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Ski descent ratings?

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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby benners » Thu Feb 14, 2013 4:30 pm

MountainFan wrote:How many of the 14ers would fall under the first 3 of lordhelmut's categories?

Probably all of them save for three, and there's only one I can think of that would truly fall into category five.

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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby BillMiddlebrook » Thu Feb 14, 2013 4:54 pm

There are going to be "problems" with any kind of rating system, whether it be one which is more detailed like the D System or one which has, say, 5 categories. Just like we have plenty of discussions about hike ratings (Class 2+, Class 3+, "is it really Class 4?,"...), there will always be a subjective nature in addition to varying conditions that may be present at any time.

Consider Lou's original ski ratings in his 14er guidebooks (vol. 1 and 2). I believe he had Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Extreme. This might seem too vague for many and it might be why he went on to implement the D System. Well, with the addition of "Very Advanced" (or whatever) to those classifications, we could have had the 5-rating system. Well, then we might end up with Extreme turning into (5.0-5.14 or whatever) just so people could classify ski routes ranging from Wetterhorn to Capitol. Nothing will ever be perfect but hopefully anything we use is helpful.

Ok, now I'm exhausted.
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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby taylorzs » Thu Feb 14, 2013 9:11 pm

Fletch wrote:
Dave B wrote:
lordhelmut wrote:5 - Suicidal Dick waiving contest...

I like the simplicity of such a scale and think it would suffice for those confident in their skills.

And yet, I see so much future dick waiving. A 5.9 guy obviously has an advantage over a 5.5 guy, but as they say, it really depends on how you use it...

:lol: :lol: :lol:

Now in seriousness. I believe it is a lot more challenging to rate ski descents by difficulty than rock climbing. There is subjectivity in rock climbing due to differences in height, weight, sex (centers of gravity), rain making rock wet, snow, ice, etc... but the rock is still much more consistant from day to day (relatively speaking to skiing) and consequently, allows for more precision in rating for several reasons. The rock climbing rating system happens like this (my understanding anyway): The person that did the first ascent does not want to be considered a wimp so they typically sandbag the difficulty a bit (totally opposite of the ski mountaineering community). After that, other climbers climb the route and as more people climb the route it typically gets lowered a grade or two (5.9 to 5.8 etc...) until a general community consensus is established. This is why rarely climbed routes are more often sandbagged than well climbed routes (as well as very old routes for different reasons). Ratings are based on the rock being dry, which it is most of the time.
Ski descents are a whole different story. I have avoided riding down 30 degree alpine ice in the past because it was extremely terrifying to even think about riding down it and other times blissfully made beautiful corn/powder turns down 50 degree terrain above multi-hundred to thousand foot cliffs without a care in the world. This type of variablity from day to day and hour to hour makes coming up with a systematic and (mostly) accurate rating system like rock climbing extremely difficult. Additionally, think about how many more people climb any single route on the Diamond or somewhere else in a season compared to the number of people that ski Longs by any route in a year. There are also so fewer people skiing any given route and supplying input as to the difficulty as well. Between the dramatically greater variability of any given route from hour to hour and day to day and to a lesser extent, the comparable variation in number of people engaging in rock climbing vs ski mountaineering I think it is very challenging to come up with a precise rating system for ski descents.
Brain(LordHulmut), Bill, and Lou all present some good ideas for guidelines but I think the nature of the ski mountaineering sport makes any rating system extremely subjective and quite often innaccurate because of variablity in snow conditions...
I like being able to look at a ski mountaineering rating to get an idea of the difficulty of a ski descent but I generally regard it as only a very,VERY loose idea of how challenging a descent is. I do like to know the steepest pitch angle on a route, how sustained it is, how steep the overall pitch is of the descent, the length of vertical on a line that is in prime avalanche terrain (so I can consider spatial variablity in avalanche hazard evaluation), and what is below the line for evaluation of fall consequences. However, saying that a route is "intermediate, advanced, extreme", "D2, D4", etc. is something to be taken with only a slight bit more than the value of a grain of salt. I do not see ski descent difficulty ratings getting any more accurate....ever. I do not see how we will ever be able to bring ski descent ratings up to the accuracy of say.... rock climbing ratings. But, hey, that is part of the fun too.
Just my two cents.
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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby lordhelmut » Fri Feb 15, 2013 10:48 am

Good points Zach.

