaimer: Although characteristic, these descriptions are general, so make sure to read into any specifics mentioned on your local advisory. Also, this is just one piece of the puzzle, so remember to factor in the hazard rating and any field observations.

Find your local avalanche center: www.avalanche.org

Presented by Clark Corey
Splitboard Guide/Avalanche Educator

Avalanche Problem Web Series:
Part 2 – Persistent Slab

How to Apply the Avalanche Forecast to Your Riding

persistent-slab6For splitboarders venturing into the backcountry, information can be the difference between an epic day and tragedy.  In an effort to increase education and avalanche awareness, Spark R&D is presenting a 7-part web series called Avalanche Problems, which will explain the nationally standardized types of slides most commonly described in advisories by avalanche forecasters.  

Understanding the characteristics of each type will help to determine where avalanches are likely to occur and what kind of terrain should be avoided.  In today’s installment, we will cover Persistent Slab Avalanches.

Persistent slabs in a nutshell

persistent-slabWhen facets, depth hoar or surface hoar become buried, we are faced with an avalanche problem that can last for a long time and be widespread. The best strategy may be to seek out lower angle terrain until the layer has had time to heal. Be especially careful around trigger points, such as rocks, shallow spots and roll-overs. These slides are know for their ability to produce large avalanches.

What exactly is a persistent slab?

• A slab of cohesive snow (layer that is sticking together) that is sitting on top of a persistent weak layer.
• Examples of persistent weak layers include facets, depth hoar (developed facets) or surface hoar (frozen dew).
• These layers are all formed during periods of clear, calm and cold weather, and can be enhanced by shallow, early season snow, which is subsequently buried by following storms.
• Persistent slab conditions can produce large avalanches.
• Persistent weak layers are given this name for a reason:  When these layers form and get buried, they tend to last for weeks, or even months.
• Warm weather and time may eventually compact persistent weak layer, making them stronger.
• Be careful though, because more loading (new snow or wind), or drastic warm ups, can reactivate these weak layers.

Where you might find a persistent slab, and how to avoid them 

• Unfortunately, persistent weak layers can be widespread, meaning the layer exists on many slopes and elevations (although this depends on how exactly they were formed).
persistent-slab-icon• Assume the layer is everywhere unless the forecast mentions otherwise. Read your local advisory carefully for information on the distribution of this layer.
• Areas of concern can include shallower snow, rocky slopes, or colder, protected slopes, like mid-elevation, shaded terrain.
• The only option is to seek out lower angle terrain (30 degrees or less) and be conservative.
• As the weak layer begins to heal and the forecast hazard starts to go down, gradually progress into terrain above 30 degrees. Pick slopes with clean runouts, no convexities or trigger points, and lower consequence. Pick safe zones wisely and make sure to use good travel technique.
• Remote triggers are possible with this layer, so be aware of what’s above and be careful of runouts (especially if cracking/collapsing is experienced).

How to look for and test persistent slabs

persistent-slab3

Photos courtesy of Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center (sawtoothavalanche.com).

• Relevant observations include watching for natural avalanches as well as cracking or collapsing while touring. This means the persistent weak layer is giving way under the weight of the slab and yourself, so just imagine if this happened on a steeper slope!
• By checking the forecast, you may have an idea of how deep the layer should be, so try digging several pits and observe where the layer exists. Facets often have a “sugary” or “granular” appearance, and do not pack into snowballs well.
• Performing snowpack tests, such as an Extended Column Test, can give us more information. It is important, however, to have the training and experience necessary to properly interpret the test results. (If you haven’t done so already, take an avalanche safety course!)
• Pushing your pole into the snow and feeling for a sudden decrease in resistance means you’ve punched through the slab into the weak layer. This can be a quick way of tracking the layer’s distribution throughout the day.

Tips: Don’t make any assumptions about persistent weak layers. They can be tricky to deal with, catch you off guard, and often produce large avalanches.

Disclaimer: Although characteristic, these descriptions are general, so make sure to read into any specifics mentioned on your local advisory. Also, this is just one piece of the puzzle, so remember to factor in the hazard rating and any field observations.

Find your local avalanche center: www.avalanche.org

Presented by Clark Corey
Splitboard Guide/Avalanche Educator

Avalanche Problem Web Series:
Part 1 – Wind Slab

How to Apply the Avalanche Forecast to Your Riding

windslab-resize

For splitboarders venturing into the backcountry, information can be the difference between an epic day and tragedy. In an effort to increase education and avalanche awareness, Spark R&D is presenting a 7-part web series called Avalanche Problems, which will explain the nationally standardized types of slides most commonly described in advisories by avalanche forecasters.

Understanding the characteristics of each type will help to determine where avalanches are likely to occur and what kind of terrain should be avoided. In today’s installment, we will cover Wind Slab Avalanches.

Wind slabs in a nutshell
wind-slabThese slabs are very common throughout the winter in just about every mountain range. They’re created by wind deposited snow and tend to live under cornices, below ridgelines, around the edges of gullies, and in most alpine terrain. After a wind event, your best bet is to avoid these types of terrain features and let them stabilize, which can take from a couple days to a week.

