Early Season Hazards

Words By:Simon Coward

This is a blog post we put together last season and thought it would be worth another share as a reminder to take care out there early in the season. There are lots of gremlins out there lurking to take out those with early season enthusiasm. We have many moths of great riding to come, take it easy out there and keep an eye out

Route Finding/Challenging Travel: At this time of year, moving through the lower elevation trees is often a lesson in frustration; deadfall, alders and boulders all create quite the maze for route finding and moving upwards. Also an unconsolidated snowpack will often see you sinking to the ground in air pockets around smaller trees. This poses a number of problems for early season tourers. Slow progress means you may need to alter trip plans based on the extra time it will take. Fatigue is something to consider. It is early season so often it is hard enough just climbing, add in the extra challenge of moving around at low elevations and you quickly have a tiring day. Also, it can really slow down your descent, make sure to budget time for this on these short November and December days. Terrain you would generally rip down in the good coverage Winter months can be a minefield of roots, trees and boulders all itching to wreck your knee for the season.

Barely Buried (or exposed) Hazards: Talk to most people who have spent many seasons touring early in the season and most will have a story of hooking their skis/board under a barely covered fallen tree or tree root. Now, at slow speeds, this can be an amusing scenario for your friends as you tumble head over heels into bottomless facets to the ground and spend the next 5 minutes trying to right yourself (see fatigue!) At high speeds whilst riding downhill this can be season ending. Imagine you are skiing/boarding along on a moderate to steep slope. How fast do you think you are riding? 30-40 kms an hour? Likely more for some of you. Now under that big powder pillow that looks so inviting to bounce/jump/air off put a spruce tree laying on its side.. so instead of popping off that powder pillow you bury the front of your board(s) into it and now they are under the tree, your ankles and legs are ramming into the tree.. 40kms an hour to zero in less than a second with the impact taken by your shins and legs, you see where this is going. Likely a time consuming rescue and many months of rehab. Be really careful of buried hazards, if not your season may end before it has begun!

Open Water: Things are starting to freeze up, however there is definitely open water out there, or very thin ice. Worst case scenario you end up breaking through the ice in the middle of a large lake which is a bad scene for sure. More likely is, you are skinning along a shallow coverage creek bed or river valley and you have to cross a small creek. You wander across and plop, you fall through the thin ice bridge into the water, no deeper than your boots (so your feet don’t even get wet). However, now you have both your skins covered in about 100 lbs. of wet, soggy (think slushy) ice. This is darn hard to get off properly and will make the rest of your day more challenging, perhaps limiting vertical and further adding to fatigue.

Shallow Snow Pack Conditions: We are in the Rockies I hear you say, we always have shallow snow pack conditions. Absolutely correct, but right now they are really shallow. Our depth hoar layer is mere feet or less beneath the surface in places, I think (and I have been guilty of this in the past) early season it is easy to think, ‘ahh, there isn’t enough snow to produce an avalanche I need to worry about. History has for sure proven that incorrect. Many avalanche victims succumb to trauma and right now with hazards only just buried this is particularly pertinent. Just because there isn’t a full winter snowpack out there, don’t assume the danger isn’t there. The avalanche forecast for today in K-Country is HIGH in the Alpine. Think about that, Human triggered and Natural Avalanches are LIKELY…

I love early season touring, though I find it is all about expectations. I don’t go out in November expecting to ski lots of vertical. It is great to see how the lower snowpack is shaping up, to scout lines you want to ride later in the season, get the legs working, do a bunch of transceiver searches with your friends (Burstall Pass Beacon Basin is now OPEN). The great skiing is coming soon, but I encourage you to take it easy for the time being.

Here’s to a great season ahead

Happy riding