Bad Newspaper Reporting About Colorado Avalanche


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 21, 2009      
Newspaper article about Loveland Pass avalanche.

Newspaper article about Loveland Pass avalanche.

Last Tuesday a Colorado man survived a medium sized Colorado avalanche near Loveland Pass. Subsequent news reports did some heavy breathing over the incident — there must have been a news vacuum at the time.

Much to the disappointment of myself and several blog readers who’ve contacted me, an article published in our Colorado Mountain News Media newspapers (such as Glenwood Post) implied, no, stated in their headline that “knowledge was key for avalanche survivor.” This in the face of the fact that the victim and his partner did not carry beacons or shovels, did little to no hazard assessment, had virtually no avalanche safety training (I’m assuming) and made their lack of knowledge obvious by getting involved in an avalanche in the first place.

Just as most of us have probably felt after making an avalanche judgment mistake, we’re trusting that victim Alec Meyer is feeling quite schooled by now, and knows that luck rather than knowledge was the key to his survival. The article quotes him saying he’s got a beacon and shovel on order, and is signed up for an avalanche safety course. We wish him the best.

Nope, this isn’t about Mr. Meyer. Instead, what we’re railing on is how incredibly bad the above mentioned newspaper article was. Indeed, if you’ve ever wondered why Colorado Mountain News Media has to give their papers away rather than selling them, here we have a terrific example. Just check out these excerpts from the article:

“Knowledge was key.” — Actually, quite the opposite.
“Snowboarder rides/swim way out of…slide.” — Perhaps a bit, but mostly, you ride and swim out of avalanches in your dreams.
“I hate to be an example of the lucky one, but I hope it helps other people out.” — How, by making others think they can get lucky too?
“The whole reason he survived was his brain.” Nope, mostly luck.

As you’ll see when you read it, the article does include the obligatory public service safety section, but only after the above does a good job of misinforming those who know little or nothing about avalanche safety.

Sigh.

And of course, the obligatory blog.



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Comments

37 Responses to “Bad Newspaper Reporting About Colorado Avalanche”

  1. Clyde December 21st, 2009 10:13 am

    Lou, not only is this kid stupid, he’s in total denial. “He also said the whole reason he survived was his “brain” — he examine snow, gave instructions to his friend, he stayed calm, didn’t fight, and swam to keep himself up and to the edge of the slide.” http://tinyurl.com/ybjbhym

    No shovels, no probes, no beacons, no call to the Avy Center, no clue. Only reason he isn’t a corpse is luck, nothing to do with brains at all.

  2. Lou December 21st, 2009 10:19 am

    Yeah, but beyond the obvious mistakes that the guy made, I’m riled that the newspaper report does such a poor job of pointing that out. To be fair, I’ve done some very stupid things, so while I don’t mind calling this out with other folks, what I’m concerned about rather than the guy’s actions is that the news media learns that to really do a public service, they need to figure out what obvious mistakes were made and, wow, report them.

  3. Omr December 21st, 2009 10:23 am

    Luck over brains? I hate to say it but I’ve seen more close calls with “educated” skiers than ignorant skiers. The herd mentality is real

  4. Caleb Wray December 21st, 2009 10:23 am

    I wonder how much the reductions in staffing at most newspapers has to do with this. In looking at the article is smells of “let’s get this done ASAP”. A better article would be to look at the large number of young riders who are putting themselves at serious risk in some of the most popular backcountry locations, often without a thought or a clue. But that would take some time.

    On the positive side, it makes a lot of room in the media world for blogs!

  5. Mark December 21st, 2009 10:26 am

    Sometimes plainly admitting mistakes is the best approach in this context, but it appears we’ve already crossed another bridge instead. Having “brains” doesn’t mean much if the turn of events demonstrates said brains were idle. Even if the slide had carried away someone with oodles of avy training, the outcome would have been the same–slide 1, victim 0.

  6. Lou December 21st, 2009 10:28 am

    One of the least talked about stats in some of the studies I’ve seen is the one that shows that folks trained in avalanche safety are more likely to die in an avalanche. But that could just be because most people dealing with avy terrain have some training. On the other hand, it could mean something more. Need a better study, I guess (grin).

