Small Tour and Avalanche Refresher on Monarch Pass, CO

Typical for the ski season here in Colorado the snow has been a bit hit or miss and with more wind than I care for.  The big snow months and a hut trip are coming up (February and March) so bit of avy refresher was in order. Jon, Shawn and I headed out to dig some pits and discuss tour planning with group dynamics.

Before heading out you need to ensure you have the minimum gear, in addition to 10 essentials adjusted for winter:

  • Beacon
  • Probe
  • Shovel

 We started out from the parking lot to sun and calm winds.

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But before the tour starts planning should start at home, paying attention the past weather patterns and looking at local Avalanche Information Center. We are lucky to have the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.  Historical data is available so you can see get an idea of past weather patterns where unstable layers may form.  The Colorado site also provides detailed avalanche investigative avalanche reports. With the age of smart phones all this information is at your finger tips or you can call the information numbers and they will read the report for the range you are heading to in a sultry voice. Wish they could hire a female with lovely Australian accent to read the forecTast but I will suffer when out of data range.

As you tour to your objective you can gain valuable knowledge via your poles or when making kick turns. Do you hear ‘whomping’ (settling of unstable layers), slabs sliding when kick turns are made, snow falling out of the trees (old school sign that snow is starting to settle), rainbows around the sun and contrails give idea of water in atmosphere, change in wind direction (weather system moving in), or changing cloud formations.. Weather is a whole subject in itself and I recommend adding Mountain Weather by Jeff Renner to your library. 

Quick check of conditions  

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When going across open areas only one person should travel from safe spot to safe spot and remember to pay attention to what is above, what is below and what are the consequences.


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Here a few tests we went over.. First estimate your slope. You can buy slope angle gauge, use a compass that has one, app, and also use a route tool on your *gasp* paper map when planning your tour..

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Dig your pit, column test, extended column test, and getting geeky by looking at crystals in the various layers.

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Different layers and failures.

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We dug 3 different pits and the issue of spatial variability was evident in the snow pack.  When discussing the results of the pit tests group dynamics also came into play while discussing to ski or not to ski the slope.  Each person has a say in a go or not go when evaluating terrain. No one wants to be the weenie and bale but if you have that ‘gut’ feeling then stick to it. Always better to live and ski another day. Anytime your are traveling in the mountains you should listen to your gut.

Great pic of Shawn crossing above me. Lucky pic with my phone camera.

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Me and Shawn (I am on the left, fyi). Did I mention that he is a mountain ‘Yoda’. Ex special forces who trained in the Alps.. etc.. and all around good guy and great friend. No we haven’t been drinking too much beer, our climbing skins for our skis are in our jackets. Keeps them accessible for quick changeovers.  First day wearing First Ascent Grand Tour Pants. Temps ranged from -5C to 10C and they rocked, will get a full review soon.




















Skills review is over and we did a few laps on low angled terrain before heading to the car. Big Broncos game on so he had to get going. I could care less about football, baseball, hockey, etc.. 

Shawn and Jon discussing when we should head out..

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Mother nature is a mean bitch and will slap you when you are not paying attention. Avalanche awareness presentations are just that. If you are planning on spending time in avalanche terrain get educated and go to a class where you spend time in a classroom and outdoors. Every year experienced backcountry guides and travelers die. Get educated and you can limit your exposure and gain valuable experience. One of the best in our area is Pikes Peak Alpine School.






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