Feb

14

 I'm in Valdez Alaska. It snowed 2 feet the day before I got, here, and 3 feet the day I got here, and 2 feet today, and it's still snowing. When backcountry skiing, avoiding avalanches is a constant concern and a matter of life and death. I've talked to a few real experts on the subject here, Dean Cummings, former World Extreme Ski 2nd place champion and owner of H2O Heli ski, and Matt Kinney.

One of the basic ways to understand the snowpack and the potential danger of avalanches is to dig a pit in the snow and examine the layers of snow over the season and test its structural properties. Snow, when viewed cut away in a pit, shows the layers of snow over the season like the rings of a tree, exposing the various attributes of the snow. One of the things to look for is a weak layer in the snow, such as a layer of ice formed by rain or sun melt, or powdery sugar snow called hoar frost. The other thing to look for is slab formation caused by wind blown snow. The danger is when a slab slides on a layer of ice, or sugarlike snow and forms an avalanche.

The pit exposes the layers and the skiier examines each layer by touching it to feel its consistency. The skiier then isolates a 1 or two foot wide column of snow which can be 240 cm tall where that is the depth of the snow. After tapping the top and counting the number of taps, if the column of snow collapses at the icy or sugary layer, it is a sign of weakness in the snow, a potential place where an avalanche might trigger at the weak layer in the snow structure. Avalanche experts use microscopes and examine the snow crystals and see how they have metamorphed over time with temperature. A pit is only a snap shot of the snow in one area of the mountain and the snow cannot be assumed to be the same elsewhere, but it gives information about the relationship of the layers.

I could not help to think of the similarities in the historical evidence of snow to the order book. I wish one could look to see the structure of the entire order book up and down the prices. Especially nowadays with computer traders, the order book rapidly and constantly changes, but there would be information in the changes in the order book. There would be weak layers, or strong layers in the book. There may be structures in the order book near or around round numbers, and in time around announcements, closings. Even better would be to see whose orders there were. I've read that CME full members can see the tags identifying the order makers' identites. I'm sure the complete order book is available to someone somewhere, perhaps the market makers see this. Without the information it feels like flying blind sometimes. It certainly would be an advantage.


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  1. Mark Candon on February 14, 2013 8:55 pm

    The deadly Tunnel Creek/Stevens Pass avalanche of last Feb. was a great read, particularly online because of the link to the real-time re-creation from the Swiss firm. The three skiers killed were careless experts caught up in the excitement. Several of their buddies seemed to have sensed the dangerous route that proved fatal. The killed were like rag dolls after bouncing through trees on the descent.

    Here in Vermont there are no avalanches. We don’t get the volume of snow. Last Saturday we got a foot of powder and I thought I was going to break my leg. Skiing on powder in the East is rare. Soon there are piles and holes and skied-off surprises, so I went down to the bunny slope to practice. On Sunday my favorite trails were packed powder: the best skiing in years.

    Finally, There is one letter I in the word skier, and two letter Is in the word skiing. And no such word as sking.

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