  7. Pierce December 21st, 2009 10:51 am

    There’s a reason that part of the Pass is called “Idiot’s Ridge”. It’s one of the few spots along that entire north-side bowl that slides regularly. I saw the report on the front page of the Summit Daily on Saturday and was appalled. I agree, the newspaper was wrong in presenting the story the way they did. It should have called him lucky. If he had brains, he wouldn’t have been there in the first place. He is lucky in the fact that the run-out zone is wide and lacks very many real terrain traps, and the debris fanned out quickly. Other than that, the only thing dumber than his actions was the story the paper ran. I would think that the high-country writers and the CAIC would have gone for a more responsible and informative piece.

  8. Jeff Woodward December 21st, 2009 10:59 am

    Lou –

    Good point. You could submit an edited version of your post to the newspapers that published the story. It might help educate the editors a bit and bring your point to a wider (and less educated) audience.

    Best,
    Jeff

  9. Mark December 21st, 2009 12:22 pm

    The Recon heads-up nano-tech display stuff sounds cool. If I can get it without getting a second mortgage, sign me up.

  10. Sierra Journal December 21st, 2009 12:26 pm

    Yup. Lou, you’re right on the money here. My sentiment exactly.

    http://www.sierrajournal.com/?p=1072

    I’m wandering out of my wheelhouse, here (about 2000 miles out of my wheelhouse), but this one really stuck in my craw.

    It’s inexcusably sloppy news reporting. Just a modicum of background research on avalanche training and protocol would have brought news orgs to a very different conclusion than the one they came to. They really dropped the ball. Rather than using this story as a way to help educate the public, they instead have become purveyors of misinformation. Ugh.

  11. Lou December 21st, 2009 12:47 pm

    No one caught my typo on the title? Fixed now…

  12. Hans December 21st, 2009 11:56 am

    Lou,
    I’d like to second that a Letter to the Editor seems in order as far as regarding this man’s experience. Seems like a good opportunity to get somethings straight.
    Secondly, I’d like to throw in that at least the media covered it to a pretty large extent. Living and skiing on the Front Range one is constantly confronted by people with no gear or training whatsoever doing shuttle laps on the pass’ (namely Loveland and Berthoud) to the point that it usually make those of us with experience want to avoid those places like the plague. Even more disturbing is the rumor of “Oh, Loveland Pass never slides” that seems to be batted around like a mantra among these folk. At least if the media is covering this slide story, hopefully it’ll help dissuade this rumor.

  13. David December 21st, 2009 1:02 pm

    Good topic. These articles reflect very poorly on the quality of journalism being practiced by their papers.

  14. Frank K December 21st, 2009 1:15 pm

    Lou- “One of the least talked about stats in some of the studies I’ve seen is the one that shows that folks trained in avalanche safety are more likely to die in an avalanche”

    The first thing my instructor said when I took my class years ago was “Congratulations, statistically you are now more likely to be involved in an avalanche accident now that you are taking a course.”

    It seems hard to really mean that, though, if you take into account how many days an experienced person might go without an incident, versus how long someone without a clue can stay safe out there. It would be a hard study to do properly.

    I wonder why stories like this are so often framed this way (this one is hardly the first, and won’t be the last). Do more people read an article titled “Knowledgeable group caught in avalanche” versus “Clueless skiers lucky to survive avalanche” Are the authors just trying to be nice? I don’t get it.

  15. Mark December 21st, 2009 1:27 pm

    Lou,
    As to more avy education being tied to a greater chance of dying in an avalanche, let us remember: correlation does not mean causation. Even so, this stinks. As I once heard, if I knew where I was going to die, I’d never go near the place!

  16. Lou December 21st, 2009 1:28 pm

    It’s the Katrina syndrome. When it comes to natural hazards, even when there are ways to avoid it, the media ignores that and figures we’re all just victims of either nature, luck, or someone else. Or something like that?

