The Outside Blog

Dispatches : Dec 2010

Tree well deep snow safety

As the west gets pounded by storms in what has been a best winter season opening in years, hopefully everyone has been out powder farming the light, dry, deep crystalline snow.  When tracking up my local backcountry stash this weekend, I spied giant tree wells, big as black holes. Be careful of this lesser known mountain hazard: fall in a tree well or deep snow, and you can suffocate. Called Non-Avalanche Snow Immersion Death, or NARSID, it is better described Snow Immersion Suffocation.

The key is avoidance and quick partner rescue if you fall into a tree well. To avoid: ski and ride within your skills, use the proper tool (big pow mean big sticks), and employing a buddy system—stay in voice and visual contact, which you should be doing anyway. If you get sucked in: try to tuck, roll, and land upright, grab the tree trunk or a branch, and yell to alert your partner. If buried upside down, stay calm and create an air pocket, which is probably of paramount importance. Avalanche safety gear may speed rescue if your location is unknown. But know that you can suffocate as quickly as you can drown in water.

For more info, check out the comprehensive journal paper published recently in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine or the website

Be safe.

--Christopher Van Tilburg, MD

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Dekker Completes Sail Across Atlantic

Sailing Laura Dekker, the 15-year-old Dutch girl attempting to break the world record for youngest solo circumnavigation of the globe, reached St. Maarten island in the Caribbean recently, successfully completing her first leg of the journey.

Dekker, who was repeatedly delayed by Dutch authorities finally got permission to sail early this year, spent two months in the Canary Islands preparing her 38-foot monohull, Guppy. She made it to the Caribbean in 17 days.

Dekker is next on a growing list of teens attempting serious adventure feats. Check out our profile of Jordan Romero, "Into Teen Air" for a closer look at teenagers (like Abby Sunderland) pushing themselves to new heights and lengths.

--Will Taylor

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

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Ry Cuming's Top 3 Surf Spots

Musician Ry Cuming grew up surfing Australian waves, so it’s no wonder that his music has a chillax, beachy vibe. Lately, the 26-year old has been touring with Maroon 5 and One Republic, far from his native swells. But he surfs every chance he gets—mostly in Los Angeles—and will never forget his favorite breaks.

“I think the beauty of surfing is that it’s something removed from a physical want,” says Cuming. “When you’re touring, there’s so much going on. Surfing’s a very pure thing—as close to meditation and spirituality as you can get.”

Want to zen out down under? Check out Cuming’s top three Australian surf spots:

3. Byron Bay
“There’s a range of different waves in Byron Bay. My dad lives in a little kind-of tree house stuck on the side of a hill and you can look out and see the waves across this reserve of trees. Surfing in the mornings with my dad is a real special thing.”

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Checking In with Skier Chris Davenport

Chris Davenport, Mike Arzt                                                             Chris Davenport, Mike Arzt

To say that ski mountaineer Chris Davenport stayed busy in 2010, would be an understatement. He came out with a new book (Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America), guided in Indonesia, and flew off on expeditions to dream ski destinations in places like Chile and Antarctica—all while tweeting the entire time (@steepskiing). Greg Fitzsimmons checks in with the Red Bull sponsored athlete on the highlights of this year and what's next for 2011.

Yo, Dav. How are things going?
Hey, Greg. I am on cloud nine right now; things are great. I just got back from a month of skiing in Chile to my favorite time of year in Aspen. I already have some skiing under my belt, I’ve been on my bike, my kids are back in school, and so we have a good routine.

Good to hear. First, how was last season for you?
Wow, I had a really busy year of travel. I think I was on the road 170 days.

What were some highlights?
It started out in the late fall when I did a trip to Indonesia to guide a climb on Carstensz Pyramid, which is one of the seven summits. I had never been to Indonesia before. I came back from [Indo], packed up and left for Antarctica. The Antarctica trip was one I had been working on for almost a year. When we finally flew down to Ushuaia, Argentina and walked up on the dock to see the sailboat we were going to be on for the next month I just rubbed my hands together and was like, “Okay, this is going to be cool.” We had 18 days of skiing on the Antarctic Peninsula. I had been there before, but it is by far one of the world’s most beautiful and inspiring skiing destinations. I could go into the ski season like: “Alright I’ve done these amazing things already” and it was nice to have something in the can like that.
After spending time with my family, taking my kids to ski races, enjoying the amazing skiing we have here in Aspen in late December and January, I crammed the SIA show, X Games, and Powder Awards into a week period. With the SIA Show, we were launching my new Kastle ski, the Chris Davenport FX-94, and so I was working a lot with media to blow that ski up.

Then, right after that, I flew up to Whistler in the first week of February for the Olympics. I was up there for the entire month working as the host alpine ski-racing announcer. I think I did 15 races or something like that. I had two weeks home in March after the Olympics and then I went up to Alaska with Warren Miller Films, Chugach Powder Guides, and my partner Stian Hagen.

From AK, I was home for two days and then flew out to California to meet up with another partner of mine, photographer Christian Pondella. Our goal was to continue a project I started the year before skiing all of California’s fourteeners. I showed up in California and we just started sending, going up and down, up and down up these mountains.

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Inbounds Uphill Traffic

Going up, Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana

Along with the bourgeoning sport of alpine touring, many skiers and snowboarders are skinning and snowshoeing inbounds these days, requiring mountain resorts to figure out how to deal with uphill traffic. Although you may hear grumbling on both sides, know that resorts need to direct hikers safely away from avalanche control work, snowcat grooming operations, and scores of downhillers.

Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana has an excellent solution I came upon when out on a pre-dawn climb yesterday:  a designated, clearly-marked, uphill traffic route complete with an explanation of the policy in the base area.

The beta on inbounds climbing

My home peak, Mount Hood Meadows, directs skinners and snowshoers to two out of bounds routes and also posts avalanche control advisory information on the internet for a popular sidecountry access route. Many resorts have put the kibosh on inbounds skinning altogether for safety.

Why go up inside the ropelines? To test new gear in the relative safety of the resort, get some exercise, access the sidecountry, or simply try something new.

If in doubt of the uphill traffic policy, check in with ski patrol. 

Follow the rules and be safe.

--Christopher Van Tilburg, MD

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