Avalanche Areas Below Tree Line

Avalanches and avalanche control have been heavy topics here over the last few weeks, and while today is no exception, now that the storm has passed and the avalanche cycle has mostly run its course, you can expect to find other topics appearing shortly.

In the wake of the storm that left over 60cm of new snow on the mountain, the avalanche forecaster was forced to consider parts of the mountain that normally aren’t a problem with regards to avalanche hazard. While many of the places are in the alpine, there are also a few  that are tucked away in hard-to-find pockets hidden in the woods. While hard to find, they’re still in open terrain, so must be considered when planning the day’s avalanche control. Four of these areas are located on the front side of the mountain – Midstation Pocket to the skier’s right of Men’s Downhill, Ladies’ Pocket to the skier’s right of Ladies’ Downhill, Comer’s below Eagle Meadows cat track, and Paradise Pocket just above Pine Cone Way. These pitches aren’t big enough to attract those looking for untouched powder, but they are big and steep enough to avalanche and do get traffic nonetheless.

Cummer's

Comer's

On Saturday, two of us headed towards Comer’s and Paradise Pocket, since both can be controlled on the same lap. Dropping into Comer’s, there was lots of snow, and it was also apparent that there had been traffic throughout the storm, stabilizing the snow. Ski cuts here did not produce any results. Moving down to Paradise Pocket* the signs of traffic became less and less, and when we arrived at the top of the slope, we were pretty sure we’d get results.

Since the pocket looms directly over Pine Cone Way, we called a patroller to do a spot closure at the top of the run. A spot closure is just a temporary and usually brief closure of a run with a patroller standing guard rather than setting up closure fences and signage. Once the run was secured, we began by putting a ski cut across the top of the slope, which produced an immediate result as most of the feature avalanched the full length of the pitch. The skier’s left 1/3 of the slope did not slide, so I ski cut the top and got all of that to go as well. The debris ran to within a metre or two of Pine Cone Way, so not only were we glad to have closed the run, but also to have controlled the slope and removed any avalanche hazard.

The next photos are of Paradise Pocket before and after the avalanche, and you can see in the first how close the pitch is to Pine Cone Way. And, a short video (0:10) shows the first ski cut getting a good result.

Paradise Pocket - before.

Paradise Pocket - before.

Paradise Pocket - after.

Paradise Pocket - after.

It’s always good to go to places that are seldom visited in the course of a work day – there’s always something to be learned.

*It may seem strange that a pocket on the front side is named after a chair on the back side, but Paradise Pocket was named long before the chair of the same name existed. Perhaps it was named after Paradise Valley by Mt. Temple?

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7 Comments on “Avalanche Areas Below Tree Line”

  1. Graeme says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever come across Paradise Pocket before, but I’m pretty sure I’ve skied Midstation Pocket before near the old Olympic lift, never thought it would be a place for an avalanche, although I guess it is a similar exposure to that permanent closure skiers right of Olympic/below Summit Platter?

    Avy newbie question, with ski cutting, how does one ensure they are safe from being caught in the slide? I’m assuming it is experience and terrain analysis to judge where the slide is going to run from (e.g. convex rollover or the top of a slope where it can’t run any higher). Just wondering if there is more to it than that.

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Hi Graeme,

      You got it – Midstation Pocket is right between Men’s Downhill and Olympic chair, near the top of the run. The area to the skier’s right of the chair is Oly Slides, and while it used to be a permanent closure, it is now the area boundary. It was included with places like Flush Bowl, Lipalian 2, and Out of Bounds Bowl when we changed permanent closures into area boundaries. Any permanent closures that were not next to the boundary were left as is (e.g. Flight 4 & 5).

      For ski cutting, where you place the cut is a combination of where you can do it and remain safe, and also where to do it so the slope has the greatest chance of sliding. Fortunately these requirements usually overlap, so you can accomplish both with one good cut. To get the slope to slide, you try to aim for the part of the slope where the snowpack is under tension, and the most tension can usually be found at the convex roll-over at the top of the slope. This isn’t always the case, as the underlying ground features can play a big part as well, and you don’t always get results when and where you expect them.

      As for ensuring safety, you may have noticed in the video that the slope avalanched a bit above the patroller. While this may not seem ideal, we knew how much snow was on the slope, and he was confident that he would not be swept away when the slope ran. If there was any indication at all that ski cutting would be hazardous, we would have used explosives. So in the end, it’s a combination of avalanche control techniques, knowledge of the snowpack, and experience in the terrain that tell the patroller where to go.

      Cheers
      Chris

  2. BT says:

    Whats the slope angle on the Paradise pocket?

  3. Mooch says:

    I was a little curious about the ski cutting as well. Is it still a little nerve racking even having the knowledge and experience? Good footage!!!

    • lakelouiselowdown says:

      Hi Mooch,

      Like anything, the more you ski cut, the more comfortable you get doing it. It can be a little nerve racking, especially on the bigger terrain, but as I’ve said if a patroller is at all uncomfortable going on the slope to do ski cuts, they’ll use bombs. Like the Paradise Pocket a few days ago, sometimes you just know it’s going to go, and the patroller must consider the consequences. For example, as the video shows, the terrain underneath is smooth and grassy, meaning less consequence for a patroller caught in a slide than on a rough and rocky slope. The avalanche itslef may not be big enough to cause damage on its own, but if it drags you over rocks or a cliff, or pushes you into trees, it’s a different story. All these things are considered when approaching a slope.

      I’ve been swept downslope a few times while ski cutting, and it certainly gets the ol’ heart pumping, but other than that I’ve never felt like I was in danger. (That’s also why you’ll sometimes hear a patroller call a size one avalanche a size “fun”).

      Chris

  4. Peter says:

    Chris,
    The Paradise Pocket name goes back to the Sixties.
    When Whitehorn Lodge was built, the road that we now call Pine Cone Way, was used in the winter as a way to join the Temple Ski Out, and was called Paradise.
    There was no Whiskey Jack Lodge, so skiers used the Gondola to access Whitehorn and then use the Eagle Poma, so Paradise was the way out at the day’s end.
    Where the Paradise run met the Temple road and ski out, there was a telephone on a tree that we used to call in that the Whitehorn area and Temple area were “clear” on Sweep.
    We then took the ski out down, then up and over the big hill to the Gondola Base, and skied over to the Post Hotel


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