The Sunburst Avalanche


Last Saturday, Chelsea and I decided we wanted to do an overnight tour, going up the valley between Sunburst and Magnum peaks. Talking about it at home this seemed like a good idea. Over the past week there had been about 7-8 feet of new snow in the Pass, and we knew the snowpack would need time to adjust to this new load; so it was a good time to cool our jets about the steeps and do more of a tour.

The primary avalanche concern for the area was a layer of buried surface hoar. This entails those beautiful, feathery or blade-like crystals of hoar frost that commonly grow in cold clear weather on the snow surface and are subsequently buried. This is the most common type of weak layer that is involved in fatal avalanches, because it does not give any of the classic signals of severe instability (whoomphing noises and shooting cracks). It was now underneath a 7-10 foot thick cohesive snow slab.

Once we started skinning through the valley, however, with our heavy overnight packs on, we began to doubt the seriousness of the snowpack instability. Skiers whooping down faces that we would have loved to be on was hard to watch.

The farther up the valley we got, though, the more I thought that we had made a poor choice of overnight snow caving spots. We was looking up at the steep slopes of Sunburst and Magnum hanging over our heads, and we grew increasingly uncomfortable.

Buried surface hoar, except in extreme cases, is resistant to remote triggering (i.e. you will not trigger a slope above/around you from a low angle slope nearby). So Chelsea and I had a quick conference and decided that we were ok with skiing underneath these slopes, as long as nobody was coming down them. No sooner had we decided this, then a group of skiers appeared 1500 feet above us and started trundling chunks of cornice down to see if the slope was stable. They rolled almost to our feet, and we quickly decided that this was a death trap (complete with a gully behind us to get washed into). We decided we could go snow caving somewhere out in the flats and have just as good of a time, so we ripped our skins and headed down.
The pictures below show what happened less then five minutes later, as the group of skiers headed down.

Milliseconds after fracture initiation. The skier jumped off the rock outcrop above him and most likely triggered the avalanche when he landed.
(photo by Peter Knape taken 2-23-08)

This avalanche was 1/2 mile wide with a crown face up to 10' deep. It ran 1500 feet to the valley floor and 200 feet up the other side, triggering a sympathetic release off Magnum.
(photo by Peter Knape taken 2-23-08)

Looking up from the debis pile. Notice the deep crown face as well as where it stepped down to deeper weak layers.
(photo by Lisa Portune taken 2-24-08)

The crown face (photo by Lisa Portune taken 2-26-08)

The search and rescue helicopter touches down on the debris pile. the skier that finally triggered it was the sixth one down the face. He was buried for 30-35 minutes, and was blue and unconsious when he was dug out. Another skier was knocked over and partially buried by the powder blast. Luckily, they were both wearing beacons, and no one was badly injured.

We built a jumper and did some kicks

Everything was perfect this weekend. The sun was shining, there was seven feet of new snow from the recent storms and Anne let us eat half of her sandwich on our Sunday tour of Tincan ridge. Because of bad avalanche conditions in the pass this week, we had to stick to low angle terrain (less than 25-30 degrees. This is the angle of most easier blue runs at a resort). It is hard to be to bad to the bone when you are skiing angles under twenty-five degrees, thus our day was a hanging-out-skinning-around-chucklehead kind of day. We did some kicker action on the way down. Here is Denver showing us how it is done.

This is Anne doing a 360.

Chelsea, eyes on the goal, takes flight.
Shad the bad, catching some air
The peak in the distance is Sunburst peak. We skied sunburst on Saturday and will write about those travels in another post.

The Ski Project


Chelsea rescently got a pair of twin tip alpine skis and it didn't take long for her to decide that the topsheet graphics sucked. As in, bulldogs with reptillian wings and maces and flying squirrels wielding butcher knives. (see below).

So we decided that, rather than act like (insert name of a political figure you dispise)and just sit around complaining loudly we would act like (insert name of political figure you admire), and do something about it. So we made a quick sortie to Freddy's, Home Depot, and Michaels. (I try to stay clear of Michaels as a rule, and never go alone. You never know when a crafter will snap, and use thier decorative edging shears to turn you into fishbait). We returned triumphant with three different kinds of spray paint, some bling-tastic stickers, and... well, need I say more? The results speak for themselves.

