Backcountry Skiing News Roundup


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 14, 2010      

A couple of interesting things this morning. For starters, I’m reading that Grand Targhee ski resort in Wyoming (on west side of Tetons near Idaho) is adding a backcountry gate. Why is that news worthy? In comparison to other resorts, it sounds like Targhee has been somewhat anachronistic when it comes to giving the public access to their own land for backcountry skiing. But the resort finally saw the light.

I’m constantly amazed that public access to public land from ski resorts is even an issue. I mean, it is 2010, not 1974. That said, I’m aware that resorts do have legitimate concerns. Sounds like in the case of Targhee they have a problem with some of their backcountry access interfering with avalanche control. The new gate avoids that. But again, I’m amazed they didn’t work this out ten years ago. Article here.

In case your attention has been on the rescued miners in Chile (I tracked it, and found myself wondering how they arrived to the surface clean shaven and nattily dressed), the “Holy Cross Triangle” in Colorado appears to have claimed another victim. James Nelson, 31, of Chicago has been missing for more than 10 days after he left for a solo backpack trip near Mount of the Holy Cross, a 14,000 foot peak in Central Colorado. A large search has been suspended after coming up with nothing.

The Nelson incident eerily echoes the disappearance of Michelle Vanek in 2005 on Holy Cross. Vanek was actually with a partner, but they separated while climbing the peak and she was never seen again. Both incidents bring up issues of preparedness and communication. Vanek was inexperienced and poor decision making left her to fend for herself at high altitude. She apparently had no cell phone, which will generally work fine up high on the mountain. Nelson appears from his photos to be somewhat or even extremely out of shape for backpacking at high altitiude — especially if he was not altitude acclimated.

Yeah, cell phones stink in the backcountry when you’re after the exact opposite experience of answering a phone call, and rescue beacons cost money and add weight to your kit. But bottom line is that if you do go out and get lost in the wilderness of a civilized country such as the U.S. or Canada, well meaning rescue people may spend thousands of hours looking for you, so perhaps you owe it to them to at least carry something like a Spot Messenger if you are out by yourself (or even with a partner). Article here.



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Comments

14 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup”

  1. jerimy October 14th, 2010 9:33 am

    Targhee is in WY not ID.

  2. Tom Gos October 14th, 2010 9:50 am

    I live in Eagle County and I’ve been following that missing hiker story pretty closely. It’s as sad story, but it has caused me to rethink the value of the much maligned PLB. I have to admit that I’ve started carrying a cell phone with me while hiking and I’ve been really surprised how often I can find a signal from a high point or pass. I was hiking over the weekend on some thin snow up high that was very slippery, and I was thinking about this guy and how easily one could slip and break a leg or whack your head. I hike solo a lot and I always try to respect the mountains and the hazards. Many areas in the mountains aren’t filled with severe hazards yet even if the odds of an accident are very low the consequences are often very high. I think one of the issues with the Holy Cross area is that the access is so easy, you’re litterally a few miles from I-70. I’ve often seen people hiking in that area that were barely prepared for a walk in the park let alone a day in the mountains. I keep hoping that perhaps this guy will turn up alive after having a bad case of the flu or at worst a broken bone. My sympathy is with him and his family.

  3. Lou October 14th, 2010 10:55 am

    Jeremy, thanks, sorry about that. I always think of it being in Idaho for some reason…

  4. Caleb Wray October 14th, 2010 10:56 am

    So I believe that makes 11 deaths on or around CO 14ers so far in 2010. And several other serious accidents. I know we spoke about this a bit the other day Lou, but for some reason the number still confounds me. Sure it’s correlated to the surge in popularity of the peaks, but wow.

  5. Shane October 14th, 2010 12:34 pm

    Just to clarify what was written in the Targhee article; there has been a BC access gate for at least 8 years (that’s when I first used it anyway). The issue is that access TO GET TO that gate requires crossing through a part of the resort that is sometimes closed for avy control. It sounds like this new gate will be accessible all the time.

  6. Mark W October 14th, 2010 1:20 pm

    Driggs, ID is a sort of gateway to Targhee and home to Yostmark Mountain Equipment and 22 Designs.

  7. Dan Powers October 15th, 2010 7:53 am

    To clarify further on the Targhee gate, there has been a gate for some time. It does not require crossing sometimes closed terrain to get to it, but it does access terrain that is controlled and is above (and does occasionally slide onto) groomed inbounds runs.

    The new gate moves a little to allow access solely to areas that are outside the permit (Scotty’s, Steve Baugh Bowl) area and are not a threat to inbounds areas. I think there will be a second gate to access the Mary’s/Peaked area that threatens the inbounds runs, and that gate will be managed as before.