  17. Lee Lau December 21st, 2009 3:53 pm

    Lou,

    Thanks for the article and the blog link. The only thing better would if he had twitted on about it

  18. Nickd December 21st, 2009 4:18 pm

    Classic example of what we humans do so often in so many aspects of life: mistake luck for skill. Rerun the event 10 times under the same conditions and he dies 7 times, gets a life-flight out 3 times and walks away once. It’s only in the last case when the reporter gets to use “knowledge is the key” as the story leader.

    That said, Loveland Pass IS one of the great natural selectors out there – and who are we to interfere with evolution??

    The swimming thing is interesting, though. Never believed it, but Theo Meiners talk at CSAW in Leadville earlier this year provided some thoughtful examples and points to ponder. http://www.avalanche.org/~nac/NAC/techPages/articles/08_TAR_BirkelandBarteltMeiners.pdf

  19. Nickd December 21st, 2009 4:25 pm

    OK – simple arithmetic is just not my strong suit – I meant 6, 3 and 1 (which I believe sum to 10) in my last post. For obvious reasons, I was happy when you switched captchas – never could get those sums right. :tongue:

  20. dongshow December 21st, 2009 3:48 pm

    thanks Lou, this was just they type of comedy I needed today.

  21. Anonymous December 21st, 2009 3:59 pm

    There are some possible misconceptions floating around here about the likelihood of avalanche involvement for individuals with avalanche training.

    One simple explanation is that people with avalanche training go in the backcountry more often. Therefore, it is natural to discover a higher accident rate compared to people without avalanche training who go into the backcountry less often. Who would you expect to have the higher avalanche accident rate? People who are in the backcountry every weekend or people who are in the backcountry a few times a season?

    How many individuals with avalanche training descended this slope on the day of the avalanche?

  22. Louie December 21st, 2009 5:40 pm

    Lee-

    He did twitter it!

    http://twitpic.com/to18m

  23. KR December 21st, 2009 6:20 pm

    Why does everyone wave around ownership of a shovel, beacon, and probe as of paramount importance?Actual field use of any of these items merely confirms your stupidity or bad luck, it doesn’t mitigate it. I am not trying to deny their importance but had he been in possession of these items he would’ve still been an idiot, just an idiot who can use his credit card at the gear store.

    Although I agree, the article was ridiculous but generally the sort of breathless junk that passes for journalism these days.

  24. Lou December 21st, 2009 6:22 pm

    KR, as always, you nail it.

  25. Aaron December 21st, 2009 6:58 pm

    That was some terrible reporting by the Summit Daily News. Too bad they fired Bob Berwyn. He wouldn’t have bought that line of BS the idiot wash shoveling.

  26. Lee Lau December 21st, 2009 7:08 pm

    Louie – that’s hilarious stuff. Thx for the find. Did he update his facebook status while he was buried?

    Alec appears a bit miffed by comments on his blog post that he’s an idiot and has deleted all comments. Any bets on how long the blog will stay up?

  27. Lou December 21st, 2009 7:29 pm

    Easy on the personal attacks you guys. We all went through a learning curve.

  28. anonymous December 21st, 2009 8:58 pm

    Encouraging to see someone suggest the ‘holy trinity’ of probe beacon and shovel is not infallible . Even more encouraging to acknowledge their deployment to be the current best possible response to Failure.

    What appalled me is the guy said he was going to get a beacon for Christmas(didn’t mention getting his friend one) as if that was the charm. Maybe it would be-….i mean i remember 20 years ago hearing of the snow rangers at Tuckerman telling a party about to head up when avy forecast was high to put their wallets in zip locs-they wanted to know why- the ranger told them it made it easier to identify the bodies. While it wouldn’t identify the body, at least they might find it.

    A bit harsh I guess, but there does seem to be a lot of magical thinking surrounding the ‘trinity’, which may encourage uncalculated risk taking.

    I hope the young man learns how to learn, or all the education is just an empty litany.

  29. Matt Kinney December 21st, 2009 9:00 pm

    lou…so true, so true.

    Most every person has their “Chechackoo ” years in the mountains. I know I did. You either learn or you…die. I am very lucky that I am alive and have not made the same stupid, idiotic, and embeciilic mistake(S) again. :angel: 😉

  30. OMR December 21st, 2009 11:18 pm

    Face it, we’re all lazy at heart – skiers, journalists, accountants – all lazy as*es.

