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Old Glory - by Steve Eastwood

by Robyn Gordon

Something’s up, I can feel it. It’s like a sound almost, and whatever it is I’m well aware of it now. I peer over the rim of my iced up sunnies and under the brim of my helmet to scope the gully ahead. What’s that? A fracture? Heart pumping I feel that the slope isn’t moving and realise it’s Cam’s boot-packed trail. Partially filled in with snowdrift. Cursing my lack of vision I feel and urge to clear out here – Now!

I charge along the filled in steps to gain my exit, when “boom” a wall of airborne snow comes flying over the cliff at the top of the gully. I hug the slope as snow brushes over my head and right shoulder. I get moving again thinking to myself for no more than a second that I wouldn’t have wanted to be in that.

I need to top out of here and let Cam know that it missed me, he must’ve set it off for sure. As I clamber out of the gully and look up the slope towards the top I can’t see Cam or the summit. He must be up there. As I start to move off again I glance down under my arm and notice Cam standing upright in the debris at the bottom of the gully. Shit!

He’s standing; that’s good.

I dump my pack on the snow; I need to get into downhill mode. Digging a platform takes me forever and changing my sunnies for goggles just as long. Finally I’m clipped in and ready to move, my descent begins not quite as planned. Solid jump turns lead me down rimmed up rocks. I don’t need to set anything else off and stay well clear of the gully.

Upon reaching Cam he’s already got one skin on his remaining ski. I ask if he wants to sit down to which he replies, “I’ve already tried that, the winds too much, lets just get out of here, get some shelter”. I locate his other ski on the surface up hill of us, ripped clean from his pack. He puts it on without a skin and we get out of there.

On the same day another slope with a record of sliding did just that, giving three people a real “ride”, washing them up on a debris pile over eight metres deep. With not one of them wearing a transceiver, they were lucky to say the least!. The whole event was witnessed from the nearby resort, from where they had seen their chosen line and left the resort boundary. A quick rescue was arranged with the victims picking up the bill.

As for us it was self rescue. Cam made it out under his own steam after we hooked up with  two other members of our party.

This wasn’t the only avalanche run-in of my season. A few days later at the Kicking Horse Resort in the Selkirk Range, while touring with friends including Juliane Bray and Nick, we experienced a classic slab release. With a high avalanche warning in the area, we’d picked a tree run on the left flank of the resort. Our group of riders numbered eight, so we’d broken into two and spaced our descent.

Coming across a light glade of trees I stopped to scope it. I called my mate J.B. over and as he rocked up, I felt the slope settle and release. This is an eerie feeling to say the least; it’s a few more moments before you’ll see it fracture, break up and then head off down the fall line. The slope released under JB’s heel side edge. I was standing half a step below the fracture and tensed for a moment as snow broke away around me leaving JB and myself still standing thankfully at the top, - it sure was a real eye opener to watch  as it peeled out around the trees and funnelled  down and the fall line. A 40cm slab had slid on a layer of hoar frost left by a five day fine spell after the last snow fall.

During the past 14 months in Canada I’ve had a total of 6 avalanche run-ins. Even with high hazard warnings more people are heading backcountry than ever before. Most are geared up with shovels, transceivers, probes and first-aid kits. But some still push it by hiking outside the boundaries with only a transceiver or nothing at all, and who apparently think that cotton hoodies are wind and water repellent. In Canada its not the locals doing this, it’s the tourists – and mostly Kiwis and Aussies at that! Most are inexperienced snowboarders.

If you have made the cash for a ticket to get on a mission overseas, and have any intentions of riding backcountry, then save a little bit more and deck yourself out in touring gear and learn how to use it. In this day and age, heading out into the backcountry without the right gear or knowledge just isn’t on.

