Ski Mountaineering

Avalanche Course and Snow Camp at Sherwin Bowl, Mammoth Lakes

Feb 8-9, 1991

Leader: Reiner Stenzel, Asst: Nancy Gordon

Our objective was to study avalanche conditions in the backcountry after doing independent research on basic meteorology and snow properties. Our instructor, Norm Wilson, happened be the avalanche consultant for the proposed Sherwin Bowl ski area. Reiner had arranged a special parking permit for our vehicles with the Public Works Dept of Mammoth, and Norm had arranged for us to park at the Snowcreek Development, the closest access to Sherwin Bowl.

We met Saturdayat the Ranger Station at Mammoth Lakes at 7:30 AM. For whatever reason, there were six cancellations (pity). That left a small, but enthusiastic group of good backcountry skiers: Mark Bailey, Glenn Pinson, Catherine Laben, Peter Saggau, Jim Valensi, John Choboian, and Mike Rector.

We put our skiis on at the parking lot and skied into base camp just below judge's Bench. After setting up camp, we skied to areas suitable for field instruction in physical properties of snow, snow stratigraphy, the temperature gradient process, weak substratum snow layers, and avalanche paths and dynamics.

It sure makes more sense to do this training in the field; besides, we got in some fme skiing as we examined the avalanche terrain of the Sherwin Bowl. We dug a Rutsch-Block and a snow pit and performed the shovel shear test. We discussed effects of precipitation, wind, temperature, route finding, campsites, evaluating avalanche risk, and safety equipment.

Sunday, after searching for buried avalanche beacons near camp, we skied the area to further discuss safe travel in avalanche terrain and perfected several rescue techniques.

All of us benefitted from this avalanche education and should be able to make good decisions regarding safe travel and minimizing avalanche risk when skiing the backcountry. Norm Wilson is an avalanche guru dedicated to sharing the latest and best information available on snow and avalanche problems.

Recommended reinforcement for the field experience: Gallagher: The Snowy Torrents, Perla and Martinelli: Avalanche Handbook, LaChapelle: Avalanche Safety, Fredston and Fesler: Snow Sense, the U.S. Dept of Agriculture Handbook #489, and Daffer: Avalanche Safety for Skier and Climbers.

Reporter: Nancy Gordon

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