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Who skis in a whiteout?

 brian
brian
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ickabodblue, not as much of a pillock as I felt caught in a whiteout in Coire Cas. Couldn't really tell which way was down or whether I was moving, but it transpired I had come to a standstill ..... on the tow track. The occupants of the next t-bar weren't too impressed at clattering into me, I don't think. Embarassed
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It is quite an uncomfortable experience in complete whiteout and high wind, like other posters, skiing last year on Grattalu in Tignes, weather closed in and I couldn;t tell if I was moving or not (at one point I wasn't, but thought I was). I retired to the bar (lifts closed anyway).
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I find skiing in a whiteout really improves your skiing, forcing you to relax and developing skills such as pole-walking to read the terrain, and improved shock-absorbing. Toofy Grin
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I don't like skiing in a whiteout either and get the slightly sick dizzy feeling that other people have described. I don't mind where its just bad visibility ie. you can still see contrast between the snow and sky and the texture of the snow and have skied slopes in that condition which I have really enjoyed which I know I would have been scared of if I could have seen how steep the slope was. We were skiing up at Cairgorm a couple of weeks ago and it was a complete whiteout, you couldn't see the person on the T-bar in front of you at times or tell the difference between snow or sky, in fact by boyfriend skiied face first, straight into a snowdrift at the side of the piste because he couldn't see it, it made me laugh tho Twisted Evil
I also kept doing the falling over when coming to a stop thing as well.

Do any sort of goggles help in these sort of conditions???? I usually feel better when I take my goggles off but if it is snowing and very windy and cold then I end up with a completly frozen face.

I have Anon persimmon ones, anybody found anything better??????
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Persimmon goggle lenses should be ideal for a whiteout, but its gonns be tough to see whatever you're wearing!
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Yep, in a real whiteout, you can't see anything. In poor visibility, even very poor visibility, the right goggles are a big help. A whiteout is also not to be confused with flat light, where you can't make out the texture/surface of the snow, even though you can see things around you perfectly well. That can be bizarre. Was skiing with my son in Tignes and he pointed me down a blue piste, and said he'd see me at the bottom as he was going to do some off piste mogully bit. The visibility generally was not great, but it was definitely no whiteout. After a couple of minutes he caught up, on piste. He said he'd stood at the top of the slope and the snow looked completely flat. As he knew perfectly well it was covered in big moguls (he was doing a season in Val D'Isere and had skied it the day before) he decided it would be daft to go down it. I found even blue pistes quite difficult that day, because I didn't know the area, and because of that flat light, especially because the pistes were much more crowded than I am used to, being a country bumpkin. My neurotic sister in law talks glibly about "flat light" any time the sun goes in; I don't think she's encountered real flat light yet, in only three weeks skiing. It's very peculiar, being able to see trees etc. and other skiers some way away, but not seeing any detail on the surface. But it's not nearly as bad as a whiteout, because you still have plenty of orientation detail from your surroundings; you know which way is up.
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pam w, you have a good point there - poor visibility and white-out are two different things. Ditto flat light. For example, I've been on Creux in Courchevel when it had massive moguls on it, you could see people 100m below you perfectly clearly, but standing on the top of a mogul you couldn't actually see that the surface you were standing on was anything other than ice rink smooth. The sort of white-outs I won't ski in, given the choice, are where you can't see the person 3 feet in front of you and have to follow the sound of their voice or even, in extreme conditions, can't even see your own feet Confused I feel really sorry for the instructors and lifties/pisties who have to work in those conditions
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pam w, Yes, we had those conditions at times on last year's trip. visibility generally was very ppor, but not quite a whiteout - you could still see the piste markers.

But the only way to tell where the slope went from from the feel of it under your feet. Quite "interesting" skiing even very small moguls in that!
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So as a novice if I'm up the mountain (say when I'm in the big resort) and the weather does the dirty on me and I find I'm in these sorts of conditions, what should I do? Try and ski down slowly in a snow plough and risk going in the wrong direction or falling, or trying to find somewhere sheltered and sit it out and let someone know by mobile that I'm doing so?
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Megamum, my advice would be to ski down. If you try to sit it out, you'll get cold, and could be there for a while.
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Megamum, preferably don't ski on your own. And, as Wear The Fox Hat says, ski down, slowly and always within view of your fellow skier(s). I found myself in a white-out at the top of a lift in Argentiere, skiing on my own, once and didn't just tag myself on to a little party of other skiers, I actually asked them if I could do so. Luckily they were kind and helpful, as I'm sure most people would be in that situation.
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Glad I'm not the only one who gets sick in white outs - thought I was a freak.

