Deep powder SIS experience

Discussion in 'General Skiing' started by Vinnie, Feb 12, 2019.

  1. Vinnie

    Vinnie Booting up Skier

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    Just got back from a week in Myoko, Japan. I wanted to share an near-SIS (Snow Immersion Suffocation) experience I had as much as a way for me to process it and hopefully find it beneficial for others.

    It was the last day of my stay and the snow conditions had been variable all week. It rained the Sunday of our arrival, which settled all of the beautiful powder. The next few days were a mix of spring conditions, dust on crust and hard pack. Still I had a great time being in a new environment and made the best of it. The last few days it started snowing again, not enough to cover all of the underlying hard pack but boot high powder made for some fun skiing. Finally, the night before our last day it started dumping. The next morning brought 2+ feet of powder. I had 2 hours of ski time before I would start the trip back to Tokyo for the flight home. So with a combination of pent up powder hunger and limited time I hit it as hard as I could. I was skiing a low angle run and the side trees. Midway through the run my skiing buddy cut into a gully. I took a look but kept to the run and met him at the exit. It looked good and I decided to hit the gully on our next run.

    So on the next run I followed my buddy through the trees and hit the gully. He was ahead of me and hit the gully first. By the time I reached the entrance it was partially blocked by some skiers that were scoping out the gully before hitting it (very smart). I veered right to enter, must have crossed my tips and fell head first into the side of the gully that was still untouched. I must have had my mouth open as I fell and swallowed a bunch of snow and started choking. I tried to spit out the snow. It seemed like as I cleared my throat more snow kept coming in. I couldn't kick my skis free. At the point just before panic started to set in I was able to talk myself into calming down. With one free hand I waved my pole as a signal for help. Luckily one of the skiers at the entrance saw me an came down immediately. He cleared the space around my face so I could breathe. I got all of the snow out of my mouth and was able catch my breath. He then cleared some snow so I could kick out my ski. After making sure I was alright and giving him profuse thanks he took off. I collected myself and made my down the rest of the gully.

    Going over this there are some lessons learned that hopefully will help me in the future. Not surprisingly all of them are posted at http://www.deepsnowsafety.org/index.php. First, once I saw that the entrance to the gully was partially blocked I should have slowed down or better yet stopped to scope out the situation. I was just too hyped up to stop and assess the situation. I should have been skiing more conservatively. Once I did fall my first reaction was 'oh s**t' which of course meant my mouth was open. I need to practice keeping my big mouth shut when skiing the deep and breathe through my nose. Also need to practice using an arm to create a barrier in front of my mouth to keep snow out. While the obvious is not to fall head first, I usually don't have a choice in how I've screwed up to cause a fall. I was very lucky that there was someone above me to come to my aid. My buddies were waiting at the bottom of the lift waiting for me. deepsnowsafety.org talks about this. Being just barely off-piste gave a false sense of security that we didn't need to stay within visible range of each other.
     
    laine, RJS, bbinder and 9 others like this.
  2. Tom K.

    Tom K. HRPufnStf Skier

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    Glad it turned out OK!
     
  3. luliski

    luliski Out on the slopes Skier

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    Thanks for sharing. I've skied since I was seven years old and only recently started learning about SIS. I knew about avalanches, but was ignorant of the other risks of deep snow. I shudder to think what my ignorance could have cost me: when my daughter was 9-11 years old, she really liked skiing a gully at our favorite mountain. I disliked the gully, so we would split up and I would ski the bump run next to the gully while she skied the gully. Neither run was very long, but I couldn't watch her while she was skiing. There was a chair that went to the top of both runs, so we would split there and meet at the exit of the gully. Once she came out and said she had fallen into a snowdrift and had had trouble climbing out. I worried a little when she was in there, but more that she would hurt herself, not that she could suffocate by falling face first. Luckily nothing bad happened. I appreciate there being more education/information out there about SIS.
     
    socalgal likes this.
  4. Mike King

    Mike King AKA Habacomike Instructor

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    luliski likes this.
  5. Eleeski

    Eleeski Out on the slopes Skier

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    Location:
    San Diego / skis at Squaw Valley
    Good information to give us tools to protect ourselves.

    I hope that a nanny mentality doesn't expand to this. "Resort closed due to high SIS risk powder."

    Don't let fear keep you from doing what you love.

    Eric
     
    DoryBreaux likes this.


  6. luliski

    luliski Out on the slopes Skier

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    Information is good. I like that Squaw/Alpine are posting deep snow safety reminders on their conditions pages.
     
  7. mdf

    mdf photo by Lady_Salina Skier

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    I lawn-darted into deep powder once. Fortunately I had my mouth closed, and there were no obstructions so I was able to get right side up without too much trouble. If worse had come to worst, @Philpug was standing nearby laughing at me, so he probably would have rescued me.
     
  8. KingGrump

    KingGrump Most Interesting Man In The World Team Gathermeister

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    Not a good assumption to bet your life on. :D
     
    DoryBreaux likes this.
  9. severou

    severou Booting up Skier

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    Tree wells don't apply to Japan much. Vegetation is different, there are next to no trees that make for a good tree well. People die in deep snow all the time though, at least 2 so far in Nagano that I heard this year. One was a boarder on a groomed run in Arai who crashed head first into a deep snow right off the run. Last year woman suffocated in Hakuba she was not even head first. She just could not get out after sinking they found her vertical but she could not struggle to the surface I guess inhaled snow.

    I think there is a bit too much focus on tree wells, you can easily die in what OP described. Fall into deep gully with enough powder.. how many people still ride those areas with their poles securely strapped to the wrist? pole stuck inhale some snow and it is all over.
     
    Vinnie likes this.
  10. Chris V.

    Chris V. Getting on the lift Skier

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    The scariest situation I ever got into was at Squaw Valley in a similar location. I plunged into an untracked gully, and after a couple of turns I was surprised when it suddenly got MUCH deeper, and I went down, head first down the hill, on just a gentle slope. The trouble was, the more I wriggled, the deeper I drilled in, and my head was going under. It was very difficult to get my skis off, and there was no way I was going to right myself without getting them off. Fortunately, I was finally able to release the bindings. I count myself lucky. The main lesson I took away from this was that it's highly advisable to ski with a buddy in deep powder, particularly in areas hidden from the main runs.
     
    Sibhusky likes this.
  11. BoofHead

    BoofHead Getting on the lift Skier

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    Yep. Tree wells aren’t an issue in Japan. Glide cracks have taken lives before on Hokkaido. I dropped in to one over my head inbounds during a whiteout a number of years ago.
     
  12. NZRob

    NZRob Skiing the Rock Skier

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    New Zealand
    I had a terrifying experience at Homewood, Tahoe back in the day. One of my first days snowboarding, was traversing across a meadow after fresh snow, fell face first and was upside down in the snow. Pushing my hands down was useless, couldn't do anything with my legs with a snowboard attached....panic was very close but fortunately a couple of people saw me and came and helped me out. I remember heading down to the ski school hut soaking wet and shaking.
     

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