Backcountry Skiing News — Avalanches, Starvation, Spot and Blogs


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Backcountry Skiing News

Update: I should have mentioned that last Friday a climber’s rescue near here was instigated by a Spot Messenger “SOS” signal and resultant contact of local authorities from the Spot Emergency Response Center.  Everything worked out fine, and use of the Spot resulted in a quicker rescue than would have occurred otherwise.  Of most interest to me was how quickly Spot notified the locals, and how quick the locals had a helicopter in the air simply based on the press of a Spot button. Those guys are ON IT here and it is appreciated — though one does wonder when they’ll run out of government funds for heli hours. That’s when the key is our Colorado CORSAR card, which reimburses for rescue expenses.

Usually, summer at WildSnow HQ is a time to forget about things like avalanches. But with son Louie backcountry skiing down in New Zealand, I’m of course picking up on every report of instability and accidents in the southern hemisphere. And yes, they continue to have a dangerously unstable snowpack in the Southern Alps, with another death and lots of news coverage. More here.

In terms of “teachable moments” (to glom a phrase), I don’t know how much we can learn from avy deaths during high hazard warnings. Except that the human power of rationalization is a force of equal power to our intelligence. Thinking about that could bring you to a dark place on a beautiful Monday morning, but the upside (I use that term loosely) is that most backcountry skiing avalanche deaths actually don’t happen during high hazard warnings, but rather during lesser warning levels. That’s proof that rationality can win over rationalization, yet also shows we do easily let our guard down. I could go on… What do you guys think?

Did you hear about Winston Branko Churchill, the hiker who died of starvation and exposure in the San Juan mountains of Colorado? He was recently found a year after going missing. According to news reports, Churchhill’s camera had a “final, brief disturbing video he took of himself. He was in a tent in an emaciated state. He said he had gone 40 days without food and thought he would die on his birthday the next day — Oct. 13.”

From the article about Churchill linked above, one can easily infer that that poor guy had severe mental problems. What bothers me is it sounds like he used the ethos frequently espoused by “anti affluence” radicals as a framework for his weird demise. What’s more Churchill’s final days have sad parallels to that of “Into the Wild,” that grim book/movie that makes parents everywhere immediately phone their children and make sure they’re not getting too out there.

Churchhill’s story also reminds me of an avalanche death we had near here many years ago. In that event, a guy with very little winter camping experience decided he’d get natural and do some winter camping in the Elk Mountains. Problem was, all he took for food was a few pounds of carrots. It’s unknown whether it was the starvation diet or raw inexperience that compromised his judgment, but he set his tent below an avalanche path and was subsequently buried and killed.

In case you fans of online content reading didn’t notice (you probably did), corporate websites continue to flock towards “content” based sites as they’re getting tired of pesky bloggers grabbing all their traffic. Black Diamond was more of the more recent additions to the genre with their site redesign. Also, K2 is attempting a similar slant as they’ve had a blog up for a while now, though their “Culture” page says it’ll be “completed in August.” The one that got a jump on the other guys is Cloudveil’s “Mountain Culture” blog, which is set up as an independent website rather than an offshoot of their corporate site. That’s interesting, and smart, as most blog gurus say the blog should be the website, not limp along on a page buried in a nav menu. Besides, creating a spinoff site gives you one more place for valuable backlinks and once-removed PR stuff that can take a more independent and thus (apparently) authentic voice.

I have to admit that as an independent blogger, the idea of a person drawing a salary for blogging or creating website content (or just managing a corporate blog) seems strange. Weirder still, a job description that includes the phrase: “you will create 2 blog posts a week for our company website.” On the other hand, the blog is a viable format that reader’s enjoy, so why shouldn’t the corporations go for it? Key is of course keeping the new content and updates coming. My obsession with backcountry skiing and recreation advocacy makes that easy here at WildSnow. What’s hard is not having the “back end” support that the corporate blogs have. Meaning just doing a simple site redesign can severely compromise how much writing gets done. And getting out backcountry skiing? Lord forbid that would get in the way of the daily blog post! Oh well, it’s been an amazing ride and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Comments

6 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News — Avalanches, Starvation, Spot and Blogs”

  1. Tuck August 3rd, 2009 11:14 am

    Hopefully the recognition of how useful blogs are for reaching targeted audiences will enhance your revenue opportunities.

    I know that for me, if you’re an advertiser trying to lure my skiiing eyeballs, you’re better off doing it here than anywhere else (although I’m also partial to Skiing magazine, I don’t have it pushed in front of my face w/ an RSS reader every day or two). That’s Skiing’s loss. Hopefully it will be your gain…

  2. Lou August 3rd, 2009 11:28 am

    Thanks for the vote of confidence Tuck!

  3. ScottP August 3rd, 2009 2:51 pm

    I tend to have more confidence in Wildsnow than in most blogs because I know that I won’t just get marketing copy here. I’m still a little leery of “content” blogs put there by the manufacturer, because there’s an obvious conflict of interest. Maybe some of them really are unbiased, but it’s hard to trust that source.

    Of course, if you just spit out marketing copy long enough eventually people come to believe it and buy the product, even if there’s no good source, so it’s still an effective selling tool. Thank goodness those who do their research have Wildsnow, though!

  4. Mark August 3rd, 2009 4:51 pm

    My impression is that CORSAR does not cover things like heli rescue cost. Clarification anyone?

  5. Lou August 3rd, 2009 6:50 pm

    ScottP, yeah, I’ve never been comfortable regurgitating marketing copy, though it’s really tempting at times as bloggers get all caught up in getting something new up at least every weekday, and things like writer’s block do strike, not to mention powder storms. Luckily I do suffer a bit from incontinence of the fingers, so blockage is not a problem, though as you guys know I do get in too much of a hurry sometimes and don’t do my homework. Always willing to stand corrected, of course!

    My main goal with blogging these days is to start ramping up a couple posts a week that have more substantive content, such as my binding history posts, stories from my fourteener descents, essays, and solid gear reviews. Those sorts of posts can take most of a day to write, so it’s not child’s play, we’ll see how it goes.

    I should also emphasize that YOU GUYS making comments lifts WildSnow up into the upper echelon of blog quality. It’s amazing the high level of discourse we have here, and how many truly expert ski mountaineers lend their expertise. Keep it up, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE read your comments and benefit from them. A big THANK YOU from yours truly…

  6. Randonnee August 3rd, 2009 10:40 pm

    Lou you have moderated and shaped this blog into one with meaningful and respectful discourse. Other sites have little value in comparison. Thanks.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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