Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
Leading here with an observation about avalanche safety. Colorado is usually at the top of the list for skier (including snowboarders) avy fatalities per state. Yet last winter we had the amazing occurrence of zero skier fatals (or possibly one, unwitnessed.) I blogged about that some time ago.
While our state’s avalanche safety pros could perhaps do some sophisticated analysis of what’s created that situation, I’ve seen nothing definitive. Theories range from “the snow was better,” to “luck.”
Me, I give credit to the human side. Worldwide, I see plenty of skiers pushing limits, often in ways that appear fearfully unwise. But in North America, in my opinion, the backcountry skiing public is better informed and better educated than ever, and those who do engage the game are doing so with a lot more ability to play high stakes poker and win.
My theory is that specifically here in Colorado, and other regions with similarly extra-lethal snowpack like ours, skiers are inspired to keep their cards close to their chest. Thus despite a HUGE increase in user days (napkin calced doubling time of around 8 years!), our fatality rate, per user day, is clearly dropping. This chart seems to allude to this.
In any case, what I find difficult to get my head around is how we could have a safer winter such as 2015-2016 happen in Colorado, and at the same time see the PNW (Washington-Oregon) reporting something like 4 skier tragedies. What gets me is that I’ve always held a strong belief the the PNW snow was on the whole nearly infinitely safer than ours here in Colorado. That’s one reason I’ve made a lot of ski mountaineering trips up there over the years, and is a good part of why the younger part of our family lives up there.
What brings this home to us, and is unfortunately “news,” is the tragic death of our acquaintance and friend of many friends, PNW skier Adam Roberts, in an avalanche near White Pass resort in Washington. I’m not asking for personal details or analysis on what happened to Adam (if you do speak, please do so in generalities), only pointing out that here is another event that belies my perhaps antiquated notion of PNW snow safety.
So, beyond specifics about Adam, rest his soul, what’s going on with snow safety regarding our central Rocky Mountains (Colorado, Montana, etc) and the PNW (Washington, Oregon)? Am I making a mistake being overall less cautious about the PNW? Is our lower fatality rate in Colorado just luck? Are the statistics only showing normal ebb and flow?
Your thoughts, oh esteemed commenters?
PSA section, a few of our basic avalanche safety how-to posts.