Backcountry Skiing News Roundup

Post by blogger | February 13, 2009      

Make sure your avalanche beacon works. If not, get a new one here.

According to a recent study, at least 25% of avalanche deaths are caused by trauma. With all the recent emphasis on beacons and Avalungs, you’d think people have forgotten just how murderous avalanches are. It’s hard to breath with a broken neck.

The sea change in backcountry skiing continues at full boogie. I was down at the Gear Exchange in Glenwood Springs a few days ago. “If we had a full rack of used AT skis and bindings we’d sell every one of them in a week,” is how they expressed the powder panic buying that’s been going on. Seems like folks have finally gotten that a good day of backcountry skiing is about the terrain, the snow, the friends — not the type of turn you do. So they’re just using what works instead of working at it.

Back to backcountry safety. We feel it’s a good thing to have some sort of communication device in the backcountry, be it a Spot Messenger, sat-phone, or just a cell phone that works. We also like the personal locator beacons (PLBs), even though they’re less a “communication” device and more an “emergency alert” device. Details of different devices aside, you can now choose from a variety. Thus, you don’t have any excuse if you end up needing to walk for a day to let someone know your friend is lying in a snowcave with a broken leg. A new player in the PLB arena is the McMurdo Fast Find, looks perhaps smaller and lighter than the current options? Keep your eye on it.

Almost forgot, it’s sale time and you can help us keep this site going by shopping bargains. For example, has a bunch of sweet deals such as competitively priced Dynafit FT12s and free skins with a ski purchase. Also, is having their blow out, and discounting probably thousands of items. See banner below.

Jetboil recall is important to know about, as many of us use their cooking systems and don’t carry fire extinguishers. Info here.

And men, tomorrow is indeed Valentine’s Day. Like most guys with a significant other I will indeed purchase and provide the obligatory dozen pompoms. Those things are actually pretty nice, I’ll admit it, especially during the middle of winter in a snow covered town. But how about something better. This year I thought a backcountry skiing getaway at a private chalet would be the ticket. Only thing missing is the hot tub, but perhaps extra chocolate will make up for that. I’ll let you know next week, about the skiing, anyway.

Make sure your sweetie’s avalanche beacon works. Or better, get a new red one for Valentines.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


12 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. Jonathan Shefftz February 13th, 2009 11:27 am

    The avy trauma study is helpful data, although the write-up is kind of odd, since it actually confirms the 1/4 to 1/3 stat that we’ve always cited in North America.

    On the lighter side, love the publicity for the Greylock Ski Club — I’m a member and sometimes patrol there. (An NSP patroller or EMT is required to be there in order to start up the lifts.) The rope has an absurdly fast line speed and is manageable only with toe grippers. The hill actually has some enjoyable pitch, even though the vertical is small. Absolutely no paid staff, though we have a modern snowcat for grooming this year. Annual membership is *less* than a single-day lift ticket at nearby resorts. Come back and check us out!

  2. Lou February 13th, 2009 11:33 am

    Johnathan, yeah, I thought it kind of stated the obvious though perhaps refined it or backed it up with more data. I’ve always used the “1/2 to 1/3” rule of thumb for how many people die of trauma as opposed to suffocation.

    A nice stat to bandy about would be the percentage of folks who are caught in avalanches who die. That’s a hard one to pin down since many many avalanche rides are never reported, and small rides are way different than long/big rides. And having trees in the way seems to change things immensely in terms of your chances. Seat of pants research says once you’re caught you have a pretty good chance of being badly hurt or killed, but I’ve always wondered what that chance really was.

  3. Mark February 13th, 2009 2:17 pm

    Lou- I’m curious how you feel about the spot on Good Morning America with Andrew McLean. It seemed to follow a similar theme discussed in the recent AvaLung post. You two are obviously good friends. Are we really trying to encourage more people to get out there? Do we want to do this by pushing the equipment instead of education? We seem to be circling around some really poignant and interesting questions. If I sound skeptical, well I am, or at least cautious. My intention is not to be judgmental, but rather to continue the dialogue. It is always interesting to see where the passion for the sport and business meet.


  4. Tony February 13th, 2009 2:18 pm

    Good advice on the communication devices. Thanks.

  5. Lou February 13th, 2009 2:20 pm

    Mark, has Andrew already been on there? Link to view it? All I do is sit here and blog, not much of a pop culture consumer I guess (grin).