Take this recent accident at Fortress Mountain, Alberta, Canada – one of ten avalanche that left people dead in the past two winters: A class 2 avalanche left two people dead after being set off by a group of snowboarders hitting a kicker just out of the areas boundary. The avalanche swept down onto a second party from above and was witnessed by staff at the ski resort. Both victims were males in their late teens. This occurred less than 24 hours after the last storm cycle – not the best time to be touring, even if it looks sweet and you’ve been there before.

The best way to understand what can and does happen within a snow pack is to sit an avalanche awareness course.

If you are a backcountry user and don’t already own or have access to a transceiver, shovel and probe, then you need to do so right away. You’ll also need to learn how to use your equipment, and practice with friends regularly. You don’t get many chances to learn from actually being in an avalanche, so stack the odds in your favor from the start.

You only get one lifetime to learn in, so play it safe.

Robyn Gordon
Robyn Gordon



Story 2

by Robyn Gordon

Buffalo Mountain, South End of Gore Range
May 18, 2005
1 backcountry snowboarder caught, partly buried and injured

Early this afternoon -- shortly before 1300 hours -- a backcountry snowboarder triggered a small

slab avalanche on the north side of Buffalo Mountain. He received at least leg and face injuries and was rescued by Summit County Rescue Group and Flight for Life. avalanche occurred in the central gully of the north face of Buffalo Mountain, about 4 miles west of Silverthorne. This ski descent is a often called a "classic" for its long and straight descent of nearly 3000 vertical feet.


Atkins, May 19.

This week is bringing the first real warm/hot days of spring and thaw conditions will cause unstable wet snow.



K Chute Slide- the real story

This is tough. Very tough.
I get knots in my stomach thinking about it.
I was one of the three skiers involved in the Sky Chutes avalanche today. My brother (non-maggot) and his buddy(non-maggot) were the other two. Both of them are Copper Mountain ski school instructors and my brother is director of the freestyle skiing program.

I guess I need to start with the one major error we made in our decision making and that was we started our descent way too late (1pm) under the days' warm temperatures. I should have known better. We know better
We got to the top (W-NW aspect) of the lookers' right side of the K Chute after picking our way down through the thin snowpack above. We stopped and perched ourselves about 150' vertical feet above treeline at the top of a 25-28 deg. slope. Our plan was to safety ski this slope one at a time down to treeline and stop to dig a pit and assess the danger.

The slope steepened up to 35-38deg at treeline and we figured that it would be best to perform the pit tests just above here on a "representable" slope. The snow up top was slight windbuff/ soft powder about 6"-8" deep and we thought that this would be our main layer of concern, the new snow sliding on the old snow. Shit, were we wrong.

My brother started off first from our perch, made 6-8 turns, started to slow down as he approached the treeline and this is where the slope slid. We saw it release from above and watched in horror. The slope slid and left my brother basically standing on bare ground, still in his skis, about 20' below the fracture. The avalanche had taken off through the trees without him and left him at the top. He says that just after he realized the slope was sliding the blocks and chunks were gone. He was extremely lucky and considers himself so. The hard slab release left a crown 2'-4' deep and roughly 200' across and slid all the way to the ground/depth hoar. It ran a grand total of 2000' releasing all the wet snow as it moved down. It was still moving slowly down in the K for a about a minute after being triggered.

We just stood there in shock/amazement, extremely thankful that we were all okay. One of the first thing that crossed my mind was to call Copper Mountain ski patrol and notify them that we triggered a slide and everyone was okay. So, we called ski patrol, spoke with Toby, notified him that every one was okay, and he told us to call him back when we were out.

