PSA — The New Avalanche Safety Movie

Post by blogger | November 5, 2015      

Know Before You Go from Trent Meisenheimer on Vimeo.

The grief is sometimes unmanageable. I have to turn my head down and count 10 breaths, then attempt to trick my mind into moving on in denial: She had a good life. He gave to others. The guide did his best. The kids were just out playing in the snow… My denial is a habit, perhaps a bad habit, but it’s there. I think back on those who died, but then the memory fades to nearly nothing, like turning off an old-fashioned television and having it squeeze down from a full picture, to a dot, then go black. Liz. Romeo. Fransson. Burden. Joel. Snyder. Gilbert. Thorpe. Marty. Brettmann. It can cause a few names to pop up, but most stay nicely buried like that black TV screen, allowing me to blithely proceed in the face of a sport that produces joy, yet much sadness.

Sometimes, the accidents are preventable. That makes them sadder, especially in the case of children or teenagers who simply don’t know what they’re getting into. Could we ever have ZERO avalanche deaths in mountain snowsports? Probably not. That would be like asking for zero deaths in bicycling, or zero risk in walking.

Yet clearly, when you look at avalanche accident reports or speak with those involved, you see tragedies that were, yes, preventable if a simple decision was made differently based on a basic bit of knowledge. Especially in the case of youngsters, perhaps public education could play a role in giving everyone a commonality of avalanche safety knowledge that could save lives (and also act as a foundation for life-long learning). Ocean safety programs for youth are offered in places such as Hawaii, why not in our mountain states, for avalanche safety? (To be fair, avalanche safety education for youth has been alive for years. Simply google “youth avalanche education.” But a program that could be adopted through public schooling, nationwide, is what KBYG is gunning for here, and where I’d think we need to be with this.)

Today the Colorado and Utah Avalanche Information Centers launch their “Know Before You Go” program with a video and website drop. We’ll stay as involved in this as possible as it appears their approach could get results. The only thing I’d change is I think they could have put just a hair more emphasis on just how dangerous skiing and riding in avy terrain can be, perhaps with comparisons to things like sky diving or even alpine skiing. Even less emphasis on beacons and airbags would have been okay as well — but at least they didn’t include the proverbial avalanche puppy digging up the happy customer from a snuggly snowcave — a staple of some youth oriented avalanche safety programs that in my opinion sends a terrible message.

In terms of demographics, the film could do a good job of educating both teenagers and adults on the basics, though you can see the obvious emphasis on teens and young adults. Considering that, I’d think it would be fairly easy to make another edit under a different title, one that was scripted for adults who spend time in avalanche terrain but could use a strong reminder of exactly what they’re getting into, and what the basics are of staying out of trouble. More, I wonder if a film could be cut for younger kids, or if it’s better to leave that part of the safety education process to teachers who can interpret for specific age groups and child personalities? Just thinking out loud…as this is most certainly a wonderful effort.

Also: In conjunction with the new “Know Before You Go” film, Backcountry Access has gone live with their new avalanche educational webisodes.


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29 Responses to “PSA — The New Avalanche Safety Movie”

  1. Paul Diegel, Utah Avalanche Center November 5th, 2015 10:57 am

    All great points. Avalanche Canada has put a lot of work into youth programing, building messaging targeting specific age groups, and is a great place to start when looking for addressing the needs of younger users.

    Thanks for the support. I would encourage everyone to check this out and refer their friends to this. Even for experienced backcountry users, the video provides some good talking points and a structure for mentoring those less experienced. If nothing else, I think our supporters provided us with some of the best radical backcountry video on the planet and it is free.

  2. Charlie Hagedorn November 5th, 2015 11:39 am

    Totally agreed, Lou. Below are some thoughts I wrote up last night regarding the video. Watching it again this morning, perhaps it’s just the prominent music and faster cuts that gave me the wrong vibe. The somber content’s there, but the consequences don’t resonate.

    Last night’s thoughts follow:

    It’s a beautiful video; engaging and compelling; worlds ahead of similar videos of the past.

    The video holds our attention in part by highlighting the excitement of risky choices in the mountains, and accidents themselves. The mountain environment can be so powerful, and snow science so cool, that sometimes we don’t notice our alternatives.

    Every day in the mountains is a good one. It doesn’t have to be steep to be fulfilling. A great day on skate skis can light up your life like a powder day.

