ESAW wrap-up and Outreach Events

It’s hard to believe that this year marked the 10th year of our annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop.  Over the years, the event has been hosted in many locations including in the basement of the Weather Discovery Center and the gym of the John Fuller Elementary School in the early days of the event, to the prestigious ballroom of the Mount Washington Hotel, and more recently at Fryeburg Academy’s Leura Hill Eastman Center for Performing Arts. This year, like all other Snow and Avalanche Workshops across the country, we adopted the virtual format. In addition to hosting some incredibly accomplished avalanche professionals from across the US and Canada, this format proved to vastly increase the accessibility of the event with a record attendance of over 450 participants. 

 

The 10th Annual ESAW was split into three shorter, evening sessions with two speakers each night and a “roundtable” discussion with all speakers on the final evening. It broke down like this: 

 

Night 1 Night 2 Night 3
Eric Knoff

Using the ECT and PST to reduce false stable snowpack assessments

Don Sharaf

Wind Slab; Anticipation, Observation and Management

Frank Carus

Updates from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center

Grant Statham

The Howse Peak Search and Recovery Operation

Bruce Tremper 

Back to the Basics – All I really need to know I learned in a Level I Class.

All Speakers

Panel Discussion

Interactive Q & A Interactive Q & A
Link:

https://esaw.org/2020-esaw-tuesday-november-17th/

Link:

https://esaw.org/2020-esaw-wednesday-november-17th/

Link:

https://esaw.org/2020-esaw-thursday-november-19th/

 

We have included links to the recorded presentations from each night for anyone who may have missed ESAW or who might want to access these talks for reference in the future.  Here are some of the big takeaways from the presentations.

 

Takeaways from night 1: 

Eric Knoff of Six Point Avalanche Education presented on using both the Extended Column Test and the Propagation Saw Test in test pits to reduce false stable assessments. Eric dug into a huge dataset that was derived from the computer program SnowPilot in order to look at the results of PSTs versus the results of ECTs in the same test pits and began to quantify their relationship. Knoff made strong arguments for a broader adoption of the PST in conjunction with an ECT done in the same test pit. He presented evidence that using these two tests to examine the same instability can paint a clearer picture of the avalanche problem and its susceptibility to triggering and propagation while ultimately helping to reduce false stable results.

Out of respect for the families of David Lama, Hansjorg Auer, and Jess Roskelley, Grant Statham’s presentation was not included in the ESAW recording.  For those who watched the presentation live, it was a harrowing first-hand account of the complex rescue and body recovery of the three professional climbers from their deadly accident on Howse Peak in 2019. Statham broke down the incident command system, tactics, and outcome of the weeklong mission which gained significant media attention due to the high profile of the climbers and their objective – a new route near M16 on the East face of Howse Peak. Investigative in nature, Statham helped paint the picture of the route accomplishment and what might have happened on the descent. For anyone interested in learning more about this incident, check out John Roskelley’s (Jess’ father) article in the American Alpine Journal. http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/13201215535

 

Takeaways from night 2: 

It was exciting to hear about wind slabs from someone who has spent most of his career in some pretty windy areas.  Don Sharaf got his start with snow as the Hermit Lake Caretaker getting to know wind slabs intimately before living or working in other windy ranges including the Tetons, the Chugach and Alaska Range, and the Himalaya. Don presented strategies and techniques for forecasting, testing, and managing terrain involving wind slab avalanche problems. His depth of experience in this area and advice for dealing with wind slabs was valuable and pertinent for both professionals and recreationalists. 

Distilling complex information into simpler terms for presentation while still capturing the nuance of the topic is incredibly challenging, and arguably one of the hardest parts of being an avalanche educator.  It was inspiring to watch Bruce Tremper deliver a creative Back to Basics presentation because of his ability to do this and have his presentation be equally relevant for novice backcountry skiers as it was for avalanche educators, guides, and forecasters.  Bruce talked about statistically-significant strategies for reducing our risk of being caught in an avalanche, using terrain to your advantage as a backcountry traveler, and travel rituals.  That approach has helped Bruce live a long life working around avalanche terrain. 

 

Takeaways from night 3:

The third night brought together all speakers in a roundtable-type discussion. ESAW is always a great time to see avalanche specialists come together from across the country and share ideas, trends, and stories from their local mountain ranges. This open dialogue and discussion and the collaboration that it leads to is a great example of how we can all move forward as a community. For the panelists, their connection during avalanche workshops can lead to future research projects or partnerships, adoption of new methods, and the continued evolution of best practices. For the audience, not only does new learning come from this type of discussion, but it is a fantastic reminder of the effectiveness of working together and helping each other out.

