Winter has started again and we all have to get back in shape physically and mentally. The Alps have a very unstable snowpack at the moment so that's the reason why I share this blog with you… so we go out there with sharp senses.
This is my home made movie Big Powder Day with narrow escape from April the 10th 2013 last season.
BIG POWDER DAY, with narrow escape !
A number of you maybe seen this edit already, "Big Pow Day with narrow escape”. I got a lot of questions about why and how ... In this next blog, I hope to explain why and how it can come to such "mistakes" and that even pros sometimes overwhelmed by stoke forget that they aren't bigger than the mountain.
Days that my friends and I can ski powder together during the season are quite rare. And it's these days that matter. When you can go full throttle with your best ski buddies ripping powder. So you can imagine that on these days the stoke is very high!
OUT OF BOUNDS
The nights before the 10th of April it dumped heavily. The tourist season almost got to an end and all the ski buddies had more time off. So awesome time for a BIG day out again. On our way up you could sense that the stoke was high! Everybody was already busy talking about what, when and how they wanted to do their lines! Many groups didn't want to share their secrets for the day and didn't answer to the questions when they were asked where they were heading. No problem of course, but not always clever. Sometimes it's wise to tell others where you're going when we ski far 'out of bounds'. This of course in case of an emergency. If suddenly a group doesn't show up in the evening it's nice to be able to provide the rescue service with a bit of direction and area where the group was heading for that day.
WHEN STOKE TAKES OVER
April the 10th was such a beautiful powder day! The stoke was huge and we all wanted to go steep, deep, fast and big! "No holding back today" and one liners like “go fast, take chances” were yelled through the cable car. And of course I joined in, finally you're among very good skiers and boarders and the mood is super. But in this awesome super ambiance you don't realize that the STOKE slowly takes over from ratio ... and that happened to me as well! The avalanche degree was 3 the past few days. No big 3, but certainly not low one either... just 3.
Only 3 remain 3!
The first line was a line on a ridge with two small drops and then a big snow field. This was actually the line where the first fatal avalanche accident of that season in our area happened last year, somewhere in December 2012. I was the last one in line and was the first one to drop in without consultation! I just skied passed them all and dropped in, in my jolly good mood. Because of this I set the tone for the rest of the day as I realized later in my recap...We skied the 800 meters vertical in one go without stopping. At the bottom we were laughing, having fun and giving high fives.
No time to lose
Immediately back into the cable car and the next plan was discussed. Stairway or highway? Halfway through the gondola ride, we could see that there was no track set in that direction yet, so we chanced plan. We would lose too much time to set the trail so we decided to wait until someone else would brake trail to stairway and highway. We decided to do a normal Gentianes descent, enough powder anyway. And off we went again ... full on and high speed, but with enough distance between each other! Again, 1000 meters vertical in one go! Super snow, big sprays and face shots. The stoke got higer and higher! Immediatly back up again but now to do the stairway or highway. Halfway up, we could see 2 guys cutting the traverse. No bootpack up stairway yet. Lets go for highway.
When we got to the entrance the first lines were set on the face of course by the guys who broke trail. Steve and Chris dropped immediately in. I suggested to Oli to go for 'secret highway', because there were no tracks up so far and I was guessing that Oli never skied that line. And indeed, Oli was happy because he had never skied the line. Steve and Chris were already halfway down the highway face. I put the 20 vertical meters bootpack in for Oli and Filip. Up there, I leave the honor to Oli to drop in first. We discuss the line and as well the potential escapes in the couloir might there be a sluff slide.
Sluff slide or powder snow avalanche
Oli is focused we give a box and he drops in, making two turns holding back a little and hucks... he is out of sight for a split second and then we see him going down at mach 6. The moment Oli almost leaves the couloir we see sluf slide breaking behind him. It turns into a huge powder dust cloud. You can see the sluf breaking at 1:09 in the video and you see the sluf cloud almost leaving the shadow edge at 1:28. At 1:48 you see the line of the slide and at 1:53 I ski on the ‘sluf ‘ debris towards Oli. This slide was indeed more of a powder snow avalanche than sluf. Luckily it wasn't much more as 8 to 10cm in that place and Oli was so fast that it could have never caught up with him. But it was good that we had discussed the line and key passages and looked for possible escapes.
God for us all…
We decided to go for the ' backside of Mont Fort ' which could be tricky with these snow conditions. Although lets go with reluctance and consultation. My words have never landed... Up there I tried to get some organization back in the group but Oli already dropped in from the top and was almost out of sight. It was to late for any organisation. On the edge of the first couloir we met again and the stoke went up to the next level by the amount of powder which was lying there… waiting for us. It was every man for himself and God for us all! Oli wanted to drop the massive windlip and I was gone film him. Steve and Chris came down through the main couloir. Oli dropped the windlip and continued into the pinball couloir and I took some more shots of Steve and Chris coming down the main couloir hedding for pinball as well.
Then it was my turn. I was right above the center couloir and since there was no track in it I thought I better put one in. But before I traversed above to check if Oli was not half way in the couloir. Because I new it was very tricky with the thick fresh layer of snow and I new pretty sure it was going to break when I was going to ski it. (I cleared that couloir already once that season but was out before the avalanche) So I skied just above the couloir and tried to look far in it to see if it was free. When I saw it was okay I decided to ski it. What I didn't see was the initial breakline already shooting through the snow cover (3:40) and the entire cover was breaking and started moving! Quickly I tried to turn my skis into the fall line, but I was already lying on my hip. Gliding on my side I pushed myself up with my left arm to keep my head above the snow and tried to keep control. The speed I was going down with was amazing from zero to …. In a split second! With my right arm I tried to reach the trigger of my ABS pack, no way I could get my hand on the trigger the snow was pushing too much on my arm. With tremendous speed I was going down the couloir towards the narrow passage. I tried a little bit to determine my direction to go along the rocks and not into them! After the narrow passage the couloir gets wider and the speed of the avalanche slightly diminished, and I could push myself up and skied out over the avalanche debris.
This was more like a slab avalanche which fortunately disintegrated into small particles. This avalanche probably couldn't bury me completely. But avalanches in general are always life-threatening by inpact on the rock or any other internal injuries which you incur during the gliding phase. Also injuries as dislocated shoulder or hip incur easily! I wanted to clear that couloir for a second time but I realize again that I 'm not bigger than the mountain!
Call it a day
I had enough after this incident clearly ... I called it a day. It had been a very nice day so far and the sun began its job on the snow cover as well. When we arrived in Siviez I told the rest, “I call it a day guys, I should not push my luck!” They all agreed. We finished a beautiful day with a huge beer at the Edelweiss in Nendaz.
**_So remember : EVERY AVALANCHE IS LIFE THREATENING !
AND POWDER DAYS, ONLY WITH FRIENDS !
With respect and don't LET STOKE TAKE OVER !
Keep your head in the game._**