If you’d like to hear a conversation with Lead Forecaster Frank Carus, go to the latest MWAC Outreach interview with Andrew Drummond on Soundcloud or click on the embedded image above. They discuss the long sliding fall incident on Monday, strategies to deal with hard, steep snow, communication and first response strategies, the upcoming weather for the weekend and issues surrounding the pandemic.
MWAC Director Frank Carus joined Laura Knoy on the NH Public Radio show “The Exchange”. They talked about the growth of backcountry skiing, avalanches in New England, avalanche accidents and human factors and answered questions from callers. You can listen to the recording here.
The 9th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop is coming up soon! As usual, the amazing group of volunteers is putting together another great program with awesome raffles, prizes and giveaways from generous sponsors like Patagonia, the American Avalanche Association, Sterling, Mammut, BCA, Ortovox, and many others. Go to esaw.org to get your tickets.
ESAW 2019 Preliminary Schedule
07:30 – 08:30 Registration
08:30 – 08:45 Welcome, Introduction, Housekeeping, Ski Patrol and Knieriem Scholarship
Frank Carus, Director, USFS Mount Washington Avalanche Center
Morning Session 1
08:45 – 09:00 Remote weather station study; Liz Jurakowski – Plymouth State University
09:00 – 09:20 Season Weather Summary; Rebecca Scholand – Mount Washington Observatory
09:20 – 09:45 Raymond Cataract fatality case study; Frank Carus – Director, Mount Washington Avalanche Center
09:45 – 10:15 Smuggler’s Notch avalanche case study and organizational response; US Army Mountain Warfare School cadre; Dustin Dearborn, Tim McLaughlin, Nathan Fry
10:15 – 10:25 Friends of Tuckerman Ravine update; Jake Risch, President, Friends of Tuckerman Ravine
10:25 -10:35 Break & Raffle
Morning Session 2
10:35 – 10:55 Risk Mitigation Among Passive vs. Active Backcountry Users; Eammon Lynch, University of New Brunswick.
10:55 – 11:35 Stress Injuries to Avalanche Rescuers; Nathalia Daniel, Dartmouth College
11:35 – 12:15 Global comparison- Avalanche Safety and Rescue outcomes; Dale Atkins, RECCO, 25 year ski patroller, former CAIC forecaster
12:15 – 1:00 Lunch – Optional 20 min. presentation on Colorado Mountain College Avalanche Science program
1:00 – 1:10 Raffle
Afternoon Session 1
1:10 – 1:20 White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation update; Bethann Swartz, White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation Board Member
1:20 – 1:50 Avalanche Rescue Case Study; Graham Kane, W-NREMT-P, Vail Mtn. Rescue, Vail Ski Patrol
1:50 – 2:25 Panel Discussion
Moderator—Frank Carus, Mount Washington Avalanche Center
Participants— Dale Atkins, Graham Kane, Nathalia Daniel, Helon Hoffer
2:25 – 2:40 Break & Raffle
Afternoon Session 2
2:40 – 3:40 Small Team Response to Avalanche Rescue; Graham Kane, W-NREMT-P, Vail Mtn. Rescue, Vail Ski Patrol
3:40 – 4:00 MWAC Past, Present and Future, Ask Me Anything; Frank Carus – Director, Mount Washington Avalanche Center
4:00 – 4:30 Avalanche Accidents: The Illusion of Control and Perils of Positive Outcomes ; Dale Atkins, RECCO, 25 year ski patroller, former CAIC forecaster
4:30 – 5:00 Final Raffle, Social hour with sponsors
5:00 Tuckerman Brewing Aprés Party with Protect Our Winters
This past season was a test for the MWAC forecast team and for many in the larger community. The rugged and beautiful mountains nearby provide opportunities for challenge, growth and recovery from the workaday world but they can also be swift and merciless in their distribution of lessons to those that work and play on their flanks. MWAC staff tackled a major project by expanding the area covered by the avalanche forecast. We learned a lot in the process and look forward to continuing with the current forecast area. As you know, this past season was marked by personal losses for many when an avalanche, an icy slope and apparently irreconcilable mental health issues claimed three lives on Mount Washington. Losses such as these affect mountain communities around the world and motivate avalanche forecast and mountain rescue operations and other professionals to try to prevent such future tragedies.
