Northwest Snow & Avalanche Summit (NSAS) 2012 Wrap-Up

Mark Moore Director / Avalanche Meteorologist

Mark started off with the fact that he’s retiring and will be replaced by a new director at NWAC this year. The bulk of his presentation focused on what changes NWAC is making this year:

  • New icons for likely avi types
  • Twice daily forecasts
  • New print feature
  • Ending phone recording of the forecast since <10% of people used it and it was hard to produce
  • New weather station at Blewett Pass
  • New archive feature
  • Website will be more mobile friendly

He finished with a discussion of the forecast showing lots of slides that I wish were on Slideshare or something so we could share them with you! He cautioned that El Nino slows mid-January but picks up in March. Mission Ridge does well in the early part of an El Nino year. If we get El Nino it means warmer and driver weather.

He emphasized that your safety is up to you, and that going out is not as clear as a yes or no decision.

Paul Bultler – Serving up the product – a day of heli-ski guiding

Paul is one of the owners of North Cascade Heli, an outfit I’ve skied with a few times. His talk centered around what a day is like for a heli guide. His visuals were photo after photo of incredible ski porn. I still can’t believe how good the North Cascades are.

He emphasized that the ideal day, much like the days of his anesthesiology doctor clients, is a routine day.

They define the product as untracked pow, the mountain experience, fun and the magic carpet ride.

At the beginning of the day they have a weather meeting. The most interesting part for me is that at the beginning of the day they mark their runs as either green, yellow and red. And that they seldomly mark a run as yellow. This prevents everyone from getting caught up in the moment when they’re out in the field.

In terms of what they ride, they look at four determining factors: flight options (the pilot needs visual reference at all times), snow stability, snow quality and desires of guests.

In terms of when they head home, I’ve found it is always because we’re either out of money or our legs are cooked. But their guideline is to get everyone back one hour before sundown.

Back at the barn they do an evening summary. Weekly they compile a report.

There was some questions about how they handle encountering ski tourers and he responded that as much as possible they do their best to avoid them.

Someone also asked about whether they share their condition info, and he said they do with NWAC. But that also folks are welcome to call and ask.

Dr. Michael Medler – The WWU Collaboration with NWAC to Provide Daily Avalanche Hazard Maps

Dr.Medler is one animated public speaker!

He started off talking about what drew him to avalanche research; he started out as a fireman then a fire researcher. He moved into snow research because his students kept submitting GIS projects focused on figuring out which slopes were good/not good at Table Mountain near Mount Baker. He said there is a relationship between fire and snow seasons. Big fire year means next year will be a big snow year. (I think I remembered that right.)

He spent the bulk of his talk demo’ing a new GIS tool for NWAC’s site that allows folks in the field to contribute observations. It looks like it is going to be a great tool to see what is going on around the north-west. He sees it as a learning tool.

One other tool I learned about from his talk is Slope Science, a route planning tool, that shows you the degree of different slopes you’ll encounter on your tour.

Tom Murhpy – Creating Lifelong Learners

Sadly, Tom didn’t have quite the same captivating speaking style of the speakers who went before them. What I took away was that he wanted the audience (primarily patrollers, guides, instructors) to create lifelong learners out of their students. His points were:

  • Clarify don’t mystify: if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it
  • Create dialog: a lack of communication is a big problem
  • Tell stories: ideally your own stories about close calls
  • Think about how we think: he recommended the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (also recommended by a few other speakers later on.)
  • Closed loops are dangerous
  • Connect the dots: intuition is not transferrable
  • Be a learner: real learning happens after the course. AIARE is working on some e-learning initiatives.

John Stimberis – WSDOT Avalanche Control Supervisor, South Central Region

Did you know they use M60 tanks to control avalanches in Washington State? I didn’t!

John started off talking about how hazard + exposure = risk. I-90 gets 30,000 cars a day. In comparison, highway 2 gets 2,000. I-90’s busiest days are Friday, Sunday then Saturday.

His mission is to destroy the snowpack because it is hard to have an avalanche if there’s no snow :).

My big take away from his talk was that the plan to put snow bridges in place on I-90 is going to seriously mess with traffic as they remove the old snow shed. Especially for 2014/2015. There will be lots of delays.

Alex Marienthal – Avalanche Research Graduate Student, Montana State University

When Alex started talking, everyone leaned forward. His talk was on deep dry and wet slab avalanches. There were lots of slides, many pictures of scary deep slab slides, many graphs and charts. My take away was that we need more research guys like Alex digging into avalanches.

Marcus Engley/Roger Strong – Dawn Patrol – A Case Study of the Phantom Slide

“It feels like this is an AA meeting”.


Larry Schick – Meteorologist

His favorite Internet snow sources:
– Tony Crocker’s Your Guide to Snow
– Ski the Volcanoes

Watch the cams: lens, trees, roads

El Nino, near neutral, possible weak

Follow short range forecast

Nature’s showing you a story

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