Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
We learned a few days ago that a well known local, John Seigle, died in an avalanche while backcountry skiing in France. I didn’t know John well, I’d met him a few times when he was working with our town (Carbondale) to do some developments. I remember John as the first developer to see the potential our town had over more well known nearby areas such as Aspen, and I remember how well he dealt with our beloved anti-everything-development locals. What we got out of John’s efforts was a really nice convenience store and hotel on the edge of town , one that we’ve always liked and recommended to out of town visitors. Some of our friends knew John quite well, and we send our condolences to everyone during what must be a hard time, as John was one of the most safety conscious backcountry skiers out there, so his death is a shocker.
I hope the following isn’t too preachy, if so, please remember I’m preaching to myself.
Today the Aspen Times has a detailed article about the accident. Of note is that John had beacon, shovel, helmet, Avalung etc., and was skiing in a place deemed safe — he died from trauma (impacted a tree), and his guide was caught and injured as well (more of that tiresome guided group skiing together and being caught together, instead of skiing one-at-a-time).
As always, my thoughts turn to just how cautious we need to be if we expect backcountry skiing to be safe, especially if we’re in it for the long term with the odds stacked against us. Avalanches are violent and deadly, one ride and you’re likely to end up dead or crippled. More, is your backcountry skiing guide really keeping you safe, or just providing you with a skin track? I’m all for guiding, but guides are just people and can only go so far as to balancing risk/reward — especially when they’ve got to make a living and provide the goods people expect.
I also find it worrisome that over 40 people have died from avalanches in France this year, and that Seigle and his group were backcountry skiing an avalanche slope on a day when the hazard was rated at the higher end of the scale. Seems like things are a bit out of hand over there…time to dial it back a bit?
Open for comments.