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West Coast Snowpack Confidence Eroded
I think it’s fair to suggest that for the most part, we’re pretty lucky on the coast when it comes to snowpack stability. We typically experience a rapid increase in the hazard rating in avalanche terrain during intense storm cycles which may include rapid warming and severe rain events (e.g look out the window) but similarly, these weather patterns tend to help consolidate and bond those week layers and help stabilize the pack and while the hazard never goes away, it often decreases near as rapidly as it increases in this wet, coastal climate.
So why then are all these avalanche incidents suddenly taking place? Is it over confidence in the west coast snowpack or a lack of appreciation for the fact that we are mid storm cycle when conditions are still very high? Is there pressure to “get out there” during our brief holiday period to shred the slopes no matter what, or is there something more complacent going on with the west coast avalanche confidence that should have been eroded weeks ago?
What ever the case, regardless of activity, the slopes are presently hanging on for that tiny trigger that’s going to release them and pull the whole snowpack down and you along with it if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I for one do not condone sitting around on the couch but that being said, choosing when and where to travel in the mountains means ramping up on due diligence when the hazard rating starts ramping up on risk. There are a number of aids and resources out there to help you make these decisions and I urge the entire backcountry community to start sharing them, discussing them and employing them in your travel habits in the backcountry. I’m not suggesting you are’t already familiar with them, I'm simply suggesting we all take more time to S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, Plan) more frequently and to reassess before committing to any slope.
Play safe and enjoy the mountains but know before you go!
Safe Travels and remeber to download (bottom of page) these hand signals for travelling in avalanche terrain.