Dean Cummings is a legend. A former World Extremes champion and pioneer of Alaskan heli-skiing, he’s one of the world’s foremost skiers. He’s also one of the sport’s foremost educators with his “Be Snow Smart” avalanche awareness program and his mechanized guide training school. When you get the chance to ski with a legend, it’s always a good idea to ask a question or two. So last February, when I was invited to a media introduction of H20 Gear’s ski line (one of Dean’s many projects, more info here) at Arapahoe Basin, I picked his brain about snow safety and his philosophy on safe recreation in the mountains.
The Steep Life Protocols, as he calls them, are practical and simple methods of assessment while traveling in the mountains. They work alongside more traditional avalanche education like Level I and Level II courses but focus more on decision making, communication, and on-the-ground preparedness. One of those protocols is constant observation, the more information you can gain about the snowpack the more informed your decisions become.
Here, Dean demonstrates a hasty pit, a lightning fast snow pit that provides quick and critical data on localized snowpack that's useful as you navigate through the mountains on different aspects and elevations. As you pick your way through a line, you may not always stop and build a big snow pit as conditions change, but digging a hasty pit while you catch your breath or get some water can give you a better understanding of the snowpack as you continue on your route.