Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to Read an Avalanche Forercast

Well its time to slaughter this sacred cow.

First off, the forecasters are extremely smart people with a difficult job. They have more snow safety training than most. There is good info in every report but you need to know how to find it.

The first thing a person needs to ask when writing any report is: "Who is my target audience?" Most people in the backcountry have no snow safety training and more and more of them can't ski for shit. This is the target audience. These are the folks that need take the forecast literally. They do not possess the tools to make good decisions so the forecasters make a conservative decision for them. The targeted people are not bad folks, in fact we've all been there. The report is designed to scare these people.

If you are in this category, read the report like its gospel and you are a fundamental Republican. 40 days. Copy. Adam's rib. Roger. Considerable. Repent! Repent!

OK, you have some training. You've get out multiple times each week. You've conducted stability tests. You've got a network of buddies out there everyday feeding you beta. Do you need to read the report? Absolutely! The reports have good info, but so do you're other sources. Developing a forecast for an entire range is tricky business. Every nook of that range is slightly different. Don't discount your specific knowledge about your specific nook. The forecast is not specific.

The forecasts are written in shades of grey, and it gets more so every year. Gone are the days of "today is the day to check that big line off your list." More and more its "isolated pockets of instability." Cover your ass, pure and simple. If you always leave the possibility of avalanches, you can never be wrong.

Despite the vagueness of the language and the impossible task of developing a range-wide forecast, there is never any ambiguity when there is an incident. That is black and white. It becomes a morality play about good (the center) versus evil (you). It is meant to make the person involved in the incident look like an idiot. You will be compared to that Led Zeppelin guy in the rain. This technique helps to keep the target audience in fear and in awe of their power.

They roar down from the summit of Mount Olympus: "See what happened when people do not obey our (vague) will! You will be destroyed! Feel my wrath!" This technique is very effective in scaring the masses, but it has an unintended consequence. Many incidents don't get reported. This is where your network comes in handy.

They only deviate from the playbook if it a forecaster involved. Then it is described as "a very experienced" blah, blah, blah.

The bottom line:
- Read the forecast everyday; its an important piece of the puzzle
- Take it literally if you have limited training/experience
- Be prepared to have any incident you are involved in to be twisted to make you look dumb
- Remember, there are days you should rally the resort

Hector 3

P.S. The resort was a blast today

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