Here at MWAC, we will continue to step up our game in whatever arena will help and with whatever resources we can gather. Among these efforts this coming season will be continued outreach events out in the community, from avalanche awareness talks from Boston to Portland to Montreal to Hartford and points in between and school programs designed to spark a curiosity in middle schoolers about the dynamic nature of snow in the environment. We also seek to increase the scope and timeliness of snow and weather data collection. In cooperation with WMNF Hydrology (thanks, Gryz!) and the Mount Washington Observatory (thanks Keith, Peter, Sharon and everyone else), we’ll be deploying a high tech snow and weather station that produces hourly data to be displayed in real time through a number of internet websites, including our own. Following the tragic deaths this year, we will work to improve the chain of survival for accident victims, target public messaging and continue to try to help folks make better decisions and return home after their adventures. Those efforts are manifesting in relationships with the medical community in the state of NH and partnerships with Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, presentations at the upcoming Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop, and continued resolve to educate and inform our community on snow and avalanche conditions in the White Mountains.
Your support is crucial to these efforts. Whether it is a shared observation on our website or volunteering with Friends of Tuckerman Ravine, the MWV Ski Patrol, or other cooperating organizations, these efforts mean the world. We can’t do what we do without your help and support! Speaking of which, Friends of Tuckerman Ravine is looking for new Board members. As you may know, FOTR is our partner organization that donates time, money and materials to help MWAC in many areas. They are currently seeking help in some specific areas, namely; Communications –press releases, messaging, and public information campaigns; Development – membership, corporate partnerships, donor relations, volunteer recruitment; Facilities and infrastructure – maintenance, upgrades and planning for Hermit Lake and USFS Pinkham Notch locales; and Events and Fundraising – outreach events, parties, movies, slide shows and ESAW. If you have some free time and can help, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope this post finds you well and enjoying the beautiful and (mostly) bug-free late summer weather. If you haven’t already, pull out your transceiver batteries, sign up for an avalanche class or refresher and mark October 19th on your calendar for the 9th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop! We are already preparing to meet whatever challenges come our way this season as we fill the position vacated by western-bound Ryan Matz and tackle the myriad tasks and projects associated with the avalanche center. Until I see you on skis on or around the Rockpile this winter, maybe I’ll see you on a mountain bike, a hiking trail or local cliff!
This important field research produces fascinating and useful data that helps guide public land management. The office space is awesome too! See details below:
If you use the Mt. Washington Auto Road to access backcountry ski terrain this spring, please realize that you are heading up to one of the most fragile alpine areas on the east coast. You can help preserve this unique habitat by how you park your vehicle and how you access the ski routes.
Please park only in the recognized parking lots and not along the sides of the road. If the smaller parking areas near the top are full, you should continue to the summit parking lots.
Help protect the fragile plants of the alpine zone landscape. Stay on a trail or step carefully from rock to rock, avoiding any plants, shrubs or grasses.
As winter turns rapidly to spring, a number of hazards become prevalent in the steep terrain of the Presidential Range and particularly the Headwall of Tuckerman Ravine. Waterfall holes, glide cracks or crevasses, moats around cliffs and rocks, and other deep holes open as the thick snowpack melts. A fall into these holes, which often also have significant amounts of cold flowing water which can quickly cause hypothermia, can be very difficult to escape or be rescued from. Such accidents have resulted in several fatalities in Tuckerman Ravine. A lucky skier had a very close call in this type of accident yesterday.
At 1:58 PM on Monday, April 22, a skier fell over the Tuckerman Ravine headwall and into one of several waterfall holes. Partners and bystanders quickly initiated rescue efforts and also called 911 for emergency response. Unsure of where under the snow the fallen skier was, a beacon search was initiated and could have been helpful, though this was a non-avalanche accident. At 2:18 pm, after 20 minutes out of view to the rescuers, the subject climbed out of a different hole in the snow and slid down to the rescue party below him in the slope. He had lost his skis, poles, and pack.
The subject was alert, oriented, and able to walk but in pain from several impacts during the fall. He was also cold and wet from spending most of the 20 minutes in very cold flowing water, though not submerged. The rescue party quickly changed his clothes to drier ones. They wrapped him in a sleeping bag and briefly transported him in a rescue litter obtained from the nearby Connection Cache of emergency supplies. In effort to warm the subject, the rescue party then helped the subject begin walking down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail towards Hermit Lake.
Meanwhile, U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers were notified of the incident by emergency dispatchers. They travelled to Hermit Lake with urgency, aware than similar accidents have historically been fatal. Upon arriving at Hermit Lake, Snow Rangers were told by the AMC caretaker that the subject had extracted himself from the waterfall hole and was walking, with aid, down to Hermit Lake. They proceeded up the trail, meeting the rescue party at 3:20 PM. The subject, still alert and oriented but now warmer, was transported to Pinkham Notch via snowcat and released to the care of friends.
