“It doesn’t matter if you have made thousands of good calls — all it takes is one bad call, and that is one too many. Some days the mountains are screaming ‘GET OUT OF HERE!’ and some days they are saying ‘come on in, it’s time to party.'” – Jeremy Jones
Be safe out there, team. After all, as Travis Rice will tell you, “avalanches don’t discriminate…they’re equal opportunity killers.” Whatever you’re doing — whether it is snowboarding, skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, etc. — if you live near the mountains, you need to know about avalanche safety.
And avalanches don’t only affect the people involved, they affect the entire snow sports community, which is precisely why the Utah Avalanche Center and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center teamed up with Avalanche Canada, Backcountry Access, the American Avalanche Association, the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education, the National Avalanche Center, Sherpas Cinema, Red Bull Media House, Brainfarm, and others to bring you this intensely informative PSA (published by Trent Meisenheimer), encouraging you and everyone else to learn the language of the mountains.
A few years ago, I lost a friend to an avalanche. He was hiking a bowl that I had been hiking with my cousin and friends since I was 14 or 15. Mind you, my cousin and I are from Kansas City and only spent a few weeks during winter and summer in Colorado; this kid grew up in the Rockies, shuttling between towns stretching along I-70. He knew the mountains like he knew his backyard, and he knew this particular bowl better than any of us — there was an off-piste line we used to bootpack right out of bounds. As I have been told by people who were with him that afternoon, it was a sunny day and they were lapping the bowl as we had countless times before. And on what would otherwise be just another run, he broke the plate and it shattered like glass. They quickly located him and he was seemingly “above” the snow so they thought he would be fine. Help came about 20 to 30 minutes later. A few hours after that, he succumbed to traumatic injuries and doctors declared him dead.
The thing is, avalanches don’t only happen in gnarly locales like Alaska or deep in the backcountry — they happen at and around resorts as well. That being said, they definitely are more common in “uncontrolled” environments, which is why it is duly important to learn the language of the mountains for yourself and to not rely on guides or ski patrol.
Here are four stories that will lend to that education:
How to Read Weather Forecasts During Snow Season
Backcountry Essentials, Part 1: Hard Snow Conditions
Backcountry Essentials, Part 2: Soft Snow Conditions
Backcountry Essentials, Part 3: Mixed Snow Conditions
Additionally, it is vital to take note that it is not necessarily the avalanche that kills you, at least not directly. One out of four deaths are caused by trauma; the rest, asphyxia. (Fortunately, today’s airbags promise to prevent two out of three of these asphyxia-related deaths, as once you’re buried you only have 15 minutes to live breathing in carbon monoxide.)
Avalanches are especially prevalent on inclines steeper than 30 degrees, whether it is the incline you’re riding or a tangential incline that might offload onto yours. So if you’re going for the steep and deep, do your research, otherwise there is a disconcertingly high likelihood that you are going to end up in a baaad way.
As Travis and Jimmy Chin and Johnny Collinson among many more implore you to do, take a moment to consider what exactly you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re going to go about doing it safely. Know these five basic things to prevent most avalanche accidents:
1. Get the gear.
2. Get the training.
3. Get the forecast.
4. Get the picture.
5. Get the harm’s way.
Obviously there is no preventing all avalanche accidents — nature is forever unpredictable — but if you adhere to this step-by-step guide to at the very least getting a grasp on the ins-and-outs of avalanche safety, accidents will not only be fewer and further in between, but powder days will be all the more enjoyable knowing that you’re indeed ready for anything.