    Oh, here is the link folks. It’s basically another gear marketing victory, more power to those involved.

  6. Lou February 13th, 2009 3:59 pm

    Ok, I saw the post. I’m actually a fan of encouraging as many people as possible to get out there. For a lot of reasons I don’t have space to go into here, but mainly because I consider the backcountry the same thing as finding a pot of gold, and either one inspires me to share. Another reason is if it doesn’t get used it gets gradually locked up, at least that’s my opinion… yet another reason is pure economics, as I make my living from it which means how things like my son’s college and food get paid for is at least in part from backcountry skiing (my wife works as well), I’d thus be a hypocrite not to want it to be successful as a business, which means wanting it to expand at a healthy rate. Sure, that’s not everyone’s take especially those who don’t have a financial interest, but it’s mine and I have no problem being up front and honest about it. People seem to get immense value from backcountry skiing, so whatever the motivation behind promoting it, the end result is positive and results are what count.

  7. Jonathan Shefftz February 13th, 2009 4:03 pm

    Speaking of survival stats, here are some calcs I put together using commonly cited data:

    Commonly cited avalanche death/survival statistics:
    60% Overall death rate for fully buried victims – from any cause, for any burial duration (McClung, p. 245)
    25% avy deaths attributable to trauma – lower bound (various)
    33% avy deaths attributable to trauma – upper bound (various)
    92% 15-minute survival rate, excluding trauma victims (Tremper, figure I-1)

    Mathematical manipulations, using lower bound for trauma deaths:
    15% trauma death rate for fully buried victims
    85% trauma-avoidance rate for fully buried victims
    78.2% 15-minute overall survival rate

    Mathematical manipulations, using upper bound for trauma deaths:
    20% trauma death rate for fully buried victims
    80% trauma-avoidance rate for fully buried victims
    73.8% 15-minute overall survival rate

  8. Mark February 13th, 2009 4:42 pm

    Lou- thanks for your candid response.

  9. Randonnee February 13th, 2009 6:03 pm

    Fear and marketing on the ABC/ GMA piece that is basically an infomercial for Lou produced a great phrase above, “It’s hard to breathe with a broken neck.” Too bad, ABC and are providing the same dangerous drivel that the gear is “absolutely” (!) lifesaving. The cheerleaders for probes, shovels, and transceivers and the gear-sellers must be ecstatic! There was no discussion of avoiding an avalanche. There was no mention of an ABS, or other avalanche airbag. No mention of an avalanche dog, which when well trained outperforms all of that fancy gear. There was no mention of avalanche education, only a comment about learning to use the gear. As I have previously ranted, do not forget that gear sellers’ interest is in selling gear, not necessarily in saving your life. It is unfortunate that when an opportunity such as this occurred to add a few simple words such as “avalanche avoidance is the only real safety” commercial interest trumped concern for human safety.

  10. Tim M. February 14th, 2009 10:02 am

    Hi Lou,

    Thanks for the continued everything. On the topic of avi stats, I have been looking into this on several commonly espoused fronts and it is perplexing, frustrating and ultimately misleading to see the same discrepancies popping up.

    Apart from apparently not really knowing what’s killing people (avi related trauma vs. asphix or suff, and the latter depending on whether a writer/editor chose to abbreviate suff for asphix because with dictionary in lap they judge it to be the same thing) there is also the backcountry skier’s frequently repeated line that sledders are way more likely to get killed anyway. This is true, sort of, but only because as categories go there’s snowmobilers and snowshoers and then there’s backcountry skiers, telemark skiers, resort skiers, snowboarders, snowboarders with XXL pants, skiers with snazzy duds and (seriously) a few more sub-categories to boot. But things even up when you count snowmobilers and, say, foot launch tourists of skiers and snowboarders as one. So, jury… out.

  11. Jonathan Shefftz February 14th, 2009 10:48 am

    [repeat w/ tinyurl]
    Re snowmobile stats, very true, and this was covered in TAR 26/2 (Doug Chabot, Counting the Dead: Analyzing Avalanche Statistics) and my follow-up in 27/2 (A Brief Mathematical Note On: Snowmobiler Avalanche Deaths).

    Highly recommend subscribing if you don’t already:

  12. Bob Berwyn February 17th, 2009 11:40 am

    Some similar information from Utah researcher Ian McCammon and some Colorado SAR folks at this link:

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