Greetings Loyal Readers!
This is guest blog writer Stefan, checking in. Mike
asked me to write up a little story for the blog to inform
everyone about the snow safety and avalanche control work that
happens at Pebble Creek during the winter. Also, we thought we’d
inform you about what goes on in the summer time for me and my
avalanche rescue dog, Reggie.
First, let’s talk about avalanche control. When a
winter storm is forecasted for our area, my paid patrollers and
I make a plan to come in to work early (6:00am) to mitigate any
potential avalanche hazard inside the ski area boundary. The day
starts out by getting an up to date weather forecast, checking
in with the groomers who worked the night before, and assembling
our explosive charges. Two of the biggest factors in avalanche
control work are how much snow fell and from which direction the
wind blew. Pebble Creek has several areas that historically load
up with new wind blown snow, creating a layer on top of the old
snow that could fracture and cause an avalanche. These are
primarily The Rock and the cliff bands above the Over Run
Traverse and Upper Stacy’s.
The explosives we use at the ski area are two pound
pentolite charges, along with a blasting cap and safety fuse. On
a big snow year (2005/2006), over 300 lbs. of explosive charges
might be used in a season in snow safety work. Last season
(2006/2007), a light snow year comparatively, we only used about
half that amount.
Once the charges are assembled, the snow safety
team of two to three patrollers loads the Skyline and then
ascends the hiking trail above the Skyline patrol shack. Along
the hiking trail, there are access points to the cliff bands
where we either throw our charges or use our bomb trams to hang
the charge above the snow, while we stay safely out of harms
way. After the charges go off, we assess what snow has slid and
determine the dimensions of the avalanche area (depth, width,
length). The snow safety team also gets to ski check the areas
that didn’t slide, which I suppose is one of the perks to our
job. Our goal is to be down and clear of the blasting zone by
830am, so we can then meet the volunteer patrollers so the
regular morning sweep can happen and the mountain can open on
Along with avalanche transceiver practice, digging
pits in the snow to assess different layers of instability in
the snow pack, and area familiarization, we also train with
Reggie, my nine year old black lab, who is our avalanche rescue
dog. There are many different drills to keep Reggie’s search
skills honed, from the very basic runaway drill (someone runs
out of sight and hides), to burying scented articles of clothing
in the snow (simulates a buried person), to actually burying one
or more people in a snow cave and sending in Reggie to locate
and dig them out. However, as most patrollers will tell you,
Reggie really enjoys “charging his batteries” and sharing
the couch at the top shack with whoever is on top duty.
So, that is a quick snapshot on how we take care of potential
avalanche hazard inside the ski area boundary.
But, as most of you may know, Pebble Creek has
incredible backcountry terrain that is easily accessible from
the ski area. Once you cross the boundary ropes, it is a
different world and all backcountry travelers should be prepared
for a possible backcountry avalanche. So, everyone should have a
transceiver, shovel and probe and should know how to use them.
Also, backcountry users should take an avalanche course to
familiarize themselves with snowpack, potential hazards and
rescue techniques. There are many such courses available. A good
resource to get started with is www.avalanche.org . If a
backcountry avalanche happens, an organized search and rescue
team could be more than an hour away. So, it’s up to each
individual backcountry user to know how to use their equipment
and perform the rescue of a buried partner quickly.
Finally, I wanted to share with you some pictures
of Reggie. Most of you know what Reggie does in the winter, but
here are some shots of how Reggie spends his summer up here at
Pebble Creek, while the rest of us are performing maintenance on
the lifts and on the ski area. I hope you enjoy them and we look
forward to seeing you on the slopes again next winter. Have a
So Just What
does an Avalanche Dog do in the Off Season?
Reggie, the avalanche dog, waiting for a ride.
you hear about safety around blasting caps. Well, these are
blasting caps - enough there to shred your hand.
2 pound high explosive boosters Stefan talks about above.
That sad looks always gets 'em - I got my ride!
Resting in Mike's Office
Resting in the ATV
Resting under the pickup, in the shade.
Resting in the pickup.
A little afternoon snack.
that's a rough life you've got.