Love vs Powder


The cheesy valentine val-o-grams made their annual appearance in the newspaper today. Many of the val-o-grams are sincere declarations of eternal love and devotion, "If music be the food of love, play on" or "Can't wait to see ya so I can squeeze ya." Yet one in particular caught my eye. "I love you more then Todd's run on a powder day." Todd's run is a favorite, a sick run, legends have surfaced from this run, and well, 'ol Todd sacrificed his life for it.

Despite all I had heard about Todd's run, the val-o-gram seemed a little lacking in real adoration. Of course the author loves the girl with a love that outlasts any powder run pounding. Couldn't he think of something more appropriate to convey his ardent affections? Later this evening I showed Denver the val-o-gram. He pondered the line and squinted in my direction, "How much powder do they mean," he questioned, "three or four inches? or are we measuring powder by body parts? knee deep? waist deep?"

Happy Valentines Day

Tincan and God


Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. Psalms 90:1-2.
I was flipping through Powder magazine last night and while the pictures are better then ever, the philosophy on life leaves a little to be desired. A certain article casually mentioned the words "skiing is my religion; the mountain is my church." This hardcore ski mantra reminded me how fortunate I am to be able to worship and serve more then a ski or a mountain. I not only serve the creator of these mountains, but I have a personal relationship with the creator of the mountains. The magnitude of a mountain can give us a peek into God's character "Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep,"-Psalms 36:6. Next time I'm feeling overwhelmed as I gaze up and up to the top of the mountain thinking "I have to climb up that?" Or when the peak seems so far away and my legs seems so weak, I can remember that God's righteousness is even bigger.Look at the snow! We had the best tour up Tincan. Denver got some nice exercise putting in a skin track through all the powder. I decided to be a good wife and cheer him on from behind. We got to make some first tracks off the ridgeline which justified the skinning....well, I guess I should see if Denver thinks so....

The Best Commute Ever

I’ve been commuting to work this year on a small part of Anchorage’s super nifty trail system. I usually cycle, but some rare days I’ll just let my own two feet make the traverse. On even rarer days when the snow gets too deep or my tire is too flat I have the opportunity to walk my bike to work.The commute takes about twenty-five minutes cycling and about forty-five minutes on foot. I get to breathe the fresh air, feel the pale sun on my face, and scrape the icicles that grow in the corner of my eyes. I make my way to work in the great outdoors, but make my way home in the warmth of the truck. Denver picks me up every night and gets us both home in about seven minutes.

Thunderbird Falls

The temperatures have been hovering around -5F for the past three weeks. We gaze at the horizon hoping for storm clouds; alas, we must report yet another week with no new snow. Making the most of all the ice we headed out to Thunderbird Falls bearing newly sharpened ice tools and lots of warm clothes. We spent four hours alternately shivering and whacking our way up the frozen waterfall.

Skiing Harp Mountain


Our most recent adventure was just outside of Anchorage with a ski tour of Harp Mountain. The ascent was rather long due to a nasty surface layer of breakable crust, nessecitating lots of boot packing, but the sun gleaming off the solid ice in the couloirs we were going to ski kept our morale high. What a relief to gain the ridge! An hour later we were picnicking on the top of our chosen route.

Our adventure buddies: Shad, Anne and the dog.

After we got through the throat of the couloir we actually discovered a little pow stash. We were able to ski an awesome line all the way back to the car. This is Shad throwing down in true telemark style.

First Blog Ever

Well, we've taken the plunge and decided to try our collective hand at blogging. Feel free to tell us what you think, but be sparing with harsh criticisms, we just aren't ready for that yet.
The thrill of owning our own little piece of cyber-real estate might eventually wear off, but hopefully the thrill of keeping you-all informed and entertained will not. Time will tell.
So hopefully, it will be a good way to communicate with those that we don’t talk to often enough, and give the people we do talk to regularly the chance to hear all our thoughts and stories twice. Special bonus: some of Denver’s photographs will inevitably be displayed, as well as more jargon than you can shake a stick at.