Jill and I went and skied the Bridgers today, which was great fun. Until it wasn't. And then it was again. I talked to Angela P, goddess divine, her majesty, queen of the ridge, this morning, because she's pretty savvy there with all things back country. Jill and I were going to do Slushman's this morning, but Angela told me that things that are steeper than the Bronco Face are sliding, so maybe not to go all the way up, but sort of ski that angle.
That was fine, Jill was in snowshoes anyway, so we hiked up Powder Park, and then straight up bronco face (well, in a zig zaggy kind of way). The snow felt pretty darn rotten, the binding area of my ski was punching in about 2", and if I weighted my poles, they went about 2 1/2 feet in easily.
Now I know that this means possible wet slide conditions. And it was later in the day than we wanted it to be, we left the car at about 10:45, and it took, um, a little while to hike up to the road that winds around to the North Bowl.
We discussed whether or not to just ski straight back down Bronco face, more turns, lower angle, but crappy snow, or to find something North facing that would have better snow and could potentially be a bit steeper. We chose to ski Abelain's, a little gully like shot on the South end of the North bowl, which is very North Facing, but also pretty steep.
The North Bowl had a bunch of little mini slides in it, and this was one of the reasons that we chose to ski a different aspect (Bronco Face and the section of the North Bowl that had slid face the same way, but the bowl is steeper).
I did a ski cut along the top of Abelain's, and nothing moved. Here, I should have turned and done two more aggressive ski cuts. But I did not. I decided that it looked good and felt solid.
I took two turns, in fog, in the back seat, and decided to traverse across under the rock band into Abelain's proper. There was old avi debris in the gully, but nothing new had moved. I skied across the gully and made my first turn into it, when I saw the snow moving past my skis.
It occurred to me "Oh, look, a little slough. That's cool, better be careful." I made another turn back away from the bowl thinking I would ski further out of it, and immediately felt my skis slide out from under me sideways. I was on my ass and moving fast.
Okay, ski out, ski out, I thought, and because the snow was very wet and very heavy, it was also moving slower than I expected it to, and my legs were parallel under me. I tried to get back over my feet, as I still had all my gear, and my skis were pointed in the right way that if I could get back on them, I'd ski right out of the slide, which I was kind of in the middle of.
I couldn't get over my skis, and as I tried, I noticed that I was gaining speed, and getting buried. My head and shoulders were still above the snow, and then I thought, okay, can't ski out, this is an avalanche, and you need to start swimming.
I was backstroking, trying to slow myself and let the slide get ahead of me, and to stay on top. I had the "big potato chip" idea in my head from the company that makes the airbags for snowmobilers, and I was still gaining speed.
It occurred to me as I watched down the slope at this thing really picking up speed that if I started tumbling, I was screwed, and I could feel my waist getting pulled deeper into the slide, and then I thought, okay, well, self arrest, maybe? So I started trying to stick my downhill ski across the slope into the firm, deep stuff that it was scraping along. I realized that my legs were kind of twisted under me, but I felt myself slowing, and I started punching my hands in and trying hard to slow my body so the slide would pass me.
This, luckily, is exactly what happened, and I sat there and watched the slide continue, off my lap and down the mountain for another minute or so.
I looked up at Jill, who was standing there watching, and have never been so grateful to know that my ski partner knows how to use a shovel in my life.
Jill, with a very level head, suggested that I traverse out of the remainder of the bowl. I hung out there for a minute while this massive wave of adrenaline crashed over me, and then I did just that. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Jill create her own series of mini-slides on every turn, and she wisely made large, soft turns which she traversed out of every time, and then traversed out of the bowl to me. We stood there and watched her slide go to the bottom, and it was at that moment that we both realized how big the slide was that I was in. We stood there and looked at it for a minute.
After looking at the photos, it seems pretty obvious that the slide I was in was on the same angle and aspect of all the other naturally or skier triggered slides in the bowl. I had, unfortunately, thought that Abelains, being on the far south side of the bowl and facing a totally different direction, was not in the "slide area" but when you look at this pic, well, it says it all, doesn't it?
"Well, that was a lot more exciting than we wanted it to be!" You bet. Thanks, Jilly Bean. Glad to have been out there with you.
There were about 20 people out there on the hill today, skiing all aspects and having a great time.
Be careful out there, guys!!