    I didn’t get it until after both getting broken and losing friends in the mountains. With backcountry aspirants I meet, I try to share perspective in order to spare them hard experience: Don’t die in the mountains until after someone you know does; only then do we begin to understand what we risk.

    Mountains are not a safe place. They cannot be made safe. We can only choose to move through them in a way that makes long life probable. Given enough time, we, and everyone we know, will err.

    Our students, family, and friends will do as we model.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 November 5th, 2015 1:34 pm

    Thanks Charlie.

  4. OKC November 5th, 2015 3:51 pm

    Will definitely refer my friends to this. This is something that needs to be worked on.

  5. Nick Crews November 5th, 2015 8:59 pm

    I feel like the video didn’t touch on the human factor of avalanches. Maybe it was geared for newbies who hadn’t followed any of the five steps. But I felt like it left the message that if you follow the five rules, you’re safe, which isn’t true at all! When a third (I think is a statistic I remember) of avalanche fatalities are those with advanced training, obviously just using the five steps isn’t adequate. The hard part is the mental game of self-control, and being able to listen to your brain when it tells you you shouldn’t be somewhere. And the video didn’t reference this at all. My two cents.

  6. See November 5th, 2015 9:23 pm

    “If we learn something about avalanches, we can avoid getting caught in avalanches.” “Avalanche safety can seem totally overwhelming. But there is a systematic, step by step process that can keep you alive in avalanche terrain. Just knowing five basic things can prevent most avalanche accidents.” “If everyone wore an avalanche airbag back pack as well as an avalanche transceiver, 2 out of 3 people who die from asphyxia would still be alive.” “These avalanche forecasters are pros… they’re going to tell you everything you need to know.”

  7. Jon November 5th, 2015 10:26 pm

    Way too much focus on gear. Not nearly enough on knowledge, behavior, hubris, and complacency. The gear is only there for when you’ve failed in all the other factors. Then again, I’m sure 99% of WildSnow visitors know that already.

  8. Jim Milstein November 5th, 2015 11:01 pm

    This movie is to my taste, way over-produced and self-contradictory. It glorifies crazy behavior and then says with these *five things*, you can go crazy safely. And what’s with five things? It could be any number.

  9. Matt Franzek November 7th, 2015 7:44 pm

    I liked the movie and it sent chills down my spine as I started thinking about navigating and playing in the snow this winter.

    For most of us who spend more than a week each year playing and working in Avalanche terrain, simple things like have gear and looking at the forecast seems silly to put in a video, but for the vacation crowd who reads WildSnow, Powder, etc and takes a week vacation every winter out west, those are big things to learn. Media the past few years glamorize the epic deep pow and adventure of skiing out of bounds, but leave out the danger of traveling in Avalanche terrain and the steps we go through to reduce those risks. I liked how the video showed that you can have fun, but need to be safe and how to be safe.

    We, most of WildSnow readers, don’t leave the house, never less inbounds, with out our beacon, probe, and shovel (and airbag). How many people here during breakfast check the weather, snow report and Avalanche forecast? How many of us have taken an Avalanche Level 1 class once? How many have taken it multiple times, or have their level 2 or 3? Now how many vacationers know to check the reports, have the right gear, take classes, watch the weather from the first snowfall of the season or are they worrying about getting the kids to ski school?

    I was lucky to find Bruce Tempers book and WildSnow, as well as before I started to explore the BC. How many people do we see leaving the gates of the resorts who don’t know about all the resources we have at our disposal? How many people do we see going places they shouldn’t with no gear?

    The video, for me, is a reminder of the basics, and it’s awesome for that. Dads, Mom’s, and kids can watch it and say, that looks cool, I want to do that, and learn how to go about the steps to reducing the risks, have fun, and live to brag about it at the bar.

  10. Jim Milstein November 7th, 2015 7:54 pm

    “Know before You Go” is in the style of a beverage commercial. I would like to think backcountry ski culture is better than that.

  11. See November 7th, 2015 8:00 pm
  12. Jim Milstein November 7th, 2015 8:27 pm

    Great idea, See! Can you get Monty Python for our under-produced, scum-budget avalanche safety video?

    I’ve been working on The Three Dooz and The One Don’t.

    Dooz: Read a Book. Buy Some Stuff. Find Some Snow.
    Don’t: Die.

  13. See November 7th, 2015 9:09 pm

    Wish I could. But, frankly, I think video is part of the problem.

