the blue room The out-of-body sensation skiers experience in very deep powder.
bomb Explosive charge used by ski patrol teams to release unstable snow.
crossloading Snow banked sideways by wind, adding to an avalanche hazard.
dump Heavy snowfall.
face shot Snow spray that hits you at head height while you're skiing.
hangfire Unstable snow left behind after avalanche-control bombing.
powder pig Aggressive powder skier who habitually takes the first tracks in a group.
snorkel Breathing apparatus worn when skiing in head-high powder.
tree well Dangerous concavity of snow formed around the base of a tree.
Avalanche Safety More than 40 people are killed by avalanches every year in North America, a disproportionate number of them in the Canadian Rockies. Almost all lethal avalanches are triggered by the victims themselves or by members of their party. "Not many people are caught in avalanches that occur naturally," says Dr. Bruce Jamieson, director of the Applied Snow & Avalanche Research Group at the University of Calgary. He says that some 1.5 million slides occur each year in western Canada alone. In British Columbia, ski resorts carefully patrol their terrain and close off any slope where a hazard exists. In the backcountry, where helicopter and cat skiers venture, at least one guide trained in mountain rescue is mandated for each group of skiers, and every skier must carry a transceiver, which can be used to pinpoint anyone who may be trapped beneath an ava- lanche flow. Other basic gear includes a collapsible pole for probing the snow, a shovel, and a first aid kit. Before you book a backcountry trip in B.C., make sure the company is a member of the British Columbia Helicopter & Snowcat Skiing Operators Association, which requires its members to adhere to strict safety guidelines. Novices should never ski on hazardous terrain without introductory training and an experienced guide to accompany them. Before going to the backcountry, Jamieson says, skiers should "take a course, or spend some time traveling with experienced people." At a resort, don't ski on terrain that has been closed; when you're cat or heli-skiing, don't ski past the lead guide. And always follow the instructions of all guides scrupulously.
Resources The Canadian Avalanche Association maintains a list on its Web site of organizations that offer certified instruction for recreational skiers (www.avalanche.ca). A useful book on snow avalanche hazards for backcountry travelers is Snow Sense, by Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler. They run the Alaska Mountain Safety Center, a nonprofit organization specializing in avalanche evaluation and education.