What exactly is a wind slab?
We often hear people speak of wind loading and wind slabs, so let’s talk about what exactly this is and how are they formed.

• When the wind blows snow across, or up the mountain, it gets deposited onto adjacent slopes, forming a slab (a cohesive unit or “chunk” of snow).
• As the snow grains are blown, they get broken into small particles. When these small grains come to rest, they pack tight together and form a nice slab of snow.
• The slope that the wind is blowing across and stripping snow from is called the windward slope. The side that the snow lands on, and is becoming loaded, is referred to as the leeward slope.
• The thickness can depend on the strength and duration of the wind, but also the amount of snow available for transport.

Where you might find a wind slab and how to avoid one:

• Typical areas include off ridgelines, below cornices (pointing towards the slab), around wind-slab-icongullies or ribs, and in any exposed alpine terrain.
• Most wind loading occurs in the alpine, at treeline, and in avalanche start zones (the tops of defined avalanche paths). During especially strong wind events, loading can be experienced mid slope and below treeline.
• Avoid leeward slopes and commonly wind loaded terrain features (mentioned above) during and post wind event.
• When venturing on slopes that do not appear to be wind loaded, keep in mind that loading can occur in pockets. Watch out for a change in surface texture.

How to look for and test a wind slab:

windslab-resize2

Photo courtesy of Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center (sawtoothavalanche.com).

• Visually inspect slopes: Look for pillow-like features; feel for drum-like or hollow sounds; watch for shooting cracks; and assess if a slab exists on lower angle terrain.
• Look for loading patterns. Stripped snow on one slope means it landed somewhere else. Local wind patterns often provide visual clues.
• Pay attention to what direction the wind has been blowing by reading the avalanche forecast, and keeping up to date on the weather forecast.
• Wind slabs are typically in the upper surface of the snowpack, so tests to determine bonding and sensitivity can be done quickly.

Tips: Wind can rapidly change conditions and load snow up to 10 times faster than it can fall from the sky. If the wind is really blowing, the avalanche danger can go from mild to wild very quickly.

Disclaimer: Although characteristic, these descriptions are general, so make sure to read into any specifics mentioned on your local advisory. Also, this is just one piece of the puzzle, so remember to factor in the hazard rating and any field observations.

Find your local avalanche center: www.avalanche.org

Presented by Clark Corey
Splitboard Guide/Avalanche Educator

WIN a pair of MAGNETOS!

Spark has partnered up with Snowboard Mag on their weekly gear blast and we’re giving away a pair of Magnetos!

All you need to do is sign up for Snowboard Mag’s gear weekly newsletter here: snowboardmag.com/newsletter and all the details for winning will be in the Thursday gear blast that you’ll receive in your email. Good luck!!

magneto-fb

Just make sure you sign up before Wed, October 16th, 2013, 11:59pm MST.

A Carbon Neutral Detour in BC – Tamo Campos

Words By Tamo Campos

Our trip has taken quite the detour. We decided to come back through Vancouver instead of taking the ferry to Prince Rupert. The decision was mostly to save our diminished funds and secondly because one of the kids in Alert Bay brought up the point that driving on veggie oil is more sustainable than taking diesel ferries. We agree. So, on the road we go.

On the road again.

On the road again.

The detour ended up being a blessing in disguise. On our road up to Squamish we met Dylan. He’s a ripper and runs his Toyota Landcruiser on veggie oil. Not only that he uses a system (made completely from thrift shop purchases) that gives him 20% better mileage. The magic consists of two salad prongs, electrical wire, baking soda and a thermos. He uses the excess electricity from the alternator to flow into the salad prongs, which sit in backing soda and water. The reaction creates hydrogen and oxygen (out of water), and then sends it into the air intake. He told us combustible engines only get 30% of the energy within the fuel that is burnt. The rest goes out your tail pipe!! Insane no. We’ve been looking up these systems and it looks really easy. (Soon as we find a good thrift shop Boris the bus will be getting some better millage!)

John approving of the system!

John approving of the system!

From Squamish, we cruised the Duffy lake into Quesnel. Just outside of Lilloet, we ran into our friend Sam driving the other direction..  He’s a 23 year old surfer that we met in Tofino some years back. He’s been living in Prince Rupert the past couple years with his daughter Hannah.

John taking about 30 seconds to convince Sam to turn the other way and join us on the trip.

John taking about 30 seconds to convince Sam to turn the other way and join us on the trip.

Sam’s been working in Grande Prairie the last couple months on a fracking rig! He originally got into the industry because of the money while not knowing much about it. Listening to his insight in the industry is heavy.

His stories of how ruthless the oil and gas industries are incredible. They’ve hit me hard and I’m beginning to realize how important it is to regulate this industry. I’ve had trouble sleeping after hearing stories of entire lakes and rivers being sucked dry in Northern BC and Alberta. One story struck especially hard. He told us how in every camp he’s worked at every single tap says “DO NOT DRINK WATER!”  He told us how everyone on the lease is forced to drink bottled water. This is the same industry that advertises as being cleaner burning and not affecting ground water.

