Monday, April 20, 2015

Just a quick word of spring skiing caution.

I was out for a lovely morning on a nearby peak in nice firm snow conditions that led to a "skinless day." My friend and I booted the approach to our chosen peak, kicking steps up its final steep section, a couloir I have wanted to ski for some time but it is rarely in. This year, with a paltry snow pack it was in. Go figure!

Anyway, the walking was mostly on snow, some very hard but with a few minor bits of water to cross and some dirt sections. Then the hike up the mountain on hard snow with just a bit of fresh stuff. The couloir is pretty committing with an initial constriction and then an exit littered with rocks that had to be cleared by sneaking through a tight bit of snow to safe exit. Multiple "you fall you go to the hospital" type of scenarios involving steep snow and rocks. Anyway, we get to the summit, it's my buddy's first time there and that is cool. We step in and I notice his tech binding "click" doesnt sound right. I kind of ignore it because he has a different type from my race bindings and I figure I am just too used to my bindings. I did mention that based on the steepness I was going to lock my bindings. He seemed to do the same.

He was more tenuous than me about the constriction so I went first, stopping just above it to keep eyes on him. His first turn off the summit one ski popped off, he pitched over, head first down hill and the other ski popped. He had leashes (typical "wire gate biner style" ones) but one ripped off his boot and his ski rocketed past me down the ski line, ricocheting off rocks before coming to a stop about 800 feet below us.

Meanwhile, my buddy slid into the only rock between him and the constriction, hitting it and coming to a stop. After assessing him and ensuring he was OK, I went ahead and skied the line (which was not only awesome but the first time Id been able to ski this mountain continuously from top to bottom!) and recovered his ski while he downclimbed through the steep stuff as he was shaken up. We started fiddling with his bindings and they just would not hold his boots. Finally, after ensuring there was no ice under the springs in the binding toe piece (a typical problem) I got down on my knees and really looked close at the tech fittings in the boots and there was a tiny little bit of ice and a few grains of sand in each. I cleaned it out with an ice axe and the bindings worked as they always had.

It was a sobering reminder that with different conditions come different hazards. No one boots that much in the winter but spring is another story. Heads up!

Other related things that were interesting. Those leashes sure dont work as well as I thought. Im sure each style is different and if you were god forbid caught in an avalanche, I guess you would want them to rip off your boots. Who knows what the right answer is? I still dont use them and now Ive had 2 partners lose skis within a month of each other with me! Maybe Im the problem?

Finally, my buddy wasnt wearing a helmet. We even talked about it and I offered him one as Im cautious and not afraid of a little backcountry fashion faux pas. I mentioned that to him as we were hiking out and he admitted his refusal had played back through his mind as he slid head first towards the rock. He said he had a different perspective now. So do I- Im paying a lot more attention to those little holes after booting long spring approaches.

One final thing, I had my BD Whippet ski pole with me and that thing sure inspired confidence after seeing what I hope never happens to me first hand. It could have been a whole lot worse. A few pieces of safety equipment are cheaper than a visit to the ER.

Anyway, no pictures. I forgot the camera. However, I hope this helps save someone else some potential scariness on an upcoming spring tour!


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