All indicators are pointing to this backcountry season being a busy one. Shops are selling out of touring equipment, internet forums are more active than ever before, ski resorts have heightened restrictions, and backcountry ski media is “in” right now. For anyone just getting started in the sport, welcome! We encourage you to seek out some education and coaching from guide services, avalanche educators, and more experienced friends. For those of us on our X season of backcountry skiing and riding – be aware of the increase of people in avalanche terrain, don’t be afraid to help someone out who might need it, and above all else: Ski Kind. We like this graphic:

 

Intro to Avalanche Awareness Night Recap

On October 30th we hosted a series of short presentations from local guides and educators covering some basic topics of avalanche education and awareness. We saw an incredible attendance of almost 800 participants! A few of the presentation topics included Choosing your Backcountry Partners, The Avalanche Danger Scale, and Identifying Avalanche Terrain.  Thanks to our local presenters Nick Aiello-Popeo, David Lottman, Tyler Falk, and Jon Tierney.  Check out the recorded presentations here : 

https://esaw.org/avalanche-safety-video/

 

Another great resource for anyone new to backcountry skiing is a a new book by local skier Brett St. Clair and ACMG Ski Guide Craig Evanoff called Tips for Beginning Backcountry Skiers.  This book is available for free as a PDF download here : https://www.dezaiko.com/ski-tips-book

 

Updates from Mount Washington Avalanche Center:

 

  • New website will be launched this season.  Look for a format that is the same as some other forecast centers in the Western US. 
  • The biggest noticeable change in the forecasts will be avalanche hazard by elevation with three distinct elevation ranges plus a rating for the following day.
  • Two new Snow Rangers for the 2020/2021 season.
  • Hermit Lake snotel site is up and running but the 3 hour, 6 hour and 24 hour display is currently unreliable. Use the hourly display for totals. 
  • COVID has limited numbers of potential rescuers on the mountain. Be prepared to self rescue by traveling with at least one other person and by carrying the appropriate equipment.
  • We will adding Avalanche Awareness talks over the next few days. Check our embedded calendar on our Hompage for details and ways to connect virtual talks. These are free events!

 

Upcoming Events to Look For:

 

  • Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain w/ Mike Austin.  December 10th, 7:00pm
  • Youth Avalanche Course on March 6, 2021
  • Avalanche Rescue Clinics this winter at Hermit Lake
  • Continuing avalanche education presentations
  • A schedule of virtual avalanche awareness talks will be posted soon

 

 

Thank you!!

Patrick Scanlan – WMAEF volunteer

 

A huge thank you to Bruce, Grant, Eric, Don, and Frank for taking the time to present at ESAW  this year. Another huge thank you to all who attended ESAW.  The ticket sales from this event go a long way in supporting these educational opportunities and in supporting the Mount Washington Avalanche Center Operations. 

 

Thanks to our ESAW Sponsors : 

 

Black Diamond Equipment for their donation of an avalanche beacon for the raffle

DPS Skis for their support of our educational programs and specifically, our youth program

Patagonia for their donation of a DAS parka for the raffle

 

Raffle Winners : Congratulations to : 

 

Mateusz Patrosz, winner of a Patagonia DAS Parka!

 

Jonathan Hartnett, winner of a Patagonia DAS Parka!

 

Thomas Feenstra, winner of a Black Diamond Avalanche Beacon!

 

 

Help needed at the Harvard Cabin!

Each year, between December 1 and March 31, the Harvard Mountaineering Club operates a cabin at the base of Huntington Ravine, a popular destination for backcountry skiers, ice climbers, and other winter recreationists.  The Cabin caretaker provides critical support to the Forest Service through daily snow study plot observations, as well as critical help during search and rescue efforts.

Revenue from people staying at the cabin is typically just enough to cover the cost of a caretaker. Due to COVID-19, the HMC is unable to open the cabin to the public and thus fund the caretaker position. The New Hampshire Outdoors Council has already provided a grant for $3000, and this fundraiser will be used to cover the remainder of the caretaker’s winter stipend, with any excess funds going toward cabin maintenance (especially the new privy!).

To donate, click here for the GoFundMe page.

Please feel free to share your e-mail at https://forms.gle/YGeXQMGCLBqHRRix8 if you’d like to keep abreast of the Harvard Cabin and future developments!

Please note: while the cabin is closed to the public this season, camping at the cabin is permitted until March 31 as usual.

