Avalanche, A Life Saved

“A snowmobiler and his wife set out for an afternoon of low angle riding on March 4th 2012. Planning to stick to mellow terrain they left their avalanche rescue gear in the rig. As they pulled up to Hoyt Peak they met another group they knew and started climbing a steep east facing slope. Tyson was the sixth track on the slope when it broke above him. He tried to throttle off the slab but got thrown from his machine and held onto the bumper, getting completely buried in a slight terrain feature at the toe of the slide.”

I found this video very compelling and can easily liken it to cruising around on the groomers at the resort only to meet up with friends who are headed for the off-piste terrain. No reason to wear a beacon … until you decide to succumb to social pressure and head to other, unexpected terrain with your buddies. Perhaps it speaks to me because this has happened on a number of occasions. Last year i committed to wear my beacon while skiing at any resort knowing my personality and my desire to take opportunities when they present themselves. It may seem silly to some and dorky to others, but its an insurance policy that weighs next to nothing and does not impede my skiing ability. It won’t keep me from getting caught in an avalanche, my avoidance policy helps with that, but it does mean searchers could quickly locate me. And the only expense is a few extra batteries each season!

Anybody else doing the same thing?

As a budding ski patroller with the task of providing quick rescues and first responder care, I wish more folks would consider wearing beacons when skiing/riding at resorts with off-piste terrain with the capability of producing avalanches. Ski Patrols mitigate hazards, but cannot remove all possibilities short of running over the snow with the groomer. You may never need to be found in avalanche debris, but what if…? It seems a handful of in-bounds incidents have been reported in the last few years from Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. Others have reported non-fatal incidents in addition to these. If you want to explore this more, simply Google search “inbound avalanche accidents”. Statistically, the probability is extremely low and these thoughts are simply to suggest ideas and express my personal convictions.

I suppose we can relate wearing a beacon to wearing a seatbelt. Seatbelts don’t really affect driving ability. People die in automobile accidents while wearing seatbelts. People have been saved  in automobile accidents because of seatbelts. Some people never have an accident, never needing a seatbelt, yet wear one religiously. Some people drive fast, drive drunk, drive out of control and cheat death on a regular basis. Good luck? Bad luck? Skill? Religion? Education? I often wonder if I have more of one and less of another, or if I’m equally balanced in superstition.

Besides the rider not wearing a beacon in the video, there are some very important reinforcements presented. Shallow snow can be dangerous. Depth hoar can be bad. Many terrain identifiers in the video, including a recent or semi-recent avalanche on the same slope. Functional and trustworthy avalanche rescue equipment is crucial. Have a game plan and partners who are on the same page. PRACTICE.

2 responses to “Avalanche, A Life Saved

  1. Wow. Every time I see this video I’m reminded of how little the general backcountry population knows about basic rescue protocol, terrain management, the whole nine yards really. Your last line about having a game plan and partners on the same page is definitely poignant.

  2. Hey Nick, nice to see you checking in, thanks! Looking forward to following your adventures on Mtsplitski again this winter.

    Best Regards,

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