That is simply not the case. It’s time we start doing what other countries are doing and ban Fracking until more studies can be done on the consequences on water. (Quebec has already put a moratorium in place)

After loading up grease from DQ, Mike’s Lounge and a Japanesse restaurant, we’ve finally made it Smithers. Everyone in the town is so progressive. Even the local snowboard shop has solar panels to get them off the grid. We chatted with the owner for a while and he explained that business owners would love to go green but they need help from consumers. “You buy sustainable products, we bring in more sustainable products.”

Off grid Shred shop?

Off grid Shred shop?

After checking out the shop, we set up a presentation at Smithers Secondary School. We didn’t have a clue how many kids would be there. It’s a school of over 800 and definitely had us nervous before chatting.  We presented on the risks of Fracking, pipelines and plastics while bringing up solutions we can all take part in.

Jasper and a jug of veggie grease presenting.

Jasper and a jug of veggie grease presenting.

The presentations went amazing! Kids we’re stoked and we later received an email from a teacher saying that their kids we’re pumped. It’s great to hear and at the same time we’re equally as moved by the work the kids are doing. Next week the kids have plans to get together to write letters to Stephen Harper about Northern Gateway!

We were pumped to finally make it to John’s Driftwood off the grid farm. We found it online before coming to town and the farm did not disappoint. The farm is off the grid through a combination of biomass, solar panels and waste veggie oil. As we rolled into the farm, we passed goats, chickens and Icelandic horses. Side by side with solar panels that is!

Sam and Jazzy enjoying the farm.

Sam and Jazzy enjoying the farm.

As John gave us the tour he took us inside to see his pride and joy, a biomass generator that creates biogas and heats the water lines with the exhaust. This is done if by composting wood chips!

As the afternoon rolled on, we were invited inside to eat renewable energy created Bretzels and goats milk. Our time at the farm was great. It’s easy to get drowned out in the downfall of our biggest energy companies (oil and gas) but what we realized at the farm is how exciting it is to be on the cutting edge of changing the way we see energy. It’s empowering to know what we can accomplish with forethought, planning and research. John, originally from Germany, moved to Smithers when his bus broke down in the area and he fell in love with the land. He told us about Canada’s energy policies in comparison to Europe or Scandinavia. Our model is one where business’s that do not profit within the first years are inefficient. Unlike Scandinavia where businesses are run based on 5 and 10 year profit margins. You can imagine the short cuts a business is willing to take when they need to make profits within the year.

Bretzls made with renewable energy.

Bretzls made with renewable energy.

Cruising out of the farm we finally caught a storm. We spend an entire day up the backcountry around Smithers! Split-boarding up and shredding down, with sustainable pretzels in the pocked of course.

Was great to get back on the split boards. It’s such a beautiful experience climbing mountains on your own two feet. It gives you time to appreciate your surroundings. Most importantly it reminds us, with its beauty, why the natural world is worth fighting for.

Beautiful BC

Beautiful BC

What you can do after reading this.

1. Write a letter. Letters can have huge impacts!

We recently wrote letters about Site C from our bus while stealing Wifi in Vanderhoof. We can all do it so let’s let our elected officials know how we feel about Canada’s energy policies.

2. Diesel? Gasoline? Doesn’t matter! Install a hydrogen kit in your car.

3. Take five minutes of your day to goggle Kristianstad. It’s a modern city in Sweden that is on target to be fossil fuel free. It’s rad and gives us hope that there is another path we can take.

All the best.

Till the next time,

Jazzy ripping down a line.

Jazzy ripping down a line.

Beyond Boarding is an organization dedicated to spreading interest in humanitarian and environmental work within the snowboarding and surf community

www.beyondboarding.org
Words of advice? got something to tell us?
Our mailing address is:
beyondboarding@gmail.com

B4BC for Megs – A Fundraiser for Pro Snowboarder Megan Pischke

A Fundraising Benefit for Megan Pischke
April 17, 2013

3PM –  6PM après  |  7PM – 2:00AM event
Merlin’s Bar & Grill in Whistler Blackcomb, BC

Boarding for Breast Cancer (B4BC) seeks your support in honoring and raising funds for one of our own, pro snowboarder and B4BC ambassador Megan Pischke. Megan, who has been leading B4BC’s Survivor ReTreats for the past 5 years, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and is in need of support for her ongoing treatment and integrated health care.

Spark R&D has donated a custom pair of Blaze LTs for the silent auction. Please attend this event if you can, or consider donating if you cannot make it in person. Please stand in solidarity with Megan and her family, rally your friends and all you know, and give a little towards someone who gives so much to all of us!

More info on the event here: http://www.stayclassy.org/whistler-bc-canada/events/b4bc-4-megs-fundraiser-for-b4bcs-friend-pro-snowboarder-megan-pischke/e23910