Backcountry Ski Touring News Roundup — Bela Vadasz, Earthquakes, Avalanches

Post by blogger | September 21, 2015      
Backcountry Skiing News

Condolences to the loved ones and associates of Bela Vadasz, co-founder of Alpine Skills International (in 1979) and one of the first truly “international” certified guides originating in the United States. Bela died unexpectedly on September 15, due to a heart condition. He was 62 years old.

Bela and I had a special friendship. We never saw much of each other in person, but enjoyed a like-minded view of the “holistic” side of alpinism, which led to him writing the foreword for my Wild Snow ski history book. This was a task Bela did not take lightly. I was touched by how his foreword was spot on to the purpose of Wild Snow; the idea of a “mountain blend” that pulls in everything from history to athleticism. All with emphasis on who came before us, on whose days in the mountains we stand.

Bela Vadasz climbing in Alaska in 2005, David Riggs photo.

Bela Vadasz climbing in Alaska in 2005, David Riggs photo, used by permission.

Another thing about Bela: Along with his wife Mimi he ran a backcountry ski lodge on Donner Pass, California (Donner Spitz Hütte) that for almost twenty years provided a forward thinking (let’s call it visionary) blend of North American and European hut culture. Bela was most certainly ahead of his time with the lodge; it saddens me it doesn’t exist now as it would probably be wildly successful. But he helped build a foundation for the European style catered huts that I expect will proliferate as our sport evolves.

Bela was also a huge influence on guiding culture. From “Vadasz was widely regarded as one of the most accomplished ski and climbing guides in Sierra Nevada history. He was presented with the AMGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. Vadasz was instrumental in the creation of the ski certification process in American mountain guiding, which led directly to American guides getting the opportunity for international certification through the IMFGA.”

We have quite a few posts covering Bela Vadasz here at WildSnow. For more info, check out this article in Reno newspaper.

A shout out to Black Diamond Equipment. They stepped up and supported my Wild Snow history book project so many years ago, and are still causing us to pray thanks for their being our biggest website sponsor. You’ll see a BD advertising campaign kicking in soon on our leaderboard and sidebar. Please explore their banners. You have to give BD kudos for how hard they work on making ski touring gear that is innovative and performance oriented. Sometimes they hit — sometimes they miss — which indicates an awesome commitment to innovation that not only increases our fun level (Carbon Convert!) but could keep us alive (JetForce, the first electric airbag backpack!). We’re still waiting for the outcome of Black Diamond being sold yet again. Word is still this could be a positive occurrence due to new owners wanting to build up the company. Jury is out.

Well, since we’re on the subject of our fine U.S. alpine equipment companies, I’ll include BCA in the mix. They’ve got a nice contest going, prize being a Link radio, in return they just want your email so they can send you some announcements. Using 2-way radios during ski mountaineering has become ever more popular — something which we condone wholeheartedly. Using radios saves lives. Also about safety, BCA is already distributing their 2015-2016 Float airbag backpacks, which are totally redesigned for this season and look quite nice. Float 32 is still the sweet spot for real human-powered skiing, but weight weenies might be able to get away with one of their more compact offerings. We’ve got lots of Backcountry Access content, going way back to pleistocene era of ski touring.

Chile is not unfamiliar with earthquakes. Just about the time they get used to a non-shaking situation it seems they get another fault slip. The latest was an 8.3 magnitude vibrator that occurred just north of Santiago. Any time I hear about a quake that could affect an alpine region (Alaska, etc.) I get concerned about mountaineers that could be affected by falling objects knocked loose from the heights. Objects such as rocks, or avalanches. I’ve not heard of any such occurrences from this earthquake, thankfully. If anyone has more information please comment.

It wasn’t an earthquake, just an avalanche in France that killed seven climbers in the Alps in one sad incident. If I recall correctly, years ago more climbers actually died in avalanches than did skiers. That’s of course not the case these days, but climbers still get snow avalanched more than most people realize. More here.

In news of the mountain town weird, here in Colorado they busted a guy who squatted on public land and made an 8,500 pound pile of garbage by his mountain shanty. He’s going to jail. More here.

News of the uberman: Did you check out the climbing bum who bagged 1,000,000 dollars by winning the American Ninja obstacle course? Isaac Caldiero climbed some rope, and climbed a few tax brackets as well. Apparently the guy wasn’t making more than $10,000 a year, perhaps because he spent so much time training, as he’s incredibly strong and coordinated. A top athlete by any measure. One wonders, are you still a climbing bum if you are a millionaire and give up working for living so you can just travel around in your Sprinter van? Good one to watch. More here.

Last thing for our news roundup: Here in Colorado, don’t forget our 10th Mountain Hut System. While not the alpine catered huts of Canada, the 10th huts have a special feel. You cook your own food, meet other guests, and enjoy what can be best termed a “foothills ambiance” of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. They’re perfect for entry-level alpine ski touring, or light touring from hut-to-hut. (Some 10th Mountain huts do access alpine terrain, but in Colorado such terrain is often fraught with unreasonable avalanche danger until the spring snowpack commences). With most of the 10th huts, I prefer using them for “covering ground” style skiing, mostly in the forest, checking out snow covered conifers and ermine tracks, perhaps with a few powder tree-skiing laps in Colorado fluff. You can do that too, only to the max. Grab a light touring gear setup (light tele gear or a light AT setup with race bindings and cuff-flexible boots such as Scarpa Alien or Dynafit TLT), and join up with Aspen Alpine Guides for the Benedict 100 backcountry ski traverse that hits the huts from Aspen to Vail this January 24th to 29th. The roughly 100 mile and 17,000 vertical foot route connects the two towns. More at


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


5 Responses to “Backcountry Ski Touring News Roundup — Bela Vadasz, Earthquakes, Avalanches”

  1. ptor September 21st, 2015 11:02 pm

    Here’s some pics of the Gendarmerie doing the clean-up on that fatal avalanche on the Barre de Ecrins…
    Gives a bit of the idea of the situation of their bad choice that day. Two spanish climber had turned back and weren’t involved. But when it is good, it’s an amazing ski-descent 😉

  2. Dave Riggs September 23rd, 2015 11:51 am

    A memorial celebration the life of Bela Vadasz will be held on Saturday, October 17th at 1:30 PM in the Judah Lodge at Sugar Bowl Resort on Donner Summit. All are welcome, but we do as for RSVPs to so we can have an idea of how many folks will attend. We hope to see you there.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 September 23rd, 2015 5:12 pm

    Thanks Dave, wish Lisa and I could make it… our prayers are with all. Lou

  4. Lou Dawson 2 September 25th, 2015 4:41 pm

    Embedded the trailer for Black Diamond TV…

  5. Ben Kadas October 9th, 2015 12:18 pm

    Bela and Mimi were very cool people, they got me on the path to climbing and telemarking when I was living on Donner Pass in the early eighties. I helped them remodel the lodge and the “garage” in exchange for climbing lessons and gear. We were all so young back then, it saddens me to know that Bela died at sixty five, that’s just not old enough!

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