Story should have warned of avalanche risk

After reading “2 sides of Indian Lake” by Bill Ingersoll [January/February 2013], I feel obligated to point out that the Griffin Brook Slide on Snowy Mountain is a known avalanche slide path. Ingersoll fails to mention this fact anywhere in his account of a climb up the slide.

This slide has a slope angle in the low-to-mid-30-degree range with a convex roll approaching 40 degrees at the bottom—the best possible situation for avalanches.

Hikers should respect the avalanche danger on Griffin Brook Slide. Photo by Bill Ingersoll
Hikers should respect the avalanche danger
on Griffin Brook Slide.

Photo by Bill Ingersoll

In 1999, a soft snow avalanche carried a skier down two hundred feet. By some miracle, he was not buried or injured. In 2006, a skier witnessed a wet snow avalanche on the slide. On another occasion that skier reports that he experienced “whoomphing” and “shooting cracks,” whereupon he prudently retreated into the woods to descend.

I have personally seen avalanche debris at the bottom of this slide in the runout zone, the result of the entire snowpack having released.

A couple of years ago, after following a skin track up the slide from the bottom, two of us dug a snow pit. Right away, red flags were raised by the presence of multiple persistent weak layers buried in the snowpack beneath a well-bonded slab.

We hoped that our snow pit results were a local anomaly, and to prove it we moved to the opposite side of the slide and dug a second pit. The results were the same. If the snow-slab layer was strong enough to bridge all of the weak layers below it, from one side of the slide to the other, then we would be all right. If not, the entire slide was going to release, and it would release big. That event would be a very bad thing.

So, despite the perfect corn snow and the perfect weather, we decided to ski down through the woods. The risk of skiing the slide that day was not worth the penalty of being wrong with our risk assessment.

It may well be that the Griffin Brook Slide is stable much of the time. My previous visits and snow pits revealed no instabilities to worry about.

My point is this: the slide is avalanche terrain. Anyone venturing onto it ought to recognize it as such and have the training and experience to act accordingly.

Richard E. Tucker, Niskayuna

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