Recall once having to stop in 3V above Meribel due to feeling ill in a white out - only problem was although I thought I'd stopped I was still moving slightly!
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why do people feel ill in a whiteout?

is it disorientation?
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Megamum, as Hurtle says, don't ski on your own in those conditions if you can help it - and make sure that anyone you're skiing with doesn't go ahead out of sight and stops and waits for you regularly
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Christopher, it is for me. And just as bad as being seasick.
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Hurtle wrote:
Luckily they were kind and helpful, as I'm sure most people would be in that situation.

We've been caught a couple of times over the years; I'm happy to say that my experience has always been that people slow down to help each other out, sing out warnings to one another through the murk, offer a helping hand where it's needed and generally seem to do everything in their power to help each other get down safely.

Exactly as Hurtle says, it's one of those situations that restores your faith in humankind.

(oh, and Boris, just 'cos other people also get sick in white-outs --- it doesn't necessarily mean you're not a freak wink )
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Christopher, Ive actually stopped for a couple of seconds and then just toppled over due to the disorientation. Also tried to board uphill. The one good thing was that as it was a white out none of my mates saw me. Did feel a bit green afterwards as well.
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Christopher, eyes telling you you're barely moving, the rest of you telling you you jolly well are, conflicting info => vertiginous symptoms (dizzy and sick), that's why looking at the horizon helps if seasick
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I head for the trees in a whiteout. snowHead

There's nothing worse than a windy whiteout where you can't tell if you're moving or standing still with all the snow blowing over your skis. That makes me fall over on the spot! Laughing
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Yep, as a novice, and maybe even an experienced skier, don't try to ski on your own in a whiteout unless you know very well the terrain and what you're doing. Or at least take it slowly.

In a pretty flat bit in La Plagne, my mother managed to ski during a whiteout off the piste and straight into a big hole filled with snow. She spent the next 15-20 minutes upside down, unable to dig herself out, using her free hand to bang her pole on her skis. It was towards closing time so she was lucky that two guys skiing by heard her and dug her out.
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BTW I ski in a whiteout, my ski days are too precious to waste, I still enjoy it and I think it's good practice - unless I'm already too tired and it'd be dangerous to Confused
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horizon, Blimey, what a terrifying story!
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I am sure a lot of people are confusing really bad visibilty with a white out. I have been caught in two whiteouts, the first probably was only very bad visibility but nevertheless up/down was underterminable. The last one was a few weeks ago in St Anton, it was late and I was on a chair lift on my own for the last run in very bad visibilty and when I got to the top it had become worse with horizontal blizzard conditions and no one else was around apart from a couple who were as lost as me. I did not know the piste very well but all I had to do was a short ride to the near by main gondola station but I was incapable of riding or even knowing if I was moving or not, there was absolutely nothing to see as a bench mark, no topography/piste markers/skiers etc, I could barely see the end of my board. What made it worse was there had just been a huge dump of snow and it made moving around difficult. I set off but very quickly lost all bearings/senses but I knew where a very big sign was rougly 30 meters away and every now and then I could make out a slight outline of it for a few seconds and bit by bit headed to it, basically I sat there for 15 minutes because I could hear a few engines of piste patrols and eventually a patrol pulled up close to me, I could only see him becasue of help from the the noise and lights. he gave me some directions which gave me confidence in that I knew where I was heading and that I would get to the gondola which was perhaps 200 meters away if I rode to the right, keeping a big bank to my back/heel side. I could just about ride against this steep slope but as soon as it flattened out I had no chance, eventually having to walk/stumble the rest of the way and when the gondola station appeared as if from nowhere I was relieved. Very Happy

