What Were They Thinking?
Early Season Avy Accident
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Hi Lori,

I want to ask your advice on a scenario that commonly occurs when sledding.
A group of sledders find a hill slope to high mark on. Stable snow ( slab verified by snow pit ) , no previous avalanche activity visible, wind lee side with some wind loading of snow but no cornice . no significant terrain traps. High marking occurs ( one at a time ) but the fifth guy get stuck half way up. He / she is not hurt or trapped ( just stuck ) . The question is – ” does someone climb the hill via sled to safe location and walk over and help the stuck sledder get the sled out ? ” I feel that unless the sledder is hurt – there is no justification worth the risk to endanger another sledder to help out unless the stuck sledder is incapable of freeing the sled after an half hour or so of trying by himself. I know there is a lot of variables in this scenario. For years we found ourselves in these situations ( and in more dangerous slopes ) where if a member of our group got stuck – we would immediately race up the hill to help the stuck sled and rider. We always help our group and other sledders ( not part of our group ) when someone is stuck but I am trying to find a different approach to this scenario. If some one is stuck in a creek or tree well then there is no hesitation – just go over and start pulling or digging. I want to tell our group that they have half an hour to get out by themselves before we consider going up to help. Also we are going to start carrying 2 way radios to help with this situation. Please provide your thoughts .
Regards, Chris

Hi Chris,

  • conditions are reported as stable
  • our local observations are confirming the stability
  • there are no reports of Deep Weak Layers releasing
  • the slope is free of traps
  • there are rescuers available with visual on the guys on the slope
  • the sledder has a really big dig ahead of him
  • we are all trained and carrying rescue gear
  • or it is me stuck!!
    ===> we have gone to help stuck riders.
    I am not saying that this won’t catch us someday, though. Especially during conditions like this weekend.
    Follow this link for more info on the Special Avalanche Warning (SPAW) issued for Feb 27-Mar 1.
    This is the 2nd weekend in a row.
    SPAWThe fact is two (or more) riders on the slope
    = more opportunities to trigger (more load and more traveling in the terrain to hit a potential weak zone)
    = fewer rescuers (less resources)
    = potential for more burials (more decisions to make and harder to solve)
    = potential for close together burials (harder to solve)
    = potential for trauma (traveling in the avalanche near to a snowmachine may increase odds of injury)To maintain the widest margin of safety the proper mountain travel habits is…stuck sledders should dig themselves out.

    Risk management is all about decisions. Tradeoffs in Risk vs Benefit are happening all the time. We can’t completely remove all the risk, but we can minimize our exposure to unnecessary risks. We make these decisions all the time. Think about driving. We make many choices that affect our safety: – the make and model of vehicle we drive – condition of tires, braking system…all running gear – our physical condition (tired, distracted, rushed…) – speed – the routes we take – rushhour, day/night – our level of training or experience
    At some point we decide that we have invested enough time, money and training to feel comfortable to leave the driveway. We also take into consideration the uncontrollable factors like the other drivers, and the weather or the road conditions.

    Our issues are very similar in the mountains.

    Accidents on the road or in the mountains can vary from bruised egos to death.
    We need to choose to travel with other riders that appreciate these choices that we make each moment of each riding day. While we may not always make perfect choices, by being aware of the hazards and drawing from our avy safety tool kit we hope that to enjoy the backcountry for many, many years.

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