There are lots of ways to dig snow pits. They don’t have to be hours long endeavors. Instead they can be a quick, 5-10 minute exercises. Consider digging a “quick pit”. The point is not to find all the answers but to improve our decision-making.
Last week I was riding snow bikes on the Manti-Skyline. We climbed up Pleasant Creek where the settled powder was perfect for bikes. Our excitement grew for the great riding ahead. Once on the ridge, we began working south in the warm sunshine that backlit sparkling powder in the air behind our tracks. It was beautiful.
We stopped on a north-facing slope at the head of Potter’s Canyon to dig a quick pit. Overall it wasn’t a bad looking snowpack, but it wasn’t perfect either. Sugary facets at the ground were healing, but cold weather in mid to late December created a thin layer of facets in the middle of the snowpack. That layer was the problem. Five minutes later we were riding again.
We looked at recent avalanches. They were breaking on the layer we identified in our pit. We descended to Miller Flat Reservoir then turned north to go up Staker Canyon and found two slides triggered that day. One was fairly large. Again, the same layer.
We decided to check out Rolfson Canyon. By now, my mind had finally shifted from riding sleds to bikes. I was feathering the clutch, twisting the throttle, tapping the brake, and shifting gears all at the right time without thinking. That’s the point. Whether sledding or biking, we work to build these actions into muscle memory because THERE ISN’T TIME TO THINK.
As we climbed into Rolfson Canyon from the bottom, I was absorbed in powder fever. I was finding my way through the trees. Soon enough we were separated, but I kept going because we were all headed to the same place. As I broke through dense trees, a super steep and wide open gully about 100 feet tall appeared. Perfect for bikes. All I had to do was let the bike slip downhill with gravity then hit the throttle of the KTM 450, and I would have been ripping powder across the steep creek bank – ALONE.
Emotions from looking at layers in the snowpack took over. INSTEAD of seeing a perfect, powder-choked gully, I saw a slope that could avalanche. I was all alone. Without thinking (because there isn’t time), emotions influenced my decision making and I turned the other way to find my partners. Digging a quick pit created emotions that saved my life. I was alone, and any avalanche in that creek would have been fatal.
Time is the problem when snowmobiling or biking. We make split second decisions. Thinking and analyzing situations takes time. Emotions come easy. There are lots of them and some can help us make good decisions, IF WE CHANGE OUR PERSPECTIVE.
Things that bring out strong emotions are: riding perfect powder, feeling the horsepower of a modern machine, riding with good friends, seeing weak faceted snow, seeing avalanches, feeling how heavy the snow is when digging, standing with our eyes level with the snow surface, and thinking about people we love.
Digging a quick pit changes our perspective which improves decision-making. Standing in my pit in Potter’s Canyon and others along the way gave me a new set of emotions to balances the ones I felt from great riding. When I reached the decision point at the top of the steep gully, I turned away from it and lived to ride another day.
Quick pits only take 5 minutes but can save your life. This simple action will make you smarter because you’ll learn more about yourself and the snow. If nothing else, they’re great rescue practice. The quick pit is the best, cheapest, and simplest decision-making tool available.
Photo caption: Mark Staples examines the snowpack in a quick snow pit in Potter’s Canyon. His eyes are level with the snow which gives him a new perspective and influences decisions in a positive way. We can still climb steep slopes, but your life is worth taking a few minutes to stand in the snow. Photo by Brett Kobernik
Mark Staples, DirectorForest Service Utah Avalanche Centerwww.utahavalanchecenter.org
The 4thannual Utah Snowmobile Association fundraiser poker ride, raffle, live auction, and dinner at Strawberry Bay Marina will be Saturday, January 26th, 2019. This is a family friendly event open to everyone.
When: Saturday, January 26, 2019
Where: Strawberry Bay Marina
Time: Registration starts at 9:00 A.M.
Worst hand $50.00
We have some awesome raffle and live auction items such as: Overnight stays at Daniel Summit, Ruby’s Inn, Hayhurst Inn, West Yellowstone and more. Gift cards to various dealers, gift pack from Weller’s, Frank May and Club Rec.