I would honestly say that it was impossible to ride in this conditions, maybe easier on skis perhaps, but not something to deliberately do Shocked
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rayscoops, would it not have been possible for you either to stick with the couple or ask the liftie if you could ride down on the chair or hitch a lift on whatever the ski patrol vehicle was? Any of those options would perhaps have been better than setting off on your own in a total white-out, wouldn't it?
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I've skied through the tree line before during whities and it is better to a certain degree. On the other hand I've got to the bottom and found myself miles away from the lifts (where I thought I'd end up) and not exactly in the right gear for a back country hike to get there.
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Hurtle, as one or two (incl myself) have mentioned, when faced with an option the experience of taking the ski down decision can be useful for future benefit. And there are those that prefer the excitement/raised element of risk. When I was caught in Tignes, there was no point of reference for any of the senses. Ski tips were only just visible and the snow/wind kind of cocoons you from being able to assess how far away other people are in terms of noise/direction. There was sufficient gradient (the run was a blue from memory) to judge "down", but now way of telling how close the edge one was. The left side of the piste inclined very steeply, the right very much the opposite. It was impossible to tell how close to either one was.
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In my experinece, in Scotland particularly, a whiteout and flat light go hand in hand. I've skied when the visibility has been very bad ie. could only see 1 lift or tow in front of you and I don't mind that but in a real whiteout I have not been able to see that far, at the same time when I have looked down at the snow at my feet it has looked no different to when I looked straight up or to the side, it is really impossible to ski in these conditions and you just slowly travel down hill rather than skiing.
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Along with horizon and Elizabeth B I get a bit of a kick out of ('enjoy' may be pushing it a bit far) skiing in really bad vis - say down to about 2m, but much below that is getting too much of a good thing. Fortunately I get none of the disorientation/giddiness that David Murdoch talks about, but have quite a few "floaters" in my eyes, so it is interesting (to say the least) trying to work out what may be features in the snow gliding past and what is just crap in my eyes Shocked . As the others have said, it's very good practice for snow-based reactions, and ties right in with my philosophy of skiing - you take what the mountain throws at you and work out how to cope with it. Doing it by yourself is a bit nerve-wracking though, and under those circumstances I tend to stick more to blues.

One of the best half-days I've ever had skiing was last year going up to the top of the Grands Montets when vis was about that, and the snow was (I believe Wink , couldn't really see it) largely untracked pretty much all the way down the top half of Pylons and between knee and waist deep. It was though a good idea to ski to the side of the piste so you stood a chance of seeing the occasional piste pole, or the odd rock off to the side. Clearly that was what others had been doing too, as the few tracks around were doing pretty much the same thing.

Route-finding off-piste though can become really difficult, and a touch dangerous. The previous year we'd had similar conditions in Argentiere and I ended up completely missing the route from Bochard into the Canadian Bowl and ended up back on the piste - a good 200-300m from where I thought I was - so my recollections of where and what shape particular boulders were was clearly a bit off. This excursion had also involved a fair bit of judicious prodding the white stuff in front of us to work out whether it was ground or not. Needless to say we stuck to the pistes after that.


Last edited by So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much on Thu 20-12-07 16:13; edited 1 time in total
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Mark Hunter, yes, I understand that. My preferred option of the three I suggested would also have been to ski down - but with the couple, and in extremely close formation, certainly well within hailing distance of one another. Sounds like they, too, could have used some help.
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BTW, this isn't turning into a 'Folks who won't ski solo down black runs and itineraires simply because they can't see their hands in front of their faces - largely because they are chundering into their goggles - are wusses!' thread, by any chance? wink
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rayscoops, courtesy of Wikipedia,

"Whiteout is a weather condition in which visibility and contrast are severely reduced by snow and diffuse lighting from overcast clouds.

There are three different forms of a whiteout:

1. In blizzard conditions, the windblown snow in the air may simply make it too difficult to see very far.
2. In snowfall conditions, the volume of snow falling may simply obscure objects reducing visibility.
3. In clear air conditions, when there is no snow falling, diffuse lighting from overcast cloud may cause all surface definition to disappear. It becomes impossible to tell how far away the snowy surface is. In polar regions (and in eg the Scottish Hills in winter) this optical illusion can make whole snow-covered mountains invisible against the background white cloud, and the horizon cannot be identified, slopes cannot be judged for steepness, and snow surfaces cannot be seen. This effect is exacerbated by a smooth surface of fresh snow. It is only when a contrasting object is placed on a snowy surface that the surface can be detected. In less extreme cases, it may suffice to break the snow surface by throwing a snowball ahead. This form is also known as flat light.[1]

Whiteout conditions pose threats to mountain climbers, skiers, aviation, and mobile ground traffic. Motorists, especially those on large high speed routes are also at risk. There have been many major multiple-vehicle collisions associated with whiteout conditions."

So a whiteout can simply mean really bad visibility.

