The Chutes... 45 days on
On Saturday a kid in the Skytavern Junior Ski Program took the Oblivion Express into a tree on the Cut Throat run in the The Chutes at the Mt. Rose Ski Area. He ended up in the ICU but is expected to fully recover. The results could have been much worse.
Most of us are tired of seeing patrol rescues, ambulances and Careflight rides resulting from skiing or boarding and then losing control in The Chutes the last five weeks. This post addresses where we currently are in The Chutes in an effort to minimize future accidents and point out that you are putting more than yourself at risk when you ski beyond our ability.
Occasionally I get asked "Why are The Chutes still closed?" or, less occasionally, "Why are The Chutes still open?". My stock answer is something about snow safety, patroller safety, the time it takes to open complex terrain or the neglected skill of skiing within one's ability etc. And I only hear the question a 10,000th of the times patrol hears it.
And they hear it from both sides. "Why aren't The Chutes open?" and "Aren't those chutes too dangerous to be open?" Often on the same day. The simple fact is patrol gets pulled two opposing directions... on the one hand it's important to keep as much ski terrain open as possible, on the other it's their job to keep customers's as safe as possible. Although they strive to find a happy medium their decisions cannot satisfy everybody... ever. However, the fact they are still open after 45 very dry days is proof that they strive to walk a razor thin margin keeping customers safe while keeping as much terrain open as possible. Personally I give kudo's to patrol for keeping certain gates open so that some of us can escape the weekend crowds into a vertical sanctuary of sorts.
As you are well aware the last 45 days have been dry on Mt. Rose. These 45 days also followed a severe windstorm on the mountain which blew a lot of the December snow around loading some slopes and unloading others to bare dirt and rock as well as leaving quite a bit of sastrugi where wonderful pow once sat. This situation has resulted in some very challenging off-piste ski conditions and The Chutes are no exception. As a reminder the usual suspects have renamed The Chutes until we get a dump or make it to warm spring weather... enjoy. Hope it makes you smile at least.
Once the angle is figured in though The Chutes are markedly different from other steep terrain at Rose. Anywhere between 45 and 55 degrees can present a situation in certain snow conditions for an uncontrolled slide. That is exactly where we are at. There have been many uncontrolled slides in The Chutes particularly recently as the snow becomes more compact and offers less resistance if one takes a fall. For a whole host of reasons victims tend to be male and run the gamut of ski experience although strikingly, they often tend to be more experienced skiers or riders.
They all have one thing in common. They were not skiing or riding in control. Period. Typically, in midwinter conditions a fall in The Chutes would involve dusting oneself off and getting back up, maybe getting a ski back on... this is decidedly not the case now. I wouldn't describe the chutes as icy but I would say they are very firm, chalky, fast and smooth in the main chutes, meaning, its more work to slow it down some and keep a good edge in order to stay in control. In these conditions a simple fall may result in a slide for life with sometimes injurious consequences.
And thats why the El Cap, Jackpot, Yellowjacket gates remain closed among others. It's also why Cut Throat, Beehive and Miller gates among others, are open. So the relevant question here is not whether The Chutes are safe. The relevant question is whether you can stop stupid. And the answer is a resolute "no." Never can. Never will. You just can't stop stupid.
Customers will continue to get hurt in The Chutes because they choose to exceed their ability and not recognize the current chute conditions as a high consequence "No Fall" environment. And they really may not even be stupid... just ignorant, but the results remain the same. Here is some knowledge that might help... average Careflight rides may cost between 18,000 and 25,000 dollars. Unless you have purchased an additional rider on your insurance plan these flights are typically exempt from your health care plan's coverage. And that doesn't include the more personal costs of pain and suffering that you will also endure in addition to the hurt it will put on your wallet. This info may be something to share with our friends and family... although for some, no matter what you say...there is always time for one more bad decision.
The other piece of this is that serious accidents in The Chutes in these conditions sometimes require a belay with ropes down scary hard snow, around trees etc to get the victim to a safe enough place to ski the toboggan down to advanced medical expertise and then on to a hospital. This is hazardous for patrollers as well, particularly when the patient is badly injured. If you have read this far I hope you'll be willing to think about and modify your own skiing behavior on steep terrain and the chances you may be taking and how you many be putting others at risk. I hope you will ask yourself HOW you address the ever changing conditions of skiing, especially in steeper terrain. So, the message here is simply to slow down, evaluate snow conditions carefully and ski within control all over the mountain, including The Chutes. The trauma you save just may be your own or those of your family or friends.
One rule I live by... ski so that you can ski tomorrow.