5th Annual Avalanche Awareness Week is December 3- 10! Find an event near you!

Blog: No Chute

Drew Hardesty


The avalanche danger was Low.  After skiing the Woolly Hole beneath the north ridge of Timp and gliding over under the stepped couloirs that guard the upper Pika cirque, the skis went on the pack and up the right-most little cooler (Americans, including myself can never pronounce "couloir", especially with a good French accent).  Halfway up, I start kicking into some hard wind slab.  Small bits of hard wind slab cracked out as I ascended, and I noted that the hard shallow wind deposit was getting thicker and heavier as I went.  I pawed down to find small grain - grey in color - facets sandwiched between two hard wind slabs.  

I start thinking, Should I hug the side of the cooler where I feel more protected..., or should I stay in the middle where the slab is fat and might keep me from collapsing the thing?  Along the edges where it's thinner, or right up the middle where it's fat?  Hmmm.  That's when I realized I had subconsciously been kicking little baby steps, barely a cm or so into the slab, hoping it would stay in place.  

And that's when I started thinking about Zach Guy's master's thesis.  Zach's now an avalanche forecaster in the little mining town of Crested Butte, Colorado and had gotten his master's degree looking at the spatial variability of trigger points in steep couloirs, I mean coolers.   I swear I am not making this up.  I bet he had to bite a hole in his lip to keep a straight face during his defense.*   Now most of the time I'm full of it (just ask my ex-wife), but not this time.  I was thinking, Now where are those dang trigger points supposed to be?  

I would say that that's when it hit me..  When you start to rationalize this and rationalize that, and think Oh maybe I'll just kick steps in a little less forcefully - y'know - little baby kicks and so on and so forth.....yep, when you start to do all that, it's time to hit the road.  Funny how on the news you never hear the story that goes like this - "A skier (climber, alpinist - fill in the blank) noted a few yellow flags in his/her outing in the mountains today....made a good decision.... AND TURNED AROUND.  Live at 6."  You never see that.  It's boring, that's why.  That's ok, it's alright today sitting back on the tailgate at the end of the day being bored and drinking iced tea.  

(All seriousness aside [most people don't get the joke], I consider Zach and his colleague there in Crested Butte - Ian Havlick - others, Meisenheimer, etc to be the future, or part of the future of avalanche forecasting.) 

So I'm on the tailgate drinking my iced tea looking across at the great north face of Timpanogos.  You'll see the contrail diving right into it - or out of it, depending on your mood or disposition.  It sees few descents.  And for good reason.  Provided the northwest winds haven't stripped the thing, you ski 2000' until you hit the 300' cliffband.  Then you sally your way down the apron for another 800' until you hit the summer road, taking you back to Timpooneke CG, Pine Hollow and American Fork canyon.  This I know because I skiied it.  Not that I meant to.  I had started the morning in the Sundance parking lot, skinned up above Slide canyon and followed the ridge north to the north summit.  This was a long time ago.  In Atomic Tourcap Lights.  (which is nothing - you ever seen that Chris Noble photo of Rick Wyatt (Evelyn's husband) in the middle of jump turn skiing from the top of the Grand Teton in 1992?  On free. heel. gear.).  Like I said, I didn't mean to.  I was aiming for the Cold Fusion and dropped north instead of northwest.  As it turns out, I'm not the only one who's made that navigational error.  I suppose a list of Collinson, Wyatt, Lees, Knight, Covington, Lowe, McLean, Barlage, Shaw, Diegel, perhaps the Dorais brothers (who have real jobs and should know better), and any number of classic Utah skiers who'd rather die than be embarrassed talking about their exploits in the mountains - these are the folks who have likely really skiied the thing.  Check it out.  

Is that a skin track I see up the middle of that apron? if it is, why? I thought that was not allowed. Why do some photos on Utah Avy page, Instagram have everyone jumping on the guy who skins up the middle....vs other photos....no one cares. Why did anyone care in the first place. I don't remember seeing painted yellow lines or other govt rules posted along the mountainside.
stranger man
Mon, 3/28/2016
<p>In my view, it&#39;s a bit like why we can drive 80mph on the highway but are kept under 25mph&nbsp;in the city. The Woolley&nbsp;Hole and the Pika Cirque are akin to the roads out on the Salt Flats in the west desert.&nbsp;</p>
Mon, 3/28/2016