Scared that the snowpack around us could going to slide, we skied the avalanche path down 400' vertical. to a point where we could traverse out of the path to skiers' left and be safe in dense trees. We certainly wanted to get out off the slide path as soon as possible as there was a considerable amount of hanging snow above the fracture. We were skiing the thick growth between the K and Y chutes about 400' feet above the valley floor when we stopped and called Toby at Copper Mountain. ski patrol for a SECOND time to tell him we were out and okay.(I know, we weren't out, but were close and still okay. This second call was 20-25 minutes after the first call. My brother had just hung up the cell phone when we heard the sirens. Why was SAR here? We called it in and notified the necessary authorities that everyone that was okay? What was up? Why dispatch SAR when everyone in your party is fine? We soon realized that the sirens we heard were the cops and we were getting arrested for ducking the Peak 8 rope. This is where my brother and his buddy started freaking out with fears of being fired from Copper Mountain. My brother had worked hard to earn freestyle skiing director and didn't want to lose it.

We sat there for about 15 minutes with my brother and his buddy contemplating what to do, when the helicopter showed up. What? A heli? But we were fine? We made the calls? What the fuck is going on? I am really regretful to admit it, but we sat there under the evergreens for probably an hour with my brother and his buddy talking over their options. I just want to say that crazy thoughts cross your mind when you're in panic mode. We were still in disbelief that the heli was flying over? For what reason? After discussion, persuasion from myself, and a few heli flyovers, I finally got my brother and his buddy to come to terms with the fact that we were getting arrested, they were probably going to lose their jobs and there was no way around it. We skied down shamefully to meet the hoards of people and face the music, whatever it may be.

While we were up there we had no idea that the Y Chute had also slid and this is the real reason why SAR was there. They thought that since when we were traversing left out of the K chute, we could have skied over into the Y and then triggered that to slide. They had no tracks coming out and this is what concerned them, even if we were safe skiing the trees like we had told ski patrol. Had I known that the Y chute had also slid, I would have called them back a third time to notify them that we were still okay. I still believe that the Y chute slid as a sympathetic slide to the K before my second call to ski patrol.

It was crazy, stuffed up day for us and I just want to apologize to SAR for prolonging the search by not coming off the mountain sooner. I TRUELY REGRET THE FACT THAT I DIDN'T CALL A THIRD TIME TO SAY WE WERE STILL OKAY. WE ARE TRUELY SORRY FOR ANY TROUBLE WE MAY HAVE CAUSED AND FEEL AWFUL. WE STUFFED UP.









Peak 6, West side of Tenmile Range
April 6, 2005
An Incident Reported below is what we have heard from rescuers, and it is subject to change.Y" chute, one of several prominent avalanche paths on the backside of Peak 6 in the Tenmile Range. This slide ran nearly to the valley floor. There was considerable confusion about this avalanche and it seems the skiers likely never knew they had triggered the slide as they traversed well above treeline. The skiers continued their descending traverse to the "K" chute where they triggered a second avalanche. The skiers called the Copper Mountain Ski Patrol to report they had triggered a "big" slide, no one was caught, all were okay, and that they had a good route out. Confusion arose because the patrol could see 2 slides, and the "big" slide (in the Y chute) was much bigger than the K slide. The Copper Patrol could clearly see the 3 tracks entering the smaller slide but could see no tracks exiting, but the skiers had mentioned a big slide. The Summit County Sheriff's Office was notified and initiated a search and rescue the trio's actions to continue down on to similar slopes after triggering an avalanche is interesting. What they did by continuing downhill was neither wrong or right; for them it worked. They got down safely, and it is probably what 99.99% of we gravity-loving skiers and riders would have done, but sometimes this action can lead right into the den of the avalanche dragon. Sometimes the better choice of action is to turn around and climb back uphill and return from where we came. Climbing back uphill also allows us to re-evaluate earlier decisions. We might decide to treat, or decide on a completely different route down, or on hot days we can wait until the snow refreezes. (If you decide to wait, wait at least an extra hour longer then you think to be necessary to allow for a better freeze and stronger snow.) Once we start downhill it is very difficult to change plans or routes. Gravity takes over and keeps pulling us down. If slopes become steeper or the snow wetter, the avalanche danger goes up. Despite increasing danger we usually continue downward bound because it seems easier to go with gravity than to work against it. However, sometimes it is safer to go against gravity.