  8. Lou October 15th, 2010 9:22 am

    Thanks Dan, I alluded to that in the blog post, but good to clarify. My point is that it always surprises me resorts haven’t worked this stuff out some time ago. But better late then never. It’s sure a terrific trend, which is why I tend to blog on it. Lou

  9. Eli October 15th, 2010 2:07 pm

    I spent this summer working on a trail crew in a busy part of the San Juans, with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. The majority of hikers that came through our worksite were prepared and knowledgable, but some people are just oblivious to the risks. I can’t count the number of times people asked if they were nearing the summit… of the wrong mountain(we worked the approach to Sunlight, there are two other fourteeners nearby). As much as I see this as a preventable tragedy, it may be the only sort of example that makes a difference for some. Maybe there should be signs at the trailheads that say “people die in the mountains”. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to include that with the backcountry gate either.

  10. Steve October 16th, 2010 10:38 am

    People have always gotten hurt, lost or killed in the mountains. They always will. It will never zero out, and 11 people lost or killed in the CO mountains during one summer is infinitessimal relative to user numbers. Quite possibly it’s less than the background mortality rate for that same population in town circumstances. But backcountry accidents always make the news.

    Sometimes it’s unpreparedness; other times it’s ambition and overconfidence, and many times it’s just plain bad luck – a piece of pea gravel that rolled while they were on a slick ledge, a sudden storm that made the rocks slick, or a boulder that let loose and shattered a leg.

    It always makes sense to carry a SPOT, or a PLB, or a cell phone, and definitely a real First Aid kit with extra clothing. People who malign these victims, or emergency signaling devices, and make comments about how expertise and preparedness will avoid accidents, just haven’t been in the woods seriously enough to experience their own close calls. If a soloist gets knocked out cold, their chances are slim, and in the case of a serious injury, oftentimes a partner just means that someone gets to watch you die.

    The longer and more often we all engage in risky, adventurous trips, the bigger the chance that someday we’ll end up in the local news, where comment board kings and queens will opine with certainty about how stupid we were, and what we must have done wrong.

    Those people should take a hard look in the mirror and ask how many times they just got lucky – because backcountry disasters happen to experts as often, or more so, than they happen to unprepared novices.

    Make sure you’re ready. And judge not, lest……

  11. Jim October 17th, 2010 7:20 pm

    I have never returned to Targhee for 15 years after suffering with some punk pot smoking (on the cat while working) rude ski cat guides that were so anal about skiing more than 12″ off the next track.

  12. Lou October 18th, 2010 6:28 am

    Steve, good points.

    You are correct that sometimes it’s just pure fate or luck that dictates the outcome of the mountain life. More, it’s also true that every one has close calls, on the highway or in the mountains.

    But anyone who studies recreation accidents can tell you that such misfortune can frequently be traced back to a poorly made or thoughtless decision, or to gross lack of preparedness. We should all be comfortable with tracing that sort of thing out and learning from it. Not in a prideful way, but in a “that could have happened to me so I’ll be even more careful about what caused it” sort of way.

    I’d add that having an opinion is a bit different than judgment. The two things are nuanced and my appear the same from the outside, but are very different. More, if it wasn’t for people expressing their opinions about things like mountain safety, we would all be worse off.

    As a blogger and writer, I’ve of course been accused many times of “judging,” as if it’s a sin on par with child abuse or something like that. Being human, I’m sure I’ve fallen to the point of judging on occasion, but in all honesty I can say that most of my writing is opinion, not some kind of exercise in holier-than-thou judgment. Most of the commenters here are also pretty good about reserving judgment, but expressing well thought out opinions that are frequently based on years of experience.

    I guess what I’m saying here is we should be nice, but not shy.

  13. Geoff January 17th, 2011 9:28 pm

    @Lou: Have you tried any of the software (some of it freeware) that is claimed to convert a cell phone into a rudimentary GPS? It seems that might be a useful feature, allowing you to carry one device that (at least in certain areas) could provide both communication and navigation functions. Even a GPS that gives nothing more than UTM coordinates would be a useful supplement to map and compass navigation.

  14. Lou January 17th, 2011 11:52 pm

    Geoff, I know a guidebook author here in EU who I was just skiing with. He has a smart phone with full-on GPS and maps. You can put together such things in various ways. The reason I’ve not done it is battery life and durability of the smart phone. Also, when I use my GPS I like having the full-on GPS, not just some of the features, and I’m not sure what the smart phone would do in comparison. Of course soon all that will change and the smart phone will be fine, if it’s not already.

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