  14. Jim Milstein November 7th, 2015 9:33 pm

    Okay, See. Video is out. Too expensive, anyway. How about an avalanche safety podcast with guest appearances from surviving Pythons? Isn’t it true that some were swept away in great billowing clouds of snow? Or was that Buster Keaton?

  15. Nick November 7th, 2015 10:27 pm

    I’m with Nick, Jon, See, Jim et al on this one. Too much hype, coupled with the airbag evangelism. Not feeling the video despite *some* good within it. I’d also like to think that we as a backcountry community can do better – I imagine we can…

  16. Lou Dawson 2 November 8th, 2015 6:34 am

    Yeah, I was actually pretty surprised at the “gear will save you” message. At least they left out the child oriented “dog will save you” message I allude to in the blog post.

    In my opinion, the gear message could have been just a few seconds, and airbags could have been included in that. Gear is cool, Americans like gear (especially guys?), but the whole point of this educational project should be to get past the gear with a VERY strong human factors message.

    Good film makers are experts in manipulating human thought and emotion. Pretty pictures can do that to some degree, but thinking back on the video I’m wondering if the message in the visuals could have somehow been stronger? The first part where the guy gets buried POV is quite effective, for example, but I wonder if it could have been repeated a few more times in an even stronger way, sort of escalated as viewer attention spans wane?

    Another thing that occurs to me, why not have ALL narration and cameos done by youth ski and snowboard celebs, and victims? I like Tremper, he’s a friend, but in just thinking outloud I wonder if having a victim talk about the same things, perhaps from a wheelchair, would be even better for powerful message?

    As for the talk about getting the forecast, my gut tells me that’s good, but I’d like to see the statistics that back up the take in the film. It might be an inconvenient truth, but it’s possible that most people who get in an accident actually _have_ gotten the daily forecast?

    I still think it’s an excellent effort and we’ll seek to support this in every way possible. I hope the film makers and others behind this see our feedback as simply an effort to do better, as avalanche tragedy has affected all of us, often deeply.


  17. See November 8th, 2015 6:36 am

    Jim, your point about the resemblance to a beverage commercial is a good one. Like many of the amazing videos we all probably watch, it is a beverage commercial, considering the sponsorship.

    My impression is that the problem is not that people aren’t aware of the danger of avalanches, it’s that snow science is really hard. I’m not suggesting that all video is unhelpful, but that (imo) we don’t need so much emphasis on celebrities or entertainment value, just a lot more real, practical, technical education. On screen, but better yet, on snow.

  18. Lou Dawson 2 November 8th, 2015 6:50 am

    Did I miss it? Is there anywhere in there they suggest possibly hiring a guide? How much you want to bet that for the newcomer, hiring a guide is perhaps more safety insurance than any number of airbags and beacons, or checking avy forecast?

    Yeah, guides are expensive and not for everyone, but where is the AMGA in all this? Seems like there should at least be a hint.

    Perhaps I missed the logo?

    WildSnow guest bloggers Jed? Mike? Your takes?


  19. Paul Diegel, Utah Avalanche Center November 8th, 2015 12:38 pm

    I need to make a clarification here. The prime audience targeted in this video is age 14 to 25, with a heavy emphasis on sidecountry riders, a secondarily anyone considering going into the backcountry for the first time. In other words, this is the very first exposure that many have to avalanche issues. Does this over hype the extreme nature of the backcountry? Yep. We thought about trying to reach teenagers and snowmobilers with more long skin tracks, snowshoeing, and cocoa, and figure 8 turns, but didn’t think that would be very effective. Does it look like a beverage ad? Yes, because those ads are very successful at selling a product, even one that is bad for you.

    Regarding gear (actually just inflating packs) saving half of us that would have otherwise have died, that is true according to the best statistics we can find. And we tried to make it pretty clear that gear is considered a marginally reliable back up plan, good only for tweaking the odds.

    Human factors are tricky for this age group. Rather than recapping Thinking Fast & Slow, we chose to show iconic role models showing that avalanche awareness is cool, backing off was smart, trip planning is important, etc. I’m skeptical that a group of young freeriders gazing out the 9990 gate at Canyons is going to discuss associating new information with existing patterns or thoughts, no matter how hard we try to convince them. We tried to show good judgement in action, rather than trying to describe it.

    Good point on the use of old avalanche guys vs athletes. That was mainly due to logistics – getting all the sound bites we needed from athletes who travel a lot on a tight schedule and budget was a challenge.

