Originally Posted As Part Of Our 2018 California Avalanche Workshop – Recap
As ski resorts across the country have shuttered due to the COVID-19 outbreak the surge of people heading into the backcountry has exploded. While we’re not saying that you shouldn’t go touring we hope this story of skiing Mt Tallac helps signify the importance to choose terrain that’s ultraconservative to reduce your chance of injury and further stress the healthcare system.
For those unaware, Todd is a legend not just in Lake Tahoe but around the world. In the past few decades, he’s been everywhere from Tibet to Antarctica to his home stomping ground of the Sierra Nevada range. In his 25+ adventuring years, he’s never been caught in an avalanche until that fateful day of March 25th, 2017. Out of all the things he’s done, him telling this story at the California Avalanche Workshop might be the most courageous. Putting a mistake out into the public can lead to harsh critics, but he understands the importance of sharing & learning.
Objective – Mt Tallac Backcountry Skiing
On one of his guiding journeys up to Svalbard in Norway, he had met an 18-year-old that recently came to Lake Tahoe. Three years later, he’d come into town and wanted to go skiing with Todd. Todd suggested hitting up & skiing Mt Tallac since it was the most iconic peak in the Lake Tahoe basin.
All Signs Point To The Cross
The plan was to head up to the peak after Todd got out of work at 9:30 am. He did the normal things like checking the avalanche forecast which stated that there was going to be rapid warming and hazards would increase. But as they climbed up, the air temps were below freezing, and a thin cloud cover blocked the majority of the sun. They did a few sample test slopes and everything seemed in order. Todd gave his guest the option of hitting low angle untracked pow or venture to the more iconic line known as the Cross. His partner eagerly suggested hitting the Cross.
The Unimaginable Happened
Around 11:40 am, Todd dropped into the line making a skier cut. Suddenly out of nowhere, the top 6 inches of snow gave way. The martini glass shaped bowl caused the snow to funnel quickly into the center chute, catapulting him out like a cannon. Barely missing some trees, he continued his dangerous slide right over the massive cliff next to the Cross. In the middle of the air, Todd knew this was going to be bad.
Safe But Embarrassed
He’d broken one of his skis but luckily landed safely with only a few cuts and bruises. After the adrenaline had given way, a sudden flood of shame rushed over him. “How could this have happened? Did I miss some red flags?” The one thing he didn’t realize was how strong a late March sun could be even through the cloud cover. The bowl had absorbed the sunlight creating rapid warming that he wasn’t as aware of.
After a night of soul searching and looking back at it, Todd realized that he needed to talk about it and use it as a learning experience.
In his words:
“I hope this has an impact on changing your life so that you can learn from it.”