So this is take two.
The snow started to fall around 4pm on Friday. 36 hours later the Cascades were blanketed in 34 inches of fresh powder, with drifting as deep as 4-5 feet from westerly winds reaching 20mph. The avalanche forecast, calling for only 3-6 inches in that time, was completely turned on its ear.
There were at least six avalanche incidences that I know of from Sunday. Two of the incidences killed their victims - one at Alpental, three more at Stevens Pass. I knew some of these people, so I can't and won't go into the particulars of accidents here. You can follow some of the links I'm listing below if you want to learn more.
The one survivor of the Stevens Pass accident credits her airbag pack with saving her life. As the weight and cost of these pieces of gear comes down, it's only a matter of time before airbag packs are added as necessary item along with the avalanche beacons, probes, and shovels. But most importantly is learning how to select the terrain you want to ski, and avoid the terrain that's less safe - so taking an avalanche awareness or level 1 course from a local provider should be a rider's first priority.
Lowell Skoog, the historian of skiing in the Pacific Northwest, had this observation on one of the local forums:
Losing more than one member of the skiing and snowboarding community in single day is a horrible shock. It has only happened twice before. In 1999, one snowboarder and one skier were lost in the huge Rumble Gully avalanche just outside the Mt Baker ski area. In 2007, three snowboarders were buried at their emergency bivouac in Union Creek near Crystal Mountain. Yesterday, we lost three at Stevens Pass in a single avalanche and another at Alpental in a separate accident. It was deadliest day for avalanches involving skiers and snowboarders in the history of Washington state.
There have been even worse days in history, but they involved climbing parties. Fatal accidents involving multiple skiers are extremely rare in this state. I think that's why this event seems so overwhelming.
There's been plenty written about it on cascadeclimbers.com, turns-all-year.com, and the TGR forum. More surprising was the attention it received from the common public media - the Seattle Times has a series of articles, several on the front page, one the front page feature. Fox News, NBC, and ABC reported it. Even my mother heard about from the news on the East Coast. I was approached by King5 news on Monday for a piece on airbag packs. Another guide I work with was on Fox News to discuss avalanche preparedness. Links to those pieces are below too.
Sunday night there were four less souls shining in the world. Please light some candles for them, and think of their friends and families this week.
Stay in trouble - but stay safe out there, OK?
LINK: Me on King5 News at 5:30pm Monday night, discussing airbag packs.
LINK: Margaret Wheeler, IFMGA Mountain Guide, AMGA President, and Pro Guiding Service Guide, on Fox News at 10:00pm discussing avalanche safety and preparedness.
LINK: Seattle Times Feature pieces, with several side bar links to further stories.