This positive outcome should be regarded as quite lucky and be taken as a warning for all who travel on steep snow slopes in spring conditions in our mountains. Had the subject, who was a strong athlete and also a climber, been unable to self-extricate himself from the waterfall hole the outcome could have been far worse. Many of these deep holes in the snow are impossible for even the strongest individual to climb out of. Extricating a person from these holes can be very dangerous for rescuers and is difficult to accomplish in a sufficiently timely manner to save a life. We know the subject would urge you to learn from this accident, giving potentially deep holes and glide cracks in the snow a wide berth and taking care to not fall above one.
The rescue initiated by partners and bystanders of the subject was a positive example we would also like you to learn from. Partners were paying attention to each other and able to quickly initiate a rescue. They had sufficient dry clothing and emergency supplies to provide proper care for the subject. Several emergency medical professionals observed the accident and immediately helped rescue efforts. Rescuers had knowledge that a litter and hypothermia wrap materials were available in nearby Connection Cache and used them. All individuals on the scene had avalanche rescue gear, as large wet slab avalanches were forecast as unlikely but not impossible that day. While a call was made for professional rescue, this group realized that they could provide timely aid to the subject and took appropriate action that could have resulted in an effective evacuation had professional rescue been delayed or unavailable. This self-reliant level of accident response is commendable. It is also the level of response that everyone travelling in the backcountry should be prepared for, every time you’re out.
Please learn from this accident to have a safer spring ski season, and see you on the hill!
USFS Snow Rangers are helping the New Hampshire Fish and Game in the search for Porith Stephon Sou. He has been reported missing since March 8, 2019 when he left Dracut, MA. He is described as an 21 year old Asian male, thin build, 5’ 2” in height. His vehicle was located at the AMC Pinkham Notch parking lot on Saturday, March 16. It is believed that he may have been seen on the Lionhead Winter Route on Friday, March 8th . If you have any information or if you may have seen him on the mountain, please call the New Hampshire Fish and Game at 603-271-3361 or email email@example.com.
On Sunday, February 10, 2019 at 4:45 p.m. U.S. Forest Service Snow Rangers from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center responded to a report of an overdue climber. Local volunteer search and rescue teams assembled with Snow Rangers to search the terrain above Huntington Ravine and below the climbers intended route. The climber was attempting to climb a moderately difficult snow and ice climb called Central Gully. Icy surface conditions that developed in the mountains following several days of warm temperatures and rain increased the danger of long sliding falls the day of the accident. The body was found at approximately 7:45 p.m., recovered from the mountain, and released to local authorities that night. The incident is currently under investigation with law enforcement. When it is appropriate to do so, the Mount Washington Avalanche Center will release an incident report as a public safety and educational tool designed to inform the recreating public of any lessons learned.
The U.S. Forest Service operates the Mount Washington Avalanche Center (MWAC). MWAC issues daily avalanche forecasts and assumes search and rescue responsibilities from the State of New Hampshire for the Cutler River Drainage annually between December 1st and May 31st. In addition to identifying probability of encountering snow avalanches, the forecast contains mountain safety information to help guide Forest visitor decision-making when entering the backcountry.
For media inquiries regarding this incident, please contact Evan Burks, White Mountain National Forest Public Affairs Officer at 603-536-6215.
We had the privilege of spending the day with Sean Hurley from NHPR a couple weeks back. Here are the results of tour of the east side in in pictures and audio. Once again, Lily proves herself to be the most popular and interesting snow ranger while Sean demonstrates one of the most soothing and mellow voices on the radio today. ;-)
Got a Mount Washington or Presidential Range tale to tell. Contact Sean at NHPR.
You’ve likely noticed, and many have asked us, what’s an avalanche warning all about? The purpose of an avalanche warning is to save lives by alerting the public when avalanches are certain or very likely in many areas and when unusually dangerous avalanche conditions exist. Those of you who read our advisory regularly probably don’t need to see an avalanche warning to know when unusually dangerous avalanche conditions are developing.
Intrepid backcountry skiers and snowboarders now regularly ski in avalanche terrain across the Presidential Range over the entirety of the winter season. Ice climbers, winter hikers, and mountaineers continue to climb and travel in avalanche paths outside of Huntington and Tuckerman ravines. To meet this increased use and support informed decision making, the U.S. Forest Service’s Mount Washington Avalanche Center (MWAC) is expanding avalanche forecasting to nearly the entire northern Presidential Range for the 2018-19 season.