Author Topic: Avalanche fatality in Raymond Cataract on MW  (Read 351 times)

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Avalanche fatality in Raymond Cataract on MW
« on: April 20, 2019, 11:49:16 AM »
I wrote about this in teh White Mountain Report, and thought it might be worth discussion...

I'm fairly sure that most of you have probably heard about the tragic death of a Campton man who was skiing alone on Thursday and triggered a fatal avalanche in the Raymond Cataract. Considering the number of skiers and mountaineers in our community and how popular the entire backcountry ski thing has become, needless to say the incident has been been the talk-of-the-town if you will...

I won't rehash the details of what happened as they have been very well detailed on the Vermont Ski And Ride web site on Friday the 12th and in the Snow Ranger Frank Carus' detailed MWAC report several days later. Both are sobering and you can read them here:

https://vtskiandride.com/skier-killed-in-avalanche-on-mt-washington/?fbclid=IwAR1MAAV4ozEdn7EfDpCoc0UGq3yU6t5C78dgMJSUsDNTLnDfZ73AnNBYsvM

https://www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org/4112019-avalanche-fatality-raymond-cataract/?fbclid=IwAR0fnwQz2JNhx9BstlD6BLR9U54nJF8F0BEqj4_MibS5ipEiMwpia3vzqXA

Other reports indicated that there were in fact multiple human and naturally triggered that very day. This on a day which rated as MODERATE for avalanche danger. is that a good rating, a bad rating, dangerous or not? It is worth repeating here exactly what a rating of MODERATE actually says:

"Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features. Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern. Natural avalanches unlikely; human-triggered avalanches possible. Small avalanches in specific areas; or large avalanches in isolated areas."

What does this actually mean? Are people less informed? Are people less risk adverse? What's going on? Needless to say, it's hard to tell. But words matter!

"Heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features."

Raymond Cataract certainly could fill that criteria - wind slab in a steep gully with a choke area in a narrow stream bed.

"Evaluate snow and terrain carefully; identify features of concern."

The skier was not able to discern what was below him, thus was not able to identify any problematic areas.

And of course, skiing alone. Had he had a partner, even if he had been buried he likely would have been alive today.

Talking with Brad White a few days following, we agreed that over the past year or so there has been a tendency towards a downgrading of MODERATE, almost to the point of making MODERATE the new LOW! I personally think this has been happening to all of the ratings, and certainly with regards to CONSIDERABLE and below. I've have seen may postings by amateurs and pros, skiers and climbers alike expounding the virtues of the backcountry, in a wide variety of conditions, and some more problematic than others. At least once this winter I saw a posting by a climbing team talking about climbing in Huntington about how great it was climbing in the ravine on a day that was clearly posted as CONSIDERABLE danger. And many people on like basically cheered them on. In addition we both have seem pictures of folks skiing on the mountain in conditions that were undoubtedly problematic.

Look, I'm no avalanche expert. And at 71 my aversion to risk is certainly higher than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. All I can do is to look at this event, and others over the past few years, and hopefully learn from them. Hopefully you will as well. Enjoy your time outdoors, but be safe friends.
Al Hospers
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