Snow in the mountains always brings unfettered joy and fun.
But Snow in the mountains also means avalanches. Recently, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and Donner Ski Ranch had avalanches in which skiers were trapped and subsequently died.
If avalanches can happen at the ski resorts, what happens in the back country?
What happens are avalanches. Some are reported, more aren’t, simply because there’s nobody out there to see them.
The conditions for back country skiing throughout the Sierra right now are described as “…awesome, just plain awesome!” by returning back country skiers. That is music to the ears of all of us.
Tim Roffe, a former ski patroler, skis the back country and says that the snow is deep and good.
Monte Hendricks and Rich Platt of the El Dorado Nordic Ski Patrol are very experienced back country skiers who are out there all the time, and their take on it is the same. Nice, very nice.
Along with experience, avalanche awareness is critical to back country safety. The Sierra Avalanche Center (sierraavalanchecenter.org) tracks avalanche conditions, issues advisories and writes up a very fact filled report on every reported avalanche.
Experienced back country skiers check the Sierra Avalanche Center site before they head out — a necessary first step, especially for those back country skiers who ski the slopes.
Knowing when to avoid certain slopes, and the good sense to back off when conditions warrant it, may mean the difference between a good day skiing and a very bad day in the snow.
Learn all you can about avalanches, snow, and back country survival if you intend to ski out in the forest. Always let someone know where you are going, and when you hope to be back.
In general, back country skiers, those who ski in the forests, should do so only with a partner, and only with enough knowledge and gear to do so safely. Remember that what you have when you are out there is you, your partner, and the snowy woods. Your cell phone and GPS gadget may not work out there.
The snow, at the resorts and in the back country, is wonderful right now, throughout the Sierra. Take advantage of it but do it safely. Get outside!