Monday, January 7, 2013

Of Avalanches and Mailboxes

I saw this message on our avy forecast during our big snow cycle during the holiday week:

An intentional cornice drop yesterday triggered a hard slab to the ground, 3' deep by 50', on a very steep, north facing slope at 10,000.

And that one came on the heels of this, a couple of days before:

Yesterday, it appeared that someone kicking a cornice at the top of Days Fork triggered a large cornice that subsequently triggered a sizable hard slab below, which ran to the bottom of the bowl.

While the wisdom of doing this in populated areas has been a hotly-debated topic over the last year or so, the truth is that the reality is that slaying white avalanche dragons is far more deeply embedded in our psyche than we probably care to admit.  The ability to trigger an avalanche from a safe perspective is simply an adult, cold-weather manifestation of mankind’s inherent fascination with blowing things up. 

A few seasons ago, as a typical early Fall of several weak, facet-producing storms gave way to some bigger, windier storms of early winter and the Utah Avalanche Center’s forecasters began to sound more shrill, it became clear that “blowing things up” - that is, triggering avalanches - sounded more appealing than actually skiing windjack.  And sure enough, an early morning trip up to the well-loaded Monitor Bowls for a bit of cornice kicking yielded memorably spectacular results; we dropped a refrigerator-sized block onto the slope that broke 4’ deep, went wall to wall and roared down a thousand vertical feet.  One of best shots of adrenaline I’d had in years.  It was a sensation that I realized had been long-suppressed by responsible adulthood:   the anticipation associated with kicking off cornice blocks and the indescribable view of half-mile wide, tilted-over, white sea of hard slab abruptly shattering and screaming off into a cloudy white hell

reminded me of….blowing up mailboxes. 

The similarities between triggering avalanches and blowing up mailboxes are striking:  both are generally viewed by the general public as inherently dangerous and stupid, the innocence of a beautiful hard slab tenuously clinging to a 38 degree slope is comparable to the exposure of a puglike mailbox precariously perched on a top of a vertical 2x4 so temptingly close to its street, and both the pristine slope and the austere mail receptacle simply beg to be released from their maddeningly-inert state.   The difference, of course, is that one is most effectively done with explosives by the coolest guys in a mountain town, and the other is done with explosives by social outcast punks. However, for many of the male gender, we secretly admire both equally.  In fact, recently when riding around town I saw one flayed open:

The feverish anticipation associated with the planning, the edginess of handling the “goods”, the wild few moments before detonation, and the unbelievable adrenaline rush of the final, glorious explosion is as addictive to a grown man as it is to a 17 year old making his bones. 
It’s probably a good thing for society that the propensity to “blow things up” is generally suppressed as time marches along, but it’s also a good thing for some of us that slaying the white dragon of avalanches resurrects – and partially satiates – that long-suppressed desire under the auspices of endeavoring to make a slope “safe” (if indeed, as noted this past week, doing so doesn’t jeopardize other folks).    

It’s no mailbox in the headlights of Dad’s Impala, but it’s a lot of fun. 


  1. Ah yes. Reminds me of my time spent with the S&W .460... Went a little sump thin like this:,d.cGE


    1. Try this un!