fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password


Experts explain what to do in winter&

s most dangerous of predicaments

Taking a break from a rigorous skiing routine, avalanche specialists with the Shasta-Trinity National Forest exhibited a workshop Thursday and a transceiver clinic Saturday in Mount Shasta to teach the basics of backcountry safety.

Matt Hill and Eric White shared a few horror stories along with some of success to about 30 people in the Stage Door Coffee House in Mount Shasta.


Size doesn&

t matter,&

was White&

s mantra about avalanches. &

What if it goes over a cliff or into a creek bed.&

Hill and White, climbing rangers with the U.S. Forest Service, emphasized using conservative techniques when traveling in the backcountry to prevent getting caught in a slide in the first place. However, as people do not always heed advice from the conservative side, they said carrying transceivers, avalanche probes and snow shovels for rescue techniques is a necessity in case someone triggers an avalanche climbing, skiing or snowmobiling in the backcountry. Using this equipment properly is just as important as having it, they said.

According to information from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, survival rates for people caught in avalanches goes from almost 90 percent when rescued within 15 minutes to about 50 percent within a half hour. After 30 minutes, survival rates decrease greatly.

Without equipment to dig friends out of the rubble after an avalanche, chances of survival are quite slim for the member of a group unfortunate enough to get stuck in the slide.

While the Shasta-Trinity National Forest also offers free transceiver clinics to teach backcountry enthusiasts how to locate a buried victim and eventually dig him out, their main focus was to teach preventative techniques so people can recognize an avalanche-prone slope before it slides.

Hill emphasized the importance of weather in avalanche danger. He showed slides of &


where blown snow creates an excess of snow on one side of a slope that is prone to slide off. He noted how most of the time the slopes that are very enticing to ski &

steep, wide open hills &

are most likely to slide, especially with a dumping of lots of heavy Northwest snow.


The snowpack needs to adjust to lots of weight in a short period of time,&

Hill said &

using an analogy of a weightlifter throwing on too many pounds too quickly.

While a lot of the slopes people like to ride have angles of slope about 30 to 45 degrees, Hill said neighboring hills can be a good indicator of avalanche danger.



s your biggest freebie Mother Nature will give you,&

Hill said. &


s already been an avalanche.&

While &


sounds in the snowpack, rapid temperature changes and uneven layering in the snow are all red flags, &


ve got to look at nature&

s clues,&

Hill said.

For backcountry skier Tim Dougherty, a manager at the Ashland Outdoor Store, and his friends who spent a few days skiing Mount Bailey near Diamond Lake recently, it&

s all about checking the snow before you go.


When we were up there, there was about eight inches of fresh snow,&

Dougherty said. &

We dug a test pit and there were a few crusty layers, but overall it was a good consolidated snow base ... it can slide, but it&

s pretty stable.&

Since more than 95 percent of avalanches are triggered by people, Hill and White said, taking courses and being conservative are the best measures to stay out of trouble.

Also according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, climbers lead the United States in avalanche fatalities, followed by backcountry skiers then snowmobilers. There were two people in the Ashland area involved in avalanches last winter according to Hill and White.

Along with another avalanche workshop Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Stage Door Coffee House at 414 N. Mount Shasta Blvd. in Mount Shasta and a transceiver clinic meeting Feb. 4 at 9 a.m. at the Fifth Season on Lake Street and Mount Shasta Boulevard, Hill and White teach in-depth courses at the College of the Siskiyous in Yreka, Calif. The Friends of the Mount Shasta Avalanche Center, a non-profit that supports the Forest Service center, will also have a fundraiser Jan. 21 in Mount Shasta.

For more information contact: 530-926-9617 or visit www.shastaavalanche.org.