    Last weekend the SLC newspapers were reporting High danger when in fact the UAFC forecasted mostly moderate with a generous splattering of Considerable. The problem is my dear wife reads the paper and she was totally blazed when I called from Bo. Pk. to tell her I was skiing. And of course, after reading the Deseret News (the reddest, most neo-con newswpaper in the country I might add), she thought I was toast. But, alas, I made it home alive with nothing more than some bush-whack face whips.

    The real problem with poor journalism is the creation spousal hysteria.

  31. Alan Peterson December 22nd, 2009 11:58 am

    I live in Summit County and sent this letter to the editor. Below is his response and my follow-up. (I also sent a more serious letter in, and haven’t heard back.)

    To the editor:
    >
    > Kudos to Alec Meyer! Caught in a huge slide and hailed as a hero in the
    > number one daily newspaper of the Colorado Rockies! Thank you for providing
    > us with his notes for survival! I have done alot of stupid things in my life
    > such as paddling a sinking kayak through crocodile infested waters,
    > kite-skiing over a half frozen lake in a storm front, and letting a wild
    > coyote lick my neck at 3 am. Actually, I’ve been dumb enough to get caught in
    > at least 3 avalanches too – badges of honor I wear with pride. Usually, if I
    > am lucky, I get to boast about these accomplishments to my bro’s over beers at
    > the end of the day. But never – never – have I had the honor of waxing
    > prolific with made-up B.S. in a full page spread of the newspaper! Alec had
    > some great lines such as “safety should be everyone’s priority”. I like to
    > rattle off things like this too right before one of my Dawin Award attempts,
    > although I prefer my final words to be “Hold my beer!” and “Watch this!”
    > Please, If i get killed in an avalanche following Alec Meyer’s advice, give
    > credit to Summit Daily News in my award report.
    >
    > -Alan Peterson

    Editor’s reply:

    But please tell me: how did we say this
    guy is a ‘hero?’ We just reported what happened, working under the
    assumption that people might be interested to know what it’s like to be in
    and survive an avalanche. Apologize if we didn’t vilify Mr. Meyer enough for
    you …

    Alex Miller
    Editor | Summit Daily News
    Office: 970.668.4618

    My Reply:

    Interesting. Sounds like most media outlets today. Give all the airtime to someone who doesn’t now what they are talking about. Give them free reign to spout off incorrect information. Do not fact check. Do not screen for irrationality. Then claim to have no responsibility for what comes out of your media outlet. With control of such a large public platform from which to educate the public, you have a responsibility to check stories for accuracy. You have a responsibility to help the public be more informed and knowledgeable – not less, especially with issues of public safety.

    Giving more than half of the story over to Mr. Meyer and endorsing his erroneous avalanche safety information with lines like he “even managed to stay completely out of the debris field” does protray his actions as intelligent and heroic when they were neither. Doing this may encourage a reader to go up on that ridge again, and look for the “firm” spot to drop in, with a plan to “swim” if an avalanche occurs. If that person dies, will you think twice about having having run this story in the way you did? I would not necessarily expect most newspapers to do any better than you did, but from Summit Daily, in a community of backcountry skiers, I would hope you to have a basic knowledge of important backcountry safety, and use your position of priviledge responsibly.

    Please do better next time.

    -Alan Peterson

  32. Alan Peterson December 22nd, 2009 12:04 pm

    Here is my second more serious letter. It’s a bit long-

    To the editor:

    As a former ski patroller with 10 years of backcountry experience, I was shocked and dismayed to read your article “Notes from an avalanche survivor” (page A2, Sat 12/19/09). Although this individual (“A.M.”) did almost everything wrong in the backcountry, the article portrays him as knowledgeable and provides him a lead-story from which to preach poor information and irresponsible behavior. From the leading newspaper of Summit County, I expect better reporting.

