Ear to the ground

“Leadville is like Silverton on crack!”

– Local woman commenting on Colorado’s highest town during a stopover on her way to a Broncos game.

From the avalanche archives

Forget everything you know about backcountry ski survival. For decades, those venturing into avalanche prone terrain have been armed with the same piece of advice – try to swim to the top if you’re caught in an avalanche. However, the dark art known as avalanche science is discovering that old credo may be wrong.  

Dale Atkins, a former forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, recently told the Denver Post that evidence is beginning to point in a different direction. Attempt to swim takes your hands away from your body, he said. Instead, Atkins suggests keeping your hands in front of your face to create a pocket of air after the snow stops moving but before it has set up.

Staying on top the snow is important, Atkins added, but in many cases, victims are helpless to affect their positions. Luck is ultimately the biggest factor in determining whether a skier is buried or manages to ride on top of an avalanche.

In what Atkins calls the “Brazil Nut Effect,” larger objects tend to rise to the surface of a moving avalanche. Snowmobiles, for example, are twice as likely to end up on the surface as compared to their riders. And asphyxiation not trauma is responsible for nearly 75 percent of avalanche fatalities. With 10 minutes being the average time of burial, Atkins commented, “That’s a long time to hold your breath.”

Music in the mountains

If you like your ski runs with fewer teeth, there’s good news at a small area near Jackson, Wyo. In what surely must be the strangest ski improvement of the year, Snow King Mountain is adding a giant harpsichord to one of its run.

Artist Bill Close was making musical instruments in the early 1990s when he came across a quotation from famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Architecture, he said, is “frozen music.” Close has expanded the concept beyond traditional architecture and is taking music to landforms.

At Snow King Mountain, a small ski area on the outskirts of Jackson, Close intends to lay strings from the ski area’s base up a trail and then anchoring the giant strings and tightening them. The effort is being sponsored by a Jackson-based nonprofit called Vista 360.


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows