One of my ideals in backcountry skiing is to do it sustainably.
No, this isn’t about what kind of car I drive to the trailhead, or how big the zucchini is I grow in my backyard. Rather, I’m thinking about how do I ski so that years from now I might remain somewhat less than crippled, still climbing up and skiing down lots of nice mountains.
More, to me “sustainability” means caring for other folks. For example, having the requisite education (such as first aid training) and gear to help people in need, out in the wild.
You see quite a dichotomy of “sustainability” when you’re out backcountry skiing. This spring, I was glisssing a popular zone. I waited my turn to drop into a short access pitch. Simply assuming I was being given some room by the guy waiting behind me, I was somewhat surprised when he came in on my tail me like an F-16 in a dogfight. He had a helmet, no doubt essential, and a backpack that looked just big enough for a Red Bull — the can of which I’m certain was empty.
Contrast that with other skiers I saw last winter (and many of the guys and gals I skied with), who were obviously carrying enough water and clothing to be sustainable, and probably had some other stuff in there that would help deal with an injury, gear repair or stranding. Those folks were not dropping in on top of each other.
Should I judge a guy by the size of his rucksack? Probably not, least I be judged in return! Yeah, I haven’t skimped on education and carry some useful items, but I’m thinking about that bivvy sack I was leaving behind last winter? And my tiny thermos instead of one with enough hot fluid for sharing? Or how about the endless Socratic (I’m being optimistic) discussion of how necessary avalanche probes are?
But we speak too much of gear, and probably have too much faith in it. It’s nylon, not a religion.
A “style” of sustainability is more the key. Back in my NOLS instructor days we were fond of a concept we termed the “relative context of safety.” That pompous phrase simply means that what’s safe with a ski patrol around my not be so safe if you’re several hours (or days, if the weather turns) from an evac. Pretty obvious, right? We’ll, it’s amazing how the witch’s brew of adrenaline and me-video blows that concept into particles the size of spacial dendrites. It did NOT happen unless it is on Facebook, and it had better look good for your sock sponsor.
Perhaps, just perhaps, while it might be ok to go huge with a helicopter standing by or the ski patrol patiently waiting for another person to practice cervical traction on — at times you might want to consider going-less-big.
Yeah, the relative context of safety. Sustainability.
Just thought I’d give that guy who skied in on top of me something to think about. And myself, for that matter.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain. For more about Lou, please see his personal website at https://www.loudawson.com/ (Blogger stats: 5 foot 10 inches (178 cm) tall, 160 lbs (72574.8 grams).