“If avalanches are the problem, then terrain is the solution.” — Oft-repeated aphorism
Put down the pitchfork and take the price off my head. I’m not advocating you actually, literally, for-real ski without a beacon. No, over the ensuing paragraphs I’m only going to ask you to imagine skiing and riding without your basic avalanche safety equipment.
And why, you ask? Well, read on to find out, but in the meantime let me assure you of two things: one, I’m not above click-bait headlines and two, I’ve never skied backcountry without a beacon.
So, we cool here? Everybody properly equipped and ready to go? Bam, let’s click in and get going …
Solo Skiing and the No-Beacon Day
No exercise I can think of better teaches the concept of exposure than imagining that you’re skiing without a beacon. Solo skiing should achieve a similar effect.
I think we all agree, the easiest way to get smoked in the backcountry is avalanches. Sure, you can implode a knee on a stump, fall into a creek without your water-wings, get popsicle’d on an unplanned bivy in the Canadian cold, but for the most part, our biggest hazard in the backcountry is avalanches.
Avoiding this hazard really means eliminating exposure to it. Don’t want to lose money gambling? Don’t gamble. Not psyched on pancaking after jumping out of a plane? Don’t go skydiving. Eliminate exposure, eliminate the risk. Simple. Common sense.
Again, I’m not telling you to solo-ski and certainly not to ditch your transceiver. I solo occasionally (and even on those days I bring safety gear), so I recognize some of us occasionally do it.
When in the mountains alone, it distills our awareness and focuses our attention, and why? Consciously or unconsciously, we recognize that even a tiny mistake will be far more serious if we’re alone. And if we agree that avalanches are the likeliest way to die in the backcountry, and that our only hope of surviving an avalanche is our team and an effective transceiver search and rescue, then skiing without teammates and a beacon leaves us two options: perfection and/or no-exposure riding.
Newsflash: none of us are perfect, so that leaves eliminating exposure.