Learning about Avalanches!

By:  Ben
February 26, 2010

This past weekend I followed Sam and Allen’s lead and took the AIARE Avalanche Level II course offered by Marc Chauvin of Chauvin Guides. Over the 4 day course we learned more about snowpack layering, metamorphosis, and stability. In the field we practiced digging pits and taking standardized notes, snowpack stability tests, multiburial beacon techniques and rescues. Marc is a great teacher who understands the skier’s perspective of managing non-zero risk safely when skiing in avi terrain.

Unfortunately, NH hasn’t gotten any snow this year, so we couldn’t really practice in North Conway where the classroom portion of the class took place. Our first field day was a jaunt to Crawford Notch where we found some snow (barely) deep enough to dig a reasonable snow pit and practice taking a pit profile on the mighty 64 cm of base (yes it was a shaded wind drift). As is typical for the east, our pit revealed several ice crust layers in various states of disintegration.

Pit work

Our next field day involved a journey to Pinkham Notch where we hoped the higher elevation would yield deeper base depths. Unfortunately, the snowpack was just as dismal as in Crawford. Still, we were able to dig a few pits and practice rescue scenarios.

Marc Compression Testing
Marc (not Chauvin) practices his shovel compression test

The sun was pretty as it set over the Gulf of Slides

For our last day we decided to head up to the Gulf of Slides and try to get some skiing in and look at a deeper snowpack. Given that I had been staying at the luxury accommodations provided free of charge by Chez Subaru (hey, being a famous internet skier gives you certain benefits), I opted to stay in Pinkham for the night. A wind raged through most of the night as the low off to the northeast flirted with bringing in more snow. In the end, though, the wind died down and the next day turned out relatively calm with the mountains coming in and out of the clouds. We skinned up to the GOS, where we evaluated the snowpack (which is unfortunately still only around a meter deep even in favored spots at the end of the GOS ski trail). We opted to continue up, going through the woods up to the south snowfield. The ridge was in the clouds when we topped out, but by the time we got to the top of the descent gully, the sun poked its welcome head out.

Malcolm is enjoying the first legitimately sunny skies of the day

Marc Chauvin
Marc Chauvin, Mountain Guide

Unfortunately, the wind had scoured the top of the gully and compacted the snow further down, so the conditions were only ok. It’s always fun to ski an alpine gully though, and overall it was a great day on the mountain.

Chauvin skis!

Although many places on the east coast don’t usually have much in the way of avalanche hazard, this last storm showed that even in Northern Vermont we can get some unstable conditions. For anyone who is interested in expanding their horizons beyond the ski resort boundaries, I highly recommend taking an avi course, and this time of year is a great time to take one.

A few links to courses:

Read about the author:   Ben

One Comments

  1. Sam
    wrote on March 1st, 2010 at 1:08 am  

    Welcome to the club Ben. Glad to see Marc is still offering the higher level classes on the EC.

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