Avalanche Center Outreach Podcast

Andrew Drummond at the Ski the Whites invited Frank Carus and Pat Scanlon from Carrabassett Valley Academy to talk about the presentations given at the 10th Annual ESAW, decision making, future events from the White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation and Friends of Tuckerman Ravine. They also discuss what this season may look like in the Presidential Range. You can listen on your favorite podcast handling app or on Spotify here.

East Side Closure lifts Monday, June 8

The USDA Forest Service is making every effort to expand access to recreation sites within the context of CDC guidance and state and local government orders for residents, while prioritizing employee and public health and safety. The White Mountain NF (WMNF) is working closely with state and local partners to determine the best path forward to safely reopen sites closed in response to the pandemic. As a result of those efforts, the east side closure of Mount Washington and the Cutler River Drainage will be lifted on Monday, June 8th. Services will be limited with no camping allowed in the Cutler River Drainage, including at Hermit Lake Shelters and tent platforms or Harvard Cabin.

The WMNF asks the public to please recreate responsibly. Snow rangers are no longer on site and law enforcement and/or search and rescue operations may be limited due to COVID-19 issues so be prepared to perform your own rescue.  Please seek out the AMC caretaker at Hermit Lake, or the new visitor information window at Pinkham Notch if you need assistance. Dial 911 for emergencies and be prepared to start your own rescue. It could be a long wait for rescue personnel to arrive. This is not the time for the typical large groups in Tuckerman Ravine and now more than ever, novice visitors should leave their skis at home.

Currently, conditions on the mountain are more typical of snow found in late April or May during most average years. This season was an average year for total snowfall but when combined with limited melting events, we are left with an east-side snowpack well above average in depth. Spring hazards are now plentiful with snow and ice on most shaded or wind-loaded trails above 3,500′. Those planning to hike to the summit from Pinkham should have boots and crampons and, ideally, an ice axe due to several sections of steep snow at tree-line and on the summit cone where a slip could end badly.

All photos were taken Friday, June 5th. This is the first half of the traverse across steep snow before the summer Lionhead Trail emerges from treeline. There is a cliff band below this slope behind a thin screen of trees which may, or may not, stop a fall. As more folks travel this trail a trough develops which can make it a bit safer but in freezing conditions or after a period of warming, the slope remains a hazard. Be prepared with ice axe and crampons on stiff soled boots.

The Tuckerman Ravine trail is now closed where it passes through the Headwall. The crevasses and waterfall hole make this section impassable for skiers and extremely dangerous for hikers and their would-be rescuers. To understand the reasoning behind the closure, see this video. The summer Lion Head Trail is the shortest route to the summit from Pinkham and the typical route for folks when snow remains in Tucks. The Lion Head Trail has several long stretches of steep snow that create significant hazard for unprepared hikers. Stiff soled boots, crampons and an ice axe will lower your risk of a long, sliding fall in those sections.

 

Left Gully remains skiable top to bottom and Sluice ice has fallen completely. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the moats and waterfall holes are open and they are deep! Here’s another view in this video taken from Right Gully.

 

Hillman’s Highway is also still filled in top to bottom. Be alert for undermined areas! If you hear water, you may be near or over a thin spot. These holes can be nasty and surprisingly deep. You can best avoid these by booting up the edge of the gully and by giving any existing holes a wide berth. Holes tend to appear first in the lower half of the gully. That’s a good place to move towards the edge of the couloir.

 

Glide cracks like this one in the fork of Hillman’s are prevalent and obvious throughout the terrain. Mostly they are small and harmless.

 

Windows to the Wild episode

Host Willem Lange and crew spent a day with us at Hermit Lake. Great to have them up and spend the day with our ski patrol and the White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation Youth Course. Check it out:

https://video.nhpbs.org/video/mountain-safety-z7gbi4/

MWAC Outreach Apr 04 2020 – Tucks is Closed – SoundCloud

Listen to MWAC Outreach Apr 04 2020 – Tucks is Closed by Ski The Whites on #SoundCloud

Andrew and lead snow ranger Frank Carus talk about events leading to the closure, the reasoning and process behind it, emerging spring hazards and end of season gear maintenance.

 

 

Read more

Access Prohibitions on Mount Washington

The USFS Mount Washington Avalanche Center has issued its final avalanche and mountain safety forecast for the 2019/20 season.

