Nambe Chutes slide

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Nambe Chutes slide

Postby SkiaLeia » Mon Jan 09, 2017 11:11 am

Event Summary:
On Friday, January 6 my partner and I parked at the Ski Santa Fe parking lot at approx 10:30AM and headed up the Windsor Trail to the Pecos Wilderness boundary. From here we headed east along the fence line, breaking trail up towards Raven's Ridge. I was skinning and my partner was on snow shoes. There was anywhere from 5 inches of new snow to 8-12 inches in wind drifted areas. At the top of the ridge, just below tree line, I scouted one of the more heavily treed chutes on a north, north-east facing aspect. I'd estimate the angle of the slope to be between 40 and 45 degrees. I skied first, making three turns and then traversing skiers right to a safe zone above some trees. My partner followed behind me, dropping in about 15 feet when the pack above him fractured and started to run. He was carried a short distance, maybe 25 feet, before grabbing a tree and anchoring himself while the slide continued. This was a soft slab avalanche, 1.5-2 feet at the crown, breaking to the ground. The initial fracture splintered off to skiers left over a rock band and around a corner. I cannot say how wide the avalanche was nor how long it ran as we hiked back out at this point and skied Raven's Ridge out to the ski area. No injuries were suffered.

Personal Ownership and the Heuristic Method:
I am a Santa Fe native and have been skiing around the Sangres for 20 years. I've skied this chute many times and spent a good deal of time in and around the Nambe Bowl. I am certified Avy 1 and have been skiing in the backcountry for almost a decade. I feel shame and embarrassment at having to report this incident as in hindsight, multiple poor decisions were made. Given the extreme weather events that precipitated this event, the snow pack was obviously unstable and not safe to ski. The slope aspect, angle and wind loading were additional factors that should have warranted a different decision. The familiarity principle, which I try to stay abreast of, certainly played a significant role. I will confess to feeling more comfortable around the Nambe Bowl area than I should which leads me to an overly-casual approach to skiing back there. My partner and I engaged in minimal conversation regarding snow stability or avalanche risk. He has spent very little time in the backcountry and has no avalanche education. I've attached a photo of the crown. I would have taken more pictures but my phone died prematurely due to the cold temps that day. I'm grateful for the potent and humbling lesson this experience imparted and I welcome further discussions or questions.
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Re: Nambe Chutes slide

Postby Dorman » Mon Jan 09, 2017 11:43 am

Glad that you're safe. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Nambe Chutes slide

Postby Bob » Mon Jan 09, 2017 11:44 am

Please please don't feel shame for reporting. You deserve serious props for such an outstanding report and analysis. Thanks so much! I wish more people had the courage and cojones to post like you did Leia. This is one of the best posts ever put up here. We can all learn from this and review our own decisions.

Thanks again, and I'll buy you a drink for this.
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Re: Nambe Chutes slide

Postby Gradymack » Mon Jan 09, 2017 12:17 pm

Looks like depth hoar on the ground there...glad everyone was ok.
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Re: Nambe Chutes slide

Postby Jasper » Tue Jan 10, 2017 7:36 am

Thanks for sharing! I will say that I would have been in Nambé, this last weekend as well, if it wasn't for work. I was beginning to develop some confidence in our current snowpack by way of increasing strength in stability tests from November to the present. I thought it was time to start to explore and get out on the sharp end, and I don't fault you for having done it.

It is becoming more and more clear that communication is one of our best tools in the backcountry, that goes for conversations with partners to reading the avalanche advisory or this website. This website is an excellent resource for our small skiing community. Unfortunately we don't have a professional avalanche advisory for Nambé so we are left to our own judgment, which compounds the extreme nature of skiing the Pecos Wilderness. In the meantime I encourage everybody to share their New Mexico ski experiences on this website and to also follow advisories and submit observations at the Taos Avalanche Center (http://taosavalanchecenter.org/). Hopefully we will see a more developed forecast and advisory for our southern area as Taos is now coming to have.

