February 20, 2010:
I got a late start today and wasn't inspired by the prevailing lean conditions, but it was a sunny day so I headed to Hyak for a few exercise laps. Lo and behold, they were holding the Holy Oly Revival on the main hill. For those of you without a background in Hyak history (I happen to have grown up skiing there from the ages of about 3 until 8), the "Oly" refers to a water tank on the hill that once was painted to resemble a can of Olympia beer. Numerous Northwest snowboard luminaries hold Oly cans near and dear to their hearts, and a quarterpipe/jib festival is held each year to commemorate the "can."
The skiing was pretty much horrendous and made worse by the fact that they scraped every available bit of snow off the lower hill in order to create the gargantuan quarterpipe mound, but I did run into Holly's mom Marg and her friend halfway up the cat track and skinned and chatted with them for a bit.
February 9, 2010:
Today was clear and warm at Alpental, with icy bumps on the top and decent groomers below. A few runs on the corduroy seemed enough, and I had the new Pieps DSP, so I decided to pay a visit to the beacon basin across from the main Alpental parking lot. Those of you who know Alpental will recognize the location from the Shot 10 monolith hiding behind the pole; the location adds a shot of realism to any practice scenario as it is a real avalanche path. Many readers will no doubt remember the slide from two winters ago that came through this same spot and remodeled the roof of the adjacent condos.
When I arrived, Margaret Wheeler was leading a group of guides through a series of "expert" scenarios, and I watched with interest as guides and aspiring guides from around the country tried their hand at timed location tests. Two guys from Colorado commented that the Alpental venue was much larger and more realistic than others they were familiar with; indeed the size of the test site easily exceeds the 65-70 meter limit commonly found in avalanche beacons. If you are alone, you will have to walk uphill a bit after pushing the start button before you begin receiving any signal. To lend more realism, you might have searchers walk above the search area with ski gear and have one person begin the test from the box while shouting out directions (as Margaret did).
The Easy Searcher test unit itself is self-contained and solar powered. You simply select your level of difficulty from a menu of "easy," "medium" or "expert," wait for a few seconds, and start hunting when the machine starts a visible timer. Pressure sensitive plywood pads are the "victims" and are buried randomly around the practice area (though most are a fair distance from the control unit). With little or no fresh snow for the past two weeks at the practice elevation, and many bootprints having packed the area thoroughly, the snow was quite hard to penetrate (I chose to use the one-piece metal probes provided at the site rather than beat my own), but probably realistic for many an avalanche rescue scenario. "Easy" gives you a single victim to locate, "medium" provides several (I got three), and "expert" provides an unknown number of randomly placed victims (I got five). When you locate a "victim" with your probe, a loud signal sounds at the control box, and when you successfully complete searching for multiple victims a series of signals sounds.
The single victim search was no problem, even though I waited for about 40 seconds before starting to walk uphill without realizing the thing was on. The medium search also went well, after I realized I wasn't holding the "mark" button down long enough on my Pieps and came back to the same victim a couple times. There seemed to be a problem with the expert level resetting itself during the session (it seemed to do this once while the guide group was working as well). I found three, then more victim icons popped up on my transceiver - when I went back to the control box, it said I had failed to find numbers 4 and 5. Hmmmm. Seems like I need to go back again when I have more time and try again.
Hats off to John Stimberis of the WSDOT, Rob Gibson of the Alpental Pro Patrol and the David Pettigrew Foundation who maintain and fund this facility! It's a great resource to have in our backyard, and the practice you get here could indeed save someone's life. Perfect entertainment for those really crappy ski days when a couple runs are enough.
Edited to add: I just checked this thread on Turns-All-Year.com and it appears there may be a problem with the "expert" mode, or at least there was three days ago. At least you can run the single and multiple with known number of victims modes without a hitch, which should be plenty to get started with. One recommendation I picked up from watching the AMGA guides' group was to have only one "searcher" (person with a transceiver set to receive) in each group, and designate others in the group as probers or shovelers (they were using 2 person groups, so just a searcher and prober).
February 1, 2010:
Winter is still struggling to gain a foothold in the Pacific Northwest. The foot or so of nice snow we got earlier in the week was rained on for several days in a row, and scraped off the high, steep places (witness Upper International at Alpental) leaving nice huge clear ice patches. I'm hoping that somewhere in the world tomorrow, a groundhog will see its shadow and keep winter coming.
Meanwhile, we keep skiing. After a great day of lift skiing with the bros on Tuesday, Kevin and I were thinking of something in the Alpental vicinity for the weekend, maybe Kaleetan to Chair Peak Lake? We headed out in a steady drizzle, and when we reached Pineapple Pass and found essentially no visibility, decided to stay on the front side in case we fell in a hole and broke our leg (in which case we might be able to persuade someone from Alpy patrol to bring the sled down from Piss Pass and carry us out). This wasn't exactly a remote scenario, as we came across several huge holes near boulders that we couldn't see in the fog. Found some decent "transitional" powder (ie rain saturated, but untracked) over light crust.
If you think it looks foggy in these pictures, you should have seen it before I added contrast, sharpness and brightness in Photoshop!
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© 2010 Gregory C. Louie