    Over the last 10 winters in the United States an average of 25 people died in avalanches every year. Many of those deaths could have been avoided with better knowledge and judgement. Let us learn what we can from the mistakes made by this individual, so that we can enjoy the backcountry more safely:

    1. BE INFORMED:
    “We tried to go in there as well informed as we could” -A.M..
    Had A.M. gone to the avalanche forecast CAIC website that moring and read the “Highlights” at the top of the page, this is what he would have seen: “The avalanche danger for the Vail-Summit County zone is HIGH on N-NE-E-SE aspects near and above treeline… …numerous reports of human-triggered slides. Some of these slides have been very large and destructive.” This website is available at avalanche.state.co.us, or the report is available by telephone at 970-668-0600. Be informed. Its easy.

    2. BE SMART:
    “We chose a spot that was nice and firm at the top” -A.M.
    This is a non-sensical statement. Every slab avalanche requires a slab on top which can be quite firm, even rock-hard. It also needs a bed surface below to slide on, and a weak layer in between to fail. A.M.’s statement shows clearly he doesn’t know the basics about avalanches yet. Anyone can learn about these things by taking a course or reading a book. It’s interesting. It’s fun.

    3. GET THE GEAR:
    “Though A.M. said he’s ridden the Loveland Ridge area extensively over the past four years, he was lacking essential backcountry gear. But he said it wasn’t for lack of knowledge”.
    When people die in avalanches, roughly 60% die from asphyxiation/suffocation, and 40% from trauma. If you are caught in a slide and lucky enough to be burried but alive at the bottom, your friends have only a few minutes to save you. They should have an avalanche beacon, some prior training, and a shovel to dig you out. I have never met anyone knowledgeable about avalanches who ignored this.

    4. GO WITH PEOPLE MORE EXPERIENCED:
    “A.M. said he instructed Glatt on what to do if an avalanche did occur…”. Clearly, Meyer took someone less experienced than himself with him and “instructed” them about avalanches. It’s one thing to go out and place yourself at risk, but to be careless with someone else’s life while assuming a leadership role sounds a little irresponsible. I hope his partner Glatt will continue to explore the backcountry. It can be a fun, safe, and rewarding experience when you start with a class and follow the basics of backcountry safety.

    5. USE YOUR BRAIN AND SWIM:
    “He also said the whole reason he survived was his “brain” — …he stayed calm, didn’t fight, and swam to keep himself up and to the edge of the slide.”
    This is really quite funny (A.M.’s brain was a major contributor to his near-death experience)! While there is some truth that swimming in a slide can help keep your head above the surface, it’s hardly a key component to surviving avalanches. It’s much more important to use your brain and stay out of them in the first place! Giving this advice is like telling people to hold their hands over their head if they crash their car going 90 mph with bald tires and no seat-belt in an ice-storm. It’s not bad advice per se, but…

    I don’t want to be too critical of A.M.. I was caught in a few avalanches doing stupid things in my day too. Just like Meyer, I got lucky, and no one got hurt. Fortunately, there are much easier ways to learn, and this newspaper can help. See Saturday’s original article for a great listing of educational resources.

    Let’s all learn from A.M.’s mistakes by not overlooking them.

    Sincerely,

    Alan Peterson

  33. Lou December 22nd, 2009 1:26 pm

    Wow Alan, your second letter, that’s what they should have printed instead of the idiotic article in question! Thanks for trying. You might have saved someone’s life!

  34. Stephen December 24th, 2009 5:48 pm

    I cant belive the people of this site are ripping apart Alec.

  35. Alex Miller February 16th, 2010 10:37 am

    Since when it is the media’s job to interpret someone’s intelligence in a news story? It was a straight report about what happened and what the guy involved said about it. We’ve run a bazillion other stories about avy safety over the years; hopefully some of it has sunk in!

  36. Lou February 16th, 2010 12:11 pm

    The headline says knowledge was key. But it wasn’t. I guess the media’s job isn’t writing headlines?

  37. nini April 10th, 2010 6:15 am

    its so good that he made it. thank god :angel: :angel: :w00t: :w00t: : :happy: :happy: :biggrin: :biggrin: 😆 😆 😆 :silly: :cheerful: :cheerful:

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