At this time, the need to reduce exposure of workers and forest visitors to the novel coronavirus outweighs the value of providing avalanche safety information to backcountry travelers. The decision to stop forecasts was made in order to better provide for public health and safety by reducing interactions between the recreating public, USFS employees and volunteers. NH Governor’s Order Section 18 of Executive Order 2020-04, part 4 requests that the public limit non-essential travel and further defines essential businesses and activities. Among the allowed activities are “leaving home for outdoor recreation” or “to get fresh air and exercise” provided that appropriate social distancing protocols are observed. The unavoidable travel and social congregation that occur in Tuckerman Ravine, Gulf of Slides, nearby hiking trails, and parking areas suggest that more aggressive measures are needed in order to comply with state and federal guidelines intended to reduce the spread and impact of coronavirus.

There is an official closure order now in place for an expanded area which includes all of Tuckerman and Huntington Ravine as well as the Gulf of Slides, Appalachian Mountain Club Visitors Center grounds, parking lots and facilities at Pinkham Notch.  These areas are now closed to the public for all use including hiking, skiing and riding, or climbing. This larger closure is in addition to the annual closure of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail above Lunch Rocks.

Violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of not more than $5000.00 for an individual or $10,000.00 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than six (6) months, or both (16 U.S.C., 18 U.S.C. 3559 and 3571).

R9-22-20-02 Closure Order, Closure Order Map, Press Release

The USFS and MWAC understand and support the need for outdoor recreation, fresh air and exercise but interpret the measures to limit the spread should exclude riskier activities, particularly at a highly popular venue which attracts visitors from around the region. Furthermore, high risk activities such as skiing and climbing in complex avalanche terrain with extreme weather conditions create an unnecessary risk of injury or a need for search and rescue intervention. What is frequently overlooked is the potential for an injury, even a minor one, takes on much different logistics when hiking, than, say, walking around your neighborhood. These injuries could lead to rescues and the opportunity to further spread the virus through close contact among rescuers and the patient, whether they show symptoms or not.

We acknowledge that the absence of avalanche and mountain safety forecasts increases your risk in the backcountry, but since backcountry travel is not an essential need at this time of pandemic, you assume this increased risk. We will continue to support local rescue teams with spot forecasts on request but every effort will be made to encourage parties to self-rescue without intervention.

Thank you for your support as we all grapple with challenging decisions and redefine our work and community life. We look forward to getting through this pandemic with a minimum loss of life and economic disruption.

For more information, contact:

Sherman Hogue, Public Affairs Officer, sherman.hogue@usda.gov, p) 603-536-6215 or c) 603-348-1649

Or Colleen Mainville, Public Affairs Specialist, colleen.mainville@usda.gov, p) 603-536-6243 or c) 603-790-0860

End of the season and closures

Thank you for your support through this season that ended much differently than normal. We had a successful season from a safety standpoint with only a handful of incidents and accidents despite quite a few human triggered avalanches. The community stoke was high though the snowpack and weather did not supply the goods as often as we would like. As usual, our amazing ski patrol turned out to help in March and were invaluable in navigating those first weekends when the coronavirus reared its ugly head. Late in March, we had @avalanchegeeks, Mike Austin to work as an intern with Glenn Pinson as an emergency hire. They were meant to provide late winter opportunities for the other members of the snow ranger team to take some time off. Turns out, vacation travel was off the table given the rising epidemic, but the two visiting forecasters helped us maintain social distancing among the team and reduced our exposure time to the public and to each other. 

The season ends on the east side of the range with a closure order in effect for the east side of Mount Washington, including Gulf of Slides, Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine and all of the trails in between. While this may seem to be an extreme measure, consider the viewpoint of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease. “the fact is what I like to see is when people look at what we’re doing and say, ‘you’re overreacting.’ For me, the dynamics and the history of outbreaks is you are never where you think you are with the (spread)– if you think you’re in-line with the outbreak, you’re already three weeks behind. So you’ve got to be almost overreacting a bit to keep up with it.” So in addition to the annual closure that occurs to the section of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, a much larger closure is in effect. Pinkham Notch parking lot will be closed to the public, with both the closure orders enforced with fines and even possible jail time.

Please do your part and stay near home, hike in the woods, run a new route, or take up that project you’ve been putting off. The mountains have been around for a long time and will be here when life returns to normal. Thanks again for your cooperation as we navigate these rough waters.

Frank Carus, Lead Snow Ranger
Director, USFS Mount Washington Avalanche Center

MWAC Outreach Podcast

MWAC Outreach Podcast

This week’s topics – AMC Closures and Forest access, Snowpack Summary, Weekend Forecast, Resources for checking conditions, Using a 50-cal for avy control.

Follow Mike: www.instagram.com/avalanchegeeks
Follow MWAC: www.instagram.com/mwacenter