We spend so much of our time in conversation and projecting our thoughts onto and into the broader world and those around us. One of the aspects of spending time with mountains in the wintertime is to listen because they speak back. If we’re quiet.
Other times it doesn’t matter if we’re quiet or not. When the mountains decide to announce themselves, we’ve no real choice. And no message is conveyed by the slopes of winter more clearly than avalanches. This week’s message, courtesy of Albion Basin, was “You’re not as big as you think you are.”
This month’s photos, all courtesy of Alta Ski Patrol, demonstrate just how small and fragile we are as skiers and boarders in the mountains. Each of these shots are of naturally occurring avalanches. The first came off the west slope of Sugarloaf and ran in bounds as you can see. Small and shallow as it may appear, make no mistake. Were you to be caught up in that flow it would most certainly be lethal, according Alta’s Avalanche Director, Dave Richards. To the nonprofessional that may seem surprising, which is why so many folks die in avalanches.
The second and third shots show Devils Castle and reveal just how tenuous our grasp of nature’s design really is. Just for scale, the crown of the second shot where it fractured is 10 feet high. And the slope’s instability extended all the way to the ground, stripping the entire snowpack to bare earth. No one caught in such a slide can survive such a massive avalanche.
Your correspondent managed to catch one other massive slide and the guttural, primal even, sound it makes stops every living creature in its tracks. The rumble as it passes along the surface and even subsurface makes one instinctively desire to seek shelter.
Canyon Blog mentions all of this to say how grateful he is to have the professionals on staff at Alta (and Snowbird) ski patrols keeping us safe. It’s a massive responsibility to try and mitigate the threats to the fresh tracks we all love to leave across Little Cottonwood’s upper elevations. And remember, in the case of the second avalanche, these are truly staggering slides that occurred naturally.
So, when you encounter your next red jacketed professional hopping onto the chair in front of you, crossing out of bounds, or standing by one of their strategically placed shelters, give them some recognition and a word of thanks. Without them, none of us could ski our favorite mountains safely. Bet on it.