Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Patrollers brave slides on Baldy

Express Staff Writer

Doing their best to create safe skiing conditions on Bald Mountain, members of the Sun Valley Ski Patrol found themselves in the path of a pair of avalanches Tuesday morning.

Head patrolman Mike Lloyd said 10 inches of new snow fell Monday night, leading to dicey conditions on the north side of the mountain, which has a weaker snowpack than other areas.

"Patrol went out and skied the regular avalanche starting points on the front side of Baldy at about 8 a.m.," Lloyd said. "It is called avalanche reduction. You cannot stop avalanches, but you can mitigate the risk."

Traveling in teams of two or more, the skiers make what Lloyd called "ski cuts" in which the patrolmen follow each other across runs in a zig-zag pattern to try to trigger a surface slide or settle the snow to make it safer.

"Right out of the door, we had reports of several of the steeper unskied areas sliding," Lloyd said.

Lloyd said one patrolman was caught in an avalanche in Sunnyside Bowl and was carried 75 yards, but did not get buried.

"It was a fairly substantial avalanche," he said.

In another incident, Lloyd said a patrolman was standing in-between Limelight and Picabo's Street when two fellow workers were making cuts above him. A slab broke off and carried the first patrolman down to Machine Road where the snow poured over his head, but he was able to shield himself with his hands until the slide abated.

"Our patrollers took two laps to make sure they had gone through most of the traps and terrain. We felt good enough to open around 10 a.m.," Lloyd said. "We also warned everybody heading up to make good decisions—to ski with a partner and not to get into steep, unskied areas."

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