    Good observation about guides. We push that to our adult students, but didn’t think about that for this. Need to think about how this might work with our target audience.

    Monty Python? Great idea and may form the basis for our next video targeting 40-60 year old BC skiers, the ones who aren’t getting caught.

    We see accident victims in 2 broad categories, those who have the gear and experience and making an informed decisions that turn out to be wrong and those who have no idea what they are getting into. This video does not speak to the first group – those are the ones that need to be reviewing Bruce’s book every fall, studying human factors, attending fall snow and avalanche workshops, and considering refreshing their Level 2 and Companion Rescue. We feel that a video like this that can spread virally and appeal to an InstaFaceTweet generation is the most effective way to reach the latter group.

    Thanks all for the feedback. I’m very curious to hear from those who have shown this to their teenager or has teenagers.

  20. Lou Dawson 2 November 8th, 2015 12:49 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment Paul. Knowing the intended demographic is helpful. Proof will be in the metrics. I’ll be curious how many 14 to 25 year-olds end up rocking airbags. Christmas shopping for parents? Seriously, I’d think 100% adoption of airbags by this demographic would be excellent, so I can see where that plays in your video. I think our big concern here is the reality of gear being held in too high an estimation of how much safety it really offers.

    I’d add that my gut feeling is your statistics offered in the movie, for airbag/beacon saves, are too optimistic for U.S. skiing in timbered terrain such as Wasatch.


  21. Jim Milstein November 8th, 2015 3:12 pm

    The 14 to 25 age group already thinks that they are individually immortal. If any kind of snow sport participants will rely on airbags and beacons as magic talismans, these will.

    How about this? Tell the youngsters that they are too young for airbags, they’ll just have to be careful. Then every one of them will go out and buy a bag on the airbag black market. Will they take care? Probably not. But at least their parents won’t have to foot the bill.

  22. See November 8th, 2015 9:13 pm

    I just hope that the target demographic understands that these videos are paid for by people trying to sell them stuff.

  23. scott November 9th, 2015 6:45 pm

    There is good information in the video. It doesn’t have to touch everyone. It will definitely touch some though. Thanks

  24. See November 9th, 2015 7:37 pm

    Watching super experts skiing crazy radical lines, with a team of guides, avalanche pros, heli pilots, photographers, corporate sponsors, etc. to support them, may not create an accurate impression of the sport in the minds of the target audience. I feel like this video is an attempt to present a little more balanced view. And I guess that’s a good thing.

  25. Lou Dawson 2 November 10th, 2015 6:32 am

    See, I’d agree it’s a good effort. You got me thinking. One wonders how much of the ski and snowboard backcountry footage in the film was done under supervision of guides or ski patrol or otherwise hired safety experts, contrast that to them not mentioning guides once in the video. That’s a bit of a cognitive disconnect, perhaps?

  26. Beau Fredlund November 15th, 2015 4:30 pm

    Interesting discussion here. I agree that the video might be more effective if toned down a good bit, with more emphasis on the ‘human factor’ and slow progression into avalanche terrain, and less emphasis o extreme riding. Still, I think it’s commendable that Trent and company are seeking to reach their intended demographic.

  27. Fully November 20th, 2015 9:51 pm

    I would be interested to see the average age of the people on this comment chain. The video clips and the athletes in them are all from recent movies that a great number of young chargers have/will see. This video will connect with a new young group of backcountry enthusiasts that may need this type of format to get their attention. Of course it does not have all the answers but it’s gateway to bigger conversations and courses that may not have happened otherwise. I applaud the effort!

  28. Jim Milstein November 20th, 2015 10:40 pm

    @Fully, I do not see the relevance of commenters’ average age to this discussion. If you object to points raised, please object based on actual reasons, not the age of the commenters.

    I have been wondering just what this video is trying to sell, since it reads like a slick commercial. Is it trying to sell thrilling feats of derring-do in the snowy backcountry? Or is it trying to encourage sober assessment and safety there? These things are barely compatible–and likely not at all compatible at any but the most advanced level. It is no secret that elite athletes often have shortened careers because they knowingly take risks that most of us would not.

  29. Fully November 21st, 2015 12:38 am

    @ Jim Milstein, If you go back and actually read my comment I make no reference to the average age being of relevance nor do I object to any of the points raised.
    To me the video looks to be “selling” avalanche awareness which I would think anyone traveling in the backcountry should be “buying”. But that’s just me.

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