Saturday, 12 April 2014

The begining of the end - of winter!

Well the weather is truly shite for Spring with mild temps and the snow retreating up the hills and down the rivers but little sunshine. Not much good for road bike training but OK on the trails for the mountain bike.  I met up with Gordon Fraser from Anatom Ltd mid week and we had a good chat about BCA kit and the excellent new Tracker 3 and how I found it. I also met up on Friday with one of the legends of mountain rescue Dave (Heavy) Whalley to discuss past avalanches that I had been at, and to get more details of them for statistics he is collating. It's quite interesting opening the lid of these old emotional boxes and shedding some fresh light on past events.

As winter passes off I have a few random closing thoughts on the season past. There is a big growth of interest in snow science, and snow pit data collection, both from the occasional skier or mountaineer to the professional. My own take has always been that snow safety is a must know part and snow science only a nice to know. Pre trip planning and dynamic assessment by using your eyes and observational skills and noting what's going on around you and actually interpreting what the avalanche forecast (and it is just a forecast, so not set in stone) and the narrative that the forecaster has put down is the most important part. And being flexible and prepared to back off!  It's all remarkably simple, as is the beacon and victim recovery training for when you err, as sadly we all can.
Fundementals - Good planning and being spatially aware. Then rescue drills for when we err
As more folk get a handle on the snow science then they seem become instant experts in this, and to many folk this is a the key to avalanche avoidance. I don't buy into that, and see it merely as trying to churn out pseudo avalanche forecasters. I am not saying its not useful, but only that an understanding of the basics of snow structure is necessary and this can be done in a two hour lesson on an avalanche awareness day if your lucky enough to have an interesting snow pit. Beyond knowing that snow melts and refreezes, crystals re grow or get rounder, and that there are weaker and stronger denser layers within a a snow pack, and that gravity and therefore angle is critical in relation to additional load - then I am not sure any more is relevant. You can do this in a good pit or on the back of an envelope if your clients are sharp. I have had clients ask me for an "advanced" avalanche course seem disappointed when I tell them there is no such thing and like first aid its the basics done well that matters, but that I can add in a little bit of basic geography and physics in an extra couple of hours, not days.

I sell avalanche equipment and this season snow study equipment is going well. I have this picture in my mind of all these folk running about like Antwerp diamond dealer looking for the minutiae of crystals instead of lifting their head and seeing the HD big screen picture. I guess though it gives the folk teaching it more money as they can stretch out the length of an avalanche course - and they produce more snow experts. Trouble is though I have seen experts get avalanched this winter, even after a pit has been dug. In summary I suppose what I am saying is that there is nothing that needs to be labelled advanced or that needs many days to learn. It's all really basic geography, physics and mark one eyeball stuff.
Snow science. Nice to know - but you don't need it in depth (no pun intended)

"There's beauty everywhere. There are amazing things happening everywhere, you just have to be able to open your eyes and witness it. Some days, that's harder than others"

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