How many of you folks go on solo missions?
For me, Id say a good chunk of my touring is actually going out alone. Its a massive change of pace and has actually benefitted my overall risk assessment. Taking out the element of 'at least I have a partner here who can try to dig me out' makes the whole game a lot more about self preservation, and its something that if you take seriously, you can apply that nature to your partnered missions.
I have mostly gone out solo into areas with pretty low threat situations.. such as a week after a storm when theres low avalanche danger, no snow on the trees, a solid snowpack with no chance of persistent layer, and sticking to below about 25 degrees in slope angle.
However, that doesnt take away all the risks. you could always fuck up and bag a tree or you could be skiing in a zone that got microclimatized and the threats are far greater than just a ridgeline over where the avalanche report was taken from...
So yeah, maybe you might be saying 'skiing alone is way unsafe' and youd be right... but Id say that skiing in a group could be just as unsafe - which totally goes against the idea that you have safety in numbers.
Skiing alone, you separate yourself from any peer pressure or bad judgement call of partners... and unless you're suicidal, your basic instincts are going to kick in and you take cautions that would otherwise be thrown to the wind with an excited sendy partner. Theres always a chance that you will make such a compromise for the sake of the group experience. I have found myself time and time again balking at skiing stuff that I would normally ski partnered up without as much of a thought..
Just last season I went on a tour where it was, if anything what I'd call 'considerable'. The report said Moderate, but where I was skiing it was by no means a day that one shouldn't take the extra caution and upgrade the scale. There had been avalanches in the area in the past week and It had snowed about 10-15cm not quite a full day prior. It had stayed cold without much fluctuation, but the sun did shine the previous afternoon after the morning snowfall. It hadn't been very windy at all the last few days so chances of anything being recently windloaded were low, but the storm slab was there, and it was all on top of a bigger, warmer storm from a week prior that allowed for some avalanches to occur. I cut my own skintrack up a ridgeline that was, probably in the 25 degree area. It was adjacent and leading to two differing face options with different aspects.
Nobody else was out at the time in the same exact area, so I really was fully solo. Tracks from the day prior were off in the distance but nothing within a kilometer around me had been skied yet. It was all virgin. One of the face options was about a 30ish degree slope with some trees, directly south facing, but had plenty of stable snowpack underneath. It was more or less the same aspect as the ridgeline I was going up. the other was a wide northeast-facing tree-less chute, about 40 degrees at the top and mellowing out. I took a look at both faces and tried to assess the whole situation as best as I could.
This is where I had to make my decision of how to get back down. Do I go down the chute? or do I go down the tree'd up face. Do I trust north or south? Obviously the Chute sounded more fun.. especially with half a foot to play with... but trees are also fun so that's nothing to shy away from. It was a difficult decision just from the standpoint of 'which is more fun' much less one of safety.. and I had the knowledge that neither were particularly safe given the storm slab.
I went over to the chute. It all looked pretty stable and I didnt have any cornice to break off and test, but I gave the pack a whack or two and a jump to see if I could trigger anything. Nothing really moved, and one could surmise I could have gotten away with skiing it... but is that good risk assessment? assuming I could 'Get away with it'? Probably not. I then checked the face with the trees.. but remembered... its pretty much directly south-facing and that sun had been out the previous afternoon... the snow wasnt really cooked since it was all well cold, but it could have changed the composition of the slab just enough to create some dangerous effects... and even still, nobody wants to get into an avalanche in an area with trees you could get forced into.
So I skied back down on the ridge I came up on. I took the safest, smartest path out. It was not the most exciting choice but hey, skiing half a foot of powder down a 25-30 degree ridgeline is fun as shit. It was overall a fairly uneventful tour.
Would I have skied the chute or the face if I was with a partner? Would it have actually been safe? Would I have spent as much time thinking about the decision? Would I have been going through the same process? I can't really say, but I know for certain the circumstances would have been a little different and I would only have to hope my partner and I work well enough together to make the safe decision.
Having experiences like this can give you an idea of what you really are like out there. You get to know yourself better and you get to understand what your threshold for averting danger really is. From there, you can take that judgement and experience into your bigger partnered missions. You can know how your instincts work when skiing by yourself, and be able to ask yourself 'would I ski this alone right now' and communicate that to your partner... You are able to set a baseline for what you feel is safe and smart, and allows you to be more aware of your surroundings and take extra care. It makes you a potentially safer, smarter skier.
Always remember, you are your best partner... and don't be afraid to go it alone. Ski safely, folks.
**This thread was edited on Jul 3rd 2021 at 6:27:12pm