Incidentally, condition "2" - heavy snow is often not a huge problem as for some reason terrain contrast remains. You just have to ski at a speed commensurate with how far ahead you can see. Speed control loften helped by being thigh deep in powder as well. Laughing Laughing
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In a whiteout I'll generally stay below the tree line given the choice, however if I'm with someone who knows where they're going I'm quite happy skiing anywhere, even off piste in deep powder with no reference points, which is an excellent exercise in skiing using proprioception as you're pretty much totally sensory deprived. It's also really funny because you have pretty much no idea as to how fast or where you're moving.
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Kramer,
Quote:

if I'm with someone who knows where they're going

Exactly. Not that what you describe wouldn't scare the sh*t out of me anyway! wink
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Hurtle, the chair lift had stopped and initially 3 of us waited in the chair lift control room until the lifty guy pointed us in the right direction rolling eyes to get rid of us, but in fairness I was only maybe a few minutes ride to the gondola in normal circumstances, my self and the other two set off together but very quickly we became separated. The patrol chappy did not offer a lift I suppose because I was really quite close to the gondola station, I just could not see it. This is the point, even though I was really close to safety I had no idea in which direction to go, especially after a fall (every few seconds) and scrambling up out of the powder.

I thought I had been in a whiteout before this, typically falling flat on my face and not knowing what was up and what was down, but I actually managed to follow the massive orange snow cannons at the time, but the St Anton experience was totally different with absolutely nothing to see to gauge direction or possible route to take.
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I found hanging with groups much better option in a total whiteout. One, you have psychological help that calms your nerve down, which allows you to ski properly. Two, having others nearby helps to "define" the terrain. Even if I had to ski first, I can at least know which way is UP when I look at my companions. More importantly, if I skied off the piste by mistake, I know which way to go BACK to.

Flat lights are a peice of cake compare to a total whiteout. Just take medium radius turns, however slowly as you feel like. And RELAX, so you can absorb the un-even terrain (aka bumps). Once my ski instrutor ask me to purposely ski with my eyes closed to "feel" the snow! (he went on to demonstrate and promptly skied into the side of the hill before I had a chance to call out a warning! Shocked )
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David Murdoch, I take your point, white-out can mean what I generally think of as bad visibility and not the literally 'white' out, and in which case I ride in it for a bit of fun most of the time Very Happy but I think Wikipedia needs another category - 'can not see at all' Very Happy
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rayscoops, Cripes. Glad you survived!
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David Murdoch, that's really interesting -- so, as far as Wikipedia's concerned at least, all three of those really quite different sets of conditions are covered by the catch-all term "whiteout"?

Forgive me if it's a foolish novice question - I'm very conscious that it might well be the sort of thing covered in Ski Instruction 101 - but are there no tighter or clearer distinctions that we can use?

It seems that as people who spend time up mountains - and then spend time telling one another stories about time spent up mountains - we might want to be able to distinguish more easily between things like:

Poor visibility - e.g. fog or cloud, where visibility is dramatically reduced over distance and objects are indistinct but where up / down and moving / not moving can still be readily distinguished

Flat light - long-range visibility itself is not necessarily affected, but contours in the snow cannot be made out and even large mogul fields can look like smooth pistes

Total Whiteout(?) - not only near-zero visibility but no way of distinguishing between snow and air - no frame of reference for speed, direction or even whether you're moving or not moving, possibly inducing vertigo / nausea as well as rising panic!

What I guess I mean is that as
rayscoops wrote:
I thought I had been in a whiteout before this... but the St Anton experience was totally different with absolutely nothing to see to gauge direction or possible route to take

Don't we want different terms to describe such radically different experiences?


edited to add: ah, sorry everyone - that took a while to write and you've all just said the same thing! Embarassed
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Hurtle wrote:
Kramer,
Quote:

if I'm with someone who knows where they're going

Exactly. Not that what you describe wouldn't scare the sh*t out of me anyway! wink


It's quite fun. Not only can you not tell whether you're stood still or moving, on a steep pitch, it can become difficult to tell whether you're still skiing or have fallen over. Shocked You have to be sure of your guide though, it would be quite easy to fall over a cliff without realising that you'd done so.

It's great for getting fresh tracks though, the main problem is that you can't see them after you've done them.
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Kramer, it can be quite funny in that the only time you actually know where your are is when your face hits the snow or you are for some reason lying on your back, and just before this your think you are really doing quite well. It is the ultimate falling with grace with no stiffening up or arms out, and luckily normally reserved for big drifts of pow Very Happy
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