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.