This past weekend, I was in Bellingham, WA taking an Avalanche 1 course with the American Alpine institute.  I’ll be returning there this weekend to take the Avalanche 2 course, so I will wait until after both to report on the experience.  I did have one unique experience during the Avy 1 class that I think is worth sharing, so I’ll do so quickly.

Reviewing the weather and avalanche forecast the previous day (Friday), our class had noted that everything was fairly safe, though there were reports of shallow slab on NE aspects, especially at higher altitudes.  After running some scenarios on a safe slope and digging out victims, we moved to digging snowpits.  In our pits, we were quickly able to find a roughly 25-35cm slab sitting on top of a crust that had formed during warming in January.  It failed at Compression Test 12, a red flag for sure.

As we regrouped and moved to another area to have lunch, I spotted some skiers high on a ridge known as Table Mountain.  One had already skied, and another was preparing to drop in.  As I watched, the skier mainlined it through a convexity with NE aspect and poof, the slab popped in a decently sized triangular crown.

The scene of the avalanche, with the crown on the left-hand ridge. (Click the image to make it huge.)

Thankfully, as we watched, the skier managed to stay on top, though the slide carried him over some rocks and deposited him on a bit of a terrain-trap.  They spent probably another 2 hours up there before coming down (probably looking for lost skis).  Another interesting thing to note is that the skier who remains on the ridge in the photograph skied down slightly more to looker’s left safely, which speaks to the importance of micro-terrain selection.

A larger view of the scene.

As no one was hurt, I’m chalking this up as a good experience because I’ve never seen someone get caught in a slide before, and it really put the class and everything that we were learning into perspective.  No more abstraction, it’s real out there.