The White Blog

(Ed’s note: The White Blog, by John Davies, will be a recurring feature spotlighting all things related to avalanche safety and backcountry travel. This is the first piece.)

By John Davies
Published: January 10, 2011

If you didn't have a white Christmas this year, you may consider spending the holiday elsewhere. It snowed, in epic proportions, pretty much everywhere. Santa Claus found me in Silverton, Colo., where it snowed 90 inches that week. At Alta, Utah, the same storm produced 70 inches, including one day--Dec. 20--with 17.5 inches of fresh white at 5.66 percent density. That's some serious blower.

But these totals paled in comparison to what happened in Mammoth, Calif., where it snowed 17 feet (!). Check out these absurd numbers (on the history tab). (For the record, Vancouver Island's Mount Washington took the 48-hour snowfall title this holiday season when over 8 feet piled up in that time period.)

But snowfall is a tragic romance. Avalanche warnings spread across the map in the wake of widespread storms.

Slides prompted officials to urge evacuation in Mount Charleston, Nev., and to close Cameron Pass in Colorado. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center's Scott Toepher warned that they might see the biggest slide in the state in 100 years.

Fortunately, the epic storm didn't result in any avalanche related deaths in the U.S. ski or snowboard community, despite the fact that much of the new snow was heavier, pineapple express product. Sadly, however, an avalanche at the summit of British Columbia's Coquihalla Pass claimed the life of the third snowmobiler in a week. Furthermore, a British man died in a slide in Val D’ Isere, and, tragically, another avalanche killed four Japanese ski patrollers on Mount Daisen.

That said (and with my condolences for family members who lost a loved one in an avalanche this holiday), this blog is meant to be a place where skiers can come for an aggregation of helpful backcountry resources around the web.

Here are my three recent favorites:

1. Jeremy Jones, that bastion of wisdom in the face of countless human-powered first descents, has a perspective few others can offer. His blog is excellent. Recently, he detailed his five red flags and the Just Say No campaign.

2. The Canadian Avalanche Centre, even though they spell “center” wrong, is still pretty helpful. It offers a comprehensive guide to planning a backcountry trip in moose country. It also covers the covers the main sections of Pascal Haegeli, Roger Atkins and Karl Klassen's must-read book, "Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain: A field book for winter backcountry users."

3. I'm a sucker for mnemonic devices (ROYGBIV got me through grade school, and PEMDAS through high school). suggests ALP TRUTh and FACETS, two checklists, created by expert Dr. Ian McCammon, for avoiding slides.