Dinner is an all you can eat Prime Rib or Turkey dinner with all the fixings for $50.00. Children 12 and under are $1.00 per year of age. For example, if your child is 10, the cost would be $10. You must make reservations for dinner by January 21st, 2019 on the USA website at https://snowut.co/Rides. With dinner reservation, you get one poker card and one raffle ticket.
- Must check in at Strawberry Bay Marina registration table to participate in the poker run.
- The ride starts and stops at Strawberry Bay Marina Lodge.
- The ride starts at 9 a.m. and concludes around 3 p.m.
- The ride is a ride-on-your own style ride. IT IS NOT GUIDED!
- Completed poker cards must be turned into registration no later than 3 pm.
- Participants must have five stops validated on their card for it to be eligible.
- Poker hands consists of drawing five different numbers. Poker chips are numbered 1-25. Highest sum of the five draws wins 1st place, next highest wins 2ndplace, and so forth.
- If two poker hands are the same total, participants will redraw a poker chip. Highest numbered chip will win. The runner up will win 2ndplace, and the rest of the winners will follow suit.
- Extra Poker cards cost $5.00.
- Raffle tickets are $1.00 each or an arm length for $20.00.
- Poker prizes and raffle prizes will be awarded between 3 pm and 5 pm at the Strawberry Bay Marina Lodge.
- No limit on how many poker cards you can purchase.
- After the poker hand winners are announced, all cards will be put into a drawing for the grand raffle prize.
- Dinner will start approximately at 5 pm.
ATTENDING THIS EVENT MAY CAUSE YOU TO HAVE A REALLY GOOD TIME!
Thankfully the storms are starting to line up, and it looks to be a much better start to the season over last year. Of course, if you are one of the die-hards you have been riding every weekend since Thanksgiving. Most of the clubs are getting ready to put the snow to good use by getting out and playing in it. Right now, we have five clubs in good standing and a few more starting to form up. If you’re in the Logan area, consider joining the Top of Utah Snowmobile Association, you can find them on Facebook or contact Kennon Jeppson at 435-764-3007. In the Ogden area contact the Golden Spike Snowmobile Association and Jeff Eddings at 801-510-7791. Davis County Snowmobile Club with Ej Harris at 801-388-8500. In the Salt Lake area, the Salt Lake Valley Snowmobile Club with Bob Stockwell 801-839-9647. If you’re in the Coalville area join up with the Chalk Creek Riders and Doug Wilde at 801-540-1784. Jesse McGuire out in Vernal is trying to re-establish the Dinaland Snowmobile Club and he could use a hand if you ride out that way. We need a club in Heber, Provo, Duck Creek, Mt Pleasant, but any place or group of friends will make a great club.
Why am I focusing on clubs? By getting organized and “putting your name on the list”, it helps to have a unified voice when myself or someone else goes and meets with lawmakers, legislatures, Forest Service staff and others who are involved in land use and management. There is usually a small fee of $30-50 involved to allow the club to function and provide a few benefits to its members. $10 per membership goes to the state association. Our state association (Utah Snowmobile Association, USA) is a non-profit, all volunteer board made up of the club presidents and other club members which helps to keep a unified voice for Utah. USA is currently a member of the American Council of Snowmobile Associations (ACSA), the International Snowmobile Council (ISC), the United Snowmobile Alliance (USA) and Tread Lightly. We also are in support of the Utah Avalanche Center and other organizations that promote safety and motorized access to public lands.
Here are some quick facts about our state:
- 22,000 sleds were registered in 2018.
- USA has 5 Clubs with 600 members.
- There are 17 Primary areas with 74 plowed parking trailheads and over 1,200 miles of groomed trails to access our backcountry.
- Utah has an active youth training program.
- Utah has the best avalanche forecast center in the U.S..
- Snowmobiling programs are self-supported through gas tax, registration fees, and other user fees.
As you can see, we have it pretty good, but we need more members to help to make this program even better.
Utah Snowmobile Association