Continue to explore, continue to talk with your partners, and continue to ask questions. Take a course, wear your transceivers, and have rescue equipment. Remember that skiing New Mexico backcountry is serious business.
Go when the going is good.
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Re: Nambe Chutes slide

Postby scotthsu » Tue Jan 10, 2017 2:32 pm

SkiaLeia, thanks for your thought-provoking post. It's a good reminder for all of us to always remain vigilant even in familiar territory.
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Re: Nambe Chutes slide

Postby SkiaLeia » Thu Jan 12, 2017 4:43 pm

Thanks for all the positive feedback. I agree that this kind of communication is probably the second most valuable educational tool when it comes to avalanche awareness (field experience maybe being the first). I have a situational question that I've been pondering since this event: after the avy had been triggered and presumably ran out to the bowl, what would have been the best course of action? As I said, we hiked back out the chute which meant we were underneath the hangfire for a considerable amount of time and once we were above it I was aware that we were inducing further stress on the snowpack. Would it have been better to ski the avy path? I also didn't necessarily feel comfortable with the exit route we would have had to take from the Nambe Bowl had we skied out. Being in the Nambe drainage seemed like a hazard given the touchy snow conditions.
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Re: Nambe Chutes slide

Postby JBella » Thu Jan 12, 2017 11:46 pm

SkiaLeia wrote:Thanks for all the positive feedback. I agree that this kind of communication is probably the second most valuable educational tool when it comes to avalanche awareness (field experience maybe being the first). I have a situational question that I've been pondering since this event: after the avy had been triggered and presumably ran out to the bowl, what would have been the best course of action?


I don't think there is an exact answer for this, beyond the best course of action being whatever gets you out safely. This usually requires taking a few deep breaths and trying your best to remain calm and not act hastily. Every situation can have various potential outcomes, which may or may not be anticipated. In this situation as you described, hiking back up the chute was a good call ~ you made it out with an experience to share and look back at and learn from. This is a great example of why we'll see in snow science related discussions, time and time again, that it's important to consider possible consequences should an avalanche or other incident occur - will a slide run into a terrain trap, over cliffs or rocks, through trees? Could an avalanche slide into another path and expose even more danger? Could it wash out the snow and make it impossible to descend that route, or leave hangfire or intact slabs above that could move? These are all factors to consider and think about so when something does happen it's possible to be mentally prepared to adjust to the situation and make the best decisions possible.
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Re: Nambe Chutes slide

Postby Bob » Fri Jan 13, 2017 10:15 am

Well said, JBella. Not having been there, I couldn't say. An already-slid avy bed can be a safe route...if it doesn't expose you to more avy or terrain danger or if there isn't hang-fire waiting at the top. Contouring out of the slide zone to a safe route back up can be really good...if there's a safe route up. The best info to make that choice is probably only available to the people that are there.

I'm glad it turned out well for you Leia, and again, thanks for your thoughtful post.
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Re: Nambe Chutes slide

Postby Kerry » Mon Jan 23, 2017 11:28 pm

Leia, thanks for the post. Glad you and your touring partner are well. The communication issue you mention is something AIARE is working on in their courseware revision due out this summer. I got a peak at the concepts being worked while taking my instructor refresher this month. Notable for this thread is that AIARE is working on a concept similar to what is ingrained in rock climbers, who have 4 standard calls when beginning a climb..."belay on?", "on belay", "climbing?", "climb on". The objective is to get all backcountry skiers/riders focused on the same hazard identification, mitigation, and group understanding of the plan, and to get groups to communicate key information routinely at the beginning of each pitch or similar crux.
The climber's communication habits certainly haven't ensured that all climbers doubled back their harnesses, or even ensured all belayers were ready to catch a fall, but it's considered a worthwhile habit to gain standardization and to increase communication.
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