In all seriousness - one thing I don't understand that I noticed on Dawson's rating system was The Snake on Sneffels was rated a D11, The Deming Drop a D10 and then the Dead Dog a D13. My first guess would be that he is trying to bring to light the seriousness of a line so accessible and popular, to possibly deter "newbs" so they take it more seriously. It seems a lot of people have died on that line over the years, mainly due to poor decision making (as in skiing the line in winter during periods of considerable avy dangers). You would think a line with a mandatory rap off the summit and 45-50 degree complex terrain for 2000 feet and then a potential re-ascent to Lavender Col, would be significantly more difficult, physically and technically, than Dead Dog, which has turned in to a highway in recent years. The East Face Direct of Torreys, that is probably a D13, but Dead Dog is probably a D10 or less.

Also, in comparison to rock climbing, when compared to sport, no matter how difficult a sport route is, if you fall, the pro will save you. If you fall while skiing Capitol, you are going to die, even if you fall on Dead Dog, and can't stop yourself, you will get severely injured. Alpine trad routes are a little different, but from observation, it seems most going out on stout alpine routes know exactly what they are doing and are confident in what they are doing. With the sport of ski mountaineering rapidly growing and lines so accessible in CO, unprepared, impulsive folk with a false sense of confidence can get in to serious trouble. There are many more aspects of skiing peaks that can kill you than rock climbing.

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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby Dave B » Fri Feb 15, 2013 11:19 am

lordhelmut wrote:...than Dead Dog, which has turned in to a highway in recent years. The East Face Direct of Torreys, that is probably a D13, but Dead Dog is probably a D10 or less...


I think this is really the crux of my original question. I haven't skied or climbed DD but I've looked down it from Kelso ridge. That slope is definitely in the 50 degree range at the top which, according to Lou's ratings, makes it a solid D13. However, you say it's 10 and Bill has it listed as 11. This is where my question about where the original rating comes from.

Another rock analogy is a route that is sustained and difficult 5.7, like Kor's Flake, on Lumpy being rated with the same difficulty as a route that is 5.4 with one 5.7 move.

I agree with Bill that there are flaws to every rating system. The big one for me is the beginner/advanced/expert ratings (like those used in Front Range Descents) that lump easier skis like South Diamond Peak into the same category with a sustained 45-50 degree ski with significant terrain dangers.
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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby George James » Fri Feb 15, 2013 11:36 am

D10? You sunk my Battleship!

Just go ski something Dave
- A mountain is not a checkbox to be ticked
- Alpinism and mountaineering are not restricted to 14,000 foot mountains
- Judgment and experience are the two most important pieces of gear you own
- Being honest to yourself and others about your abilities is a characteristic of experienced climbers
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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby Dave B » Fri Feb 15, 2013 11:56 am

George James wrote:Just go ski something Dave


Damn it, George...

When are you heading up lake agnes way again?
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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby George James » Fri Feb 15, 2013 12:56 pm

Dave wrote:When are you heading up lake agnes way again?
I dunno, this weekend maybe? Maybe not, I don't think it snowed much up there in the past 24 hours.

just for the sake of BS'ing about it...
Middle Man wrote:I don't think a skiers ability level matters when coming up with a specific rating, it should depend on the attributes of the route.
If you simply must rate the route itself I suppose I agree, but I think it works OK to grade the ability level(s) of the skier, then match a route (or zone) with what grade of skier would/could ski it competently. Tom Turiano's Teton book does it that way and it makes enough sense. I'm particulary fond of the suicidal dick waver skier grade in that guide, says something like 'transcends physical, mental, and spiritual planes in order to accurately assess the situation.' Heh, nice.
Last edited by George James on Fri Feb 15, 2013 1:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
- A mountain is not a checkbox to be ticked
- Alpinism and mountaineering are not restricted to 14,000 foot mountains
- Judgment and experience are the two most important pieces of gear you own
- Being honest to yourself and others about your abilities is a characteristic of experienced climbers
- Courage cannot be bought at REI or carried with you in your rucksack
~ The Baron Von Bergschrund

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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby COBuckeye » Fri Feb 15, 2013 1:01 pm

Fletch wrote:Go ski them all and then write a book... :lol:


One guy did just that...and yet this thread is dedicated to discussing/disagreeing about how he rated them... :lol:
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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby Dave B » Fri Feb 15, 2013 1:12 pm

Fletch wrote:It's futile gents... just let it go...


:roll: Party-pooper.

For the record, this is not an attempt to define an ideal rating system as much as understand the current one.

There seems to be some animosity in regards to discussing the topic, I'm not really sure why.

George James wrote:
Dave wrote:When are you heading up lake agnes way again?
I dunno, this weekend maybe? Maybe not, I don't think it snowed much up there in the past 24 hours.



And it never does, no reason to go up there, ever I say 8-[
"There is no cheating in climbing, only lying." - Semi-Rad

Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby taylorzs » Fri Feb 15, 2013 2:13 pm

lordhelmut wrote:Good points Zach.

