Most skiers and snowboarders will never have to worry about avalanches or tree wells thanks to the excellent work ski patrols like the one at Mammoth Mountain do to keep deep snow from ever being a threat.
Still, even within Mammoth’s boundaries deep snow can be dangerous and if you’re riding in the backcountry then you’re taking your safety into your own hands. To make sure you enjoy every single inch of the snow that’s falling right now, the team at ASO Mammoth has put together a guide to basic safety for riding deep snow in the backcountry as well as within resort boundaries.
Before you read any further, we advise you to do more research about skiing and snowboarding safety than just this post. While there is plenty of great information online, always speak with a professional for safety tips beforehand, never ride alone, and always ride with a guide if you’re riding in a new area or are unfamiliar with backcountry riding!
How to Stay Safe Within Resort Boundaries
Mammoth Mountain is home to some of the best ski patrollers in the world, so when you ride here you’re in great hands no matter how much snow there is. The main danger to watch out for within resort boundaries is tree wells.
Tree wells are the result of all the things skiers and snowboarders love. Tons of snow ,terrain with trees, and even more snow. Tree wells form when tree branches prevent snow from compacting around the base of a tree. As more snow falls, the void around the trunk grows deeper and loose, powdery snow blows in. If a skier or snowboarder falls into the void, they’ll quickly fall through the powdery snow until they reach the base and the loose snow falls around them. The depth and loose snow make it nearly impossible to survive if the rider goes in head first.
Even the most experienced riders fall, so never ride through trees and deep snow alone, always keep an eye on your riding buddy, and avoid riding near the base of trees.
How to Stay Safe in the Backcountry
While tree wells are also a serious danger in the backcountry, you won’t be out of the woods on the open slopes either.
One of the most important steps to skiing off piste safely comes before you even step foot on the mountain. You should do plenty of research ahead of time to make sure you know everything about the snowpack and current conditions. That means checking the weather reports ahead of time and speaking with experts familiar with the area and current conditions. You should also assemble and test your gear before you step on the mountain. General guidelines will tell you that you need at least a shovel, probe pole, and an avalanche transponder that you’ve tested to be safe in the backcountry but it’s always better to be safe than sorry and pack more gear.
Once you’re on the mountain, always observe and test the snowpack before you make turns. One way is to collapse cornices or overhangs and observe how the snowpack reacts to their fall. Be aware that the size of cornices are unpredictable, so always have a safe spot in mind in case more snow goes than you expect.
You should also constantly be communicating with those you’re riding with no matter where they are on the mountain. For example, if your line causes an avalanche and you’re lucky enough to avoid the fallout anyone riding or resting beneath you may not be as lucky. Always communicate with your riding partners and space your runs so everyone stays safe! If you have questions about your backcountry gear or just need to rent ski and snowboard gear for groomers, stop by ASO Mammoth on your way to the mountain!