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by mike

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   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 time.
   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 safe summer!

So Just What does an Avalanche Dog do in the Off Season?

 
Reggie, the avalanche dog, waiting for a ride.
Reggie waiting for a ride

Sometimes you hear about safety around blasting caps. Well, these are blasting caps - enough there to shred your hand.
blasting caps
The 2 pound high explosive boosters Stefan talks about above.
2 lb. boosters


That sad looks always gets 'em - I got my ride!
Got one!

Resting in Mike's Office
Reggie sleeping in Mike's office

 

Resting in the ATV
Reggie in the ATV

 

Resting under the pickup, in the shade.
Reggie under the pickup

 Resting in the pickup.
Regie in the pickup

 
A little afternoon snack.
Chewing a bone

Reggie, that's a rough life you've got.