Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
Quite a bit of information about the Mount Tom, California avalanche is coming out. An article in the Inyo register is good (google it, they broker their link). Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see the group was gang skiing an avalanche slope, probably because they felt safe backcountry skiing on Sierra snow that’s generally quite stable — but in this case was not. One way of honoring the victims of such events, especially if they’re legendary mountaineers such as victim Will Crljenko, is to learn from their mistakes.
Those close to such accidents might find the word “mistake” to be harsh. I believe one of the beautiful things about mountaineering is that it’s an activity of consequence, with a firm set of cause/effect rules. Folks at a Boulder, Colorado coffee shop can debate the meaning of “truth” all they want, but when we’re skiing backcountry snow, certain truths are as sure as the sunrise we greet every morning. When we disregard or forget the mountain’s truth, I call that a mistake. We all do it now and then — because we’re human — but we can learn from misfortune and perhaps do better.
Thus, my use of the word “mistake” is not intended to disparage anyone, but rather to lift us all up — to honor those individuals who commit their lives to alpinism, and to respect the mountains where they live and die.