No accident occurred, no one was caught but a bit of an incident ensued and there are some important lessons to be learned by all. One of the skiers involved has posted a summary of events along with a sincere apology on

Here's what we heard:

On Wednesday afternoon a group of 3 skiers remotely triggered a large and long-running avalanche in the "

With ski tracks in but no tracks out, rescuers from the Breckenridge and Copper ski patrols, Flight for Life, Summit County Rescue Group, and Summit County Sheriff's Office responded. Perhaps 20ish minutes after the first call the Copper Patrol received a second call from the skiers saying all were off the mountain, in their car, and headed down the highway. The caller refused to answer any questions, saying he wanted to remain anonymous and hung up. This was an unfortunate event, because a few extra minutes on the phone to answer truthfully where and how they had gotten out would have saved everyone involved a considerable amount of effort and grief. Instead the caller falsely reported they were safe and out, and on their way to Frisco when they were actually still on the mountain and a long ways from the valley floor.

Confusion rose dramatically when some else reportedly called the Breckenridge Ski Patrol "confirming" 3 people were buried. Presented with conflicting information the rescuers had to confirm there were 3 tracks out of the avalanche. Ideally it would have been even better to confirm the skiers were off the mountain before the search could be called off. Even if the call to the Breckenridge had not occurred, the rescuers would still want to confirm tracks out. With no visible tracks in the valley floor the best way to check the avalanche would be from the air.

Flight for Life flew to the site with an avalanche specialist and avalanche rescue dog and handler from the Breckenridge Ski Patrol. From the air the crew confirmed tracks in but could find no tracks out. Because of rugged terrain the helicopter could not land on the debris or even get close to the debris. Also because of significant avalanche danger rescuers could not immediately enter the area from above or from below.

By now the skiers had seen the helicopter and heard sirens, so they called back a third time to say they were out and okay, but they would not say where they were. The search effort continued because the rescuers didn't know where the skiers were, and couldn't find their tracks out of the avalanche or coming on into the valley floor.

Back in the valley a meeting was quickly called by rescuers to plan their response. Avalanche reduction work with explosives would be needed to make routes and the site safe for rescuers. This effort would take time. While plans were being made the helicopter flew back to the site with just the avalanche specialist for a closer look.

From the air came good news. Flying closer to the slope the helicopter crew spotted some faint tracks and then spotted the three skiers hiding in the trees. About this time came a fourth call, and the skiers admitted they were still on the mountain.

After awhile the three skiers finally made it to the valley floor and the awaiting throng of rescuers, sheriff deputies, and the media. The Summit Daily News reported this morning the trio were ticketed for violating the Colorado Skier Safety Act by ducking under a closure rope at the Breckenridge Ski Resort.


If one ever calls to report a slide and to say there is no need for rescue, make sure you call back to say not just that you’re out but also to add how you got out. Rescuers really like to be able to confirm that folks are indeed out and safe. In many cases someone will likely check for the tracks to confirm the story. When the story cannot be verified, a rescue will likely start. In this incident the tracks out could not be found, so the search continued.

In reading the first-person account (

Atkins, April 6, posted at 1000 and updated at 1145.

Unfortunately, events for the 3 skiers quickly got out of hand. As mentioned earlier a few extra minutes on the phone with a truthful appraisal of their situation would have resulted in a quiet and uneventful afternoon. They did the right thing when they called the patrol to say all was okay. We encourage folks to call authorities if they trigger an avalanche and think others might be watching, so an unnecessary rescue effort doesn't get started. (If there is any doubt rescuers will always respond.) If during the second call had the skiers said they were still working there way down and would call when they got out to the cars, that likely would have been the end of the story.


We will post more details as they become available.

This same couloir was the site of a double avalanche fatality on April 9, 1993 when a group of 4 backcountry skiers were caught in a much larger avalanche.

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