In all seriousness - one thing I don't understand that I noticed on Dawson's rating system was The Snake on Sneffels was rated a D11, The Deming Drop a D10 and then the Dead Dog a D13. My first guess would be that he is trying to bring to light the seriousness of a line so accessible and popular, to possibly deter "newbs" so they take it more seriously. It seems a lot of people have died on that line over the years, mainly due to poor decision making (as in skiing the line in winter during periods of considerable avy dangers). You would think a line with a mandatory rap off the summit and 45-50 degree complex terrain for 2000 feet and then a potential re-ascent to Lavender Col, would be significantly more difficult, physically and technically, than Dead Dog, which has turned in to a highway in recent years. The East Face Direct of Torreys, that is probably a D13, but Dead Dog is probably a D10 or less.

Yeah, not sure what Lou was thinking to rate Dead Dog like that. It barely qualifies as extreme skiing, in my opinion. I think it does qualify, just on the low end. I would say it is a good introductory extreme ski descent. If you lose an edge at the top and can't stop, you will probably die or be severely injured so I think it qualifies for "extreme" status. However, it is wide, long, and the pitch mellows pretty quickly so anyone who is even marginally competant with an axe or whip it should be able to arrest a fall in time. I have climbed Dead Dog twice now and thought it was pretty easy both times. I rode the east face last year and was definitely a bit puckered by the time I got halfway down it. The east face is a good deal more involved. Lou must have been trying to deter people who may not have the skills by rating Dead Dog D13. That is the only thing I can think of. Been up on Torreys in snow season 5 times or so, skiing/climbing various versions of the Tuning Fork, Dead Dog, the east face, and Kelso ridge, and have seen drama and accidents up there because other parties were doing things worthy of Honorable Mention in the Darwin Awards( Like climbing up DD at noon on a warm May day). It is interesting how some of the easier lines and peaks (Bierstadt, Torreys, Quandary, Holy Cross) seem to see the most accidents. No route is safe all the time and most routes are too dangerous to attempt more often than not under snow conditions. It takes a good deal of knowledge and experience to know when to drop any steep line.
I agree with Brian, the nature of rock climbing seems to lend itself to people attempting things within their ability a greater amount of the time than with ski mountaineering. I am amazed at how much more often other parties get in over their heads when out in the backcountry riding vs rock climbing.
I actually like Lou's intermediate to extreme rating system more than his D1-D_ system. Between the generalized rating plus a route description, I get a lot more out of that then seeing the name of the route with D_ next too it. Just my preference.
Dave you should ski the Northwest Couloir on Torreys if Dead Dog still seems a bit intimidating. It is about 40 degrees in pitch, almost twice as long, less traveled, and comparatively speaking, safer. Probably worth still skiing it with a whip it(and in spring time), just in case. I would say out of the four main ways to ski Torreys, the Northwest face (Tuning Fork) is probably my favorite.
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Re: Ski descent ratings?

Postby benners » Fri Feb 15, 2013 2:56 pm

Dave B wrote:Where do these come from? Are they determined by the "first decensionist" the way FAers get to rate rock climbs? Or is it a consensus?

I'm assuming that these are quite dependent upon conditions, but is there a comprehensive list of these ratings available somewhere? I've noticed that Lou Dawson has a select list of descents for each rating, but I'm interested in something more specific to CO.

I agree with the OP that D ratings seem very subjective as well as conditions dependant. Due to snow cover and wind loading ski lines can be steeper some years than others, and by the same token steepness can even vary within a single season as the snow accumulates/melts. This happens most noticeably at the top of lines near ridge cornices but it can also happen over the entire length of a line. Not only that, but let's say we rate Huron's East Face ski route as a D14. Which route are we talking about? The central couloir or one of the chutes that drop off the ridge further south? Both are considered the "East Face". Rocks and terrain features may need to be negotiated on years with lower snow totals, and may be completely covered and thus avoidable during other years. All of these factors weigh in when considering the D scale, so the way I see it a skier can ski a line one year and objectively say the steepness is 45 degrees off the top and there are minimal terrain features to negotiate, and another skier can ski the same line on another year and note a 50 degree entrance and multiple rock features that must be skirted around, putting the skier on a different route than the one the first skier took. Then you factor in the subjectivity of their assessments (which can and does relate to a skier's experience, skill, and comfort on steep lines) and the D rating for a single line could vary from, say, D9 to D13. That's quite a large difference but if I'm reading Lou's scale right I think a discepancy of this size is very possible.

Answering another question from the OP, I am not aware of any sort of compreshensive list of ski lines with D ratings. There are Lou's examples and a few skiers have put together lists of ratings on their blogs, but those ratings are all subject to the same constraints I described above and may not be "accurate" from season to season.

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