Backcountry Skiing New Roundup

Post by blogger | December 21, 2006      

In Jackson, Wyoming the snowboarder who killed a skier in February of 2005 was sentenced yesterday. At Jackson Hole Resort, Greg Doda straightlined a ski run then hit a woman at around 47 mph., virtually knocking her head off. According to an article in the Jackson Hole News, Doda said he rode his snowboard at a fast speed but “was not out of control.” We hope the young man has changed his definition of “control.” Otherwise his six months in jail might have been better as years — to protect the rest of us.

Interestingly, the judge at Doda’s trial criticized ski resorts for doing little to prevent this sort of thing. Skiing and riding should be sports of freedom and a bit of wild behavior comes with the territory, but from what we’ve seen ski resorts could indeed reign things in a bit. Yet truth be told, where is the incentive to do so? That’s like telling a bar to sell less whisky because someone might get drunk. So how does this relate to backcountry skiing? Let’s just say I’d rather deal with an avalanche than a 16 year old maniacal kid straightlining a ski run straight at me!

In Oregon, county sheriff Joe Wampler has suspended the search for a pair of climbers missing for eleven days on Mount Hood. Their companion was found dead in a snowcave near the summit a few days ago — the two missing climbers are presumed to have become disoriented in a brutal storm and fallen off the mountain, or been blown off by 100 mph winds as they tried to escape. Most of this tragic debacle was sadly predictable, but a few interesting things came to light.

It turns out that a cell phone does function fairly well as a personal locator beacon. As long as it’s turned on, the phone can be “pinged” and a location triangulated. That’s of course assuming you’re within range of a few cell towers. More, cell phones with GPS capability will function as a highly accurate locater and need only transmit a signal to any receiver.

Lesson one with Mount Hood is that traveling light (as the climbers were doing) can be a huge problem if you’re stranded. It’s easy to survive for days on end in a snowcave if you’ve got a bit of food, some damp resistant insulation and perhaps a stove. But with just a thin damp jacket and little or no food you’ll rapidly succumb to hypothermia. What’s sad is that even if the Hood climbers had used more communication technology, they were stranded in a gigantic storm with no possibility of rescue, so without gear they would have just sat in a snow cave and chatted while dying of exposure, like Mount Everest climbers have done on their sat phones. Even so, having effective communication is a no brainer because it could indeed get you out of trouble (or at least help reduce risk to rescue teams by eliminating the necessity of massive search efforts).

Thus lesson two, if you’re doing backcountry activities where you have cell phone reception, leave your phone turned on and carry a spare battery in case you get stranded. Good bet for a spare battery are the small “rechargers” sold at most discount stores. I keep one of these in my emergency kit most of the time. Another lesson I inferred from the Hood reports is to carry said cell phone in a waterproof container such as a ziplock.

Best coverage of the Mount Hood events is probably at

The climber families’ website.

And lastly, back here in Colorado we’ve got an immense amount of new backcountry ski terrain on tap for the coming decades. Turns out the region’s pine beetle infestation will likely cause an apocalyptic change in our state landscape, creating more treeless timberline terrain as well as large swaths of open land that’s now heavily timbered with unnaturally dense overgrown forest. Bummer for this generation is the insect loggers won’t have completed their work for decades, as the standing dead trees left by their initial attack will remain standing for years and may even cause our forests to become quite hazardous from falling trees if you’re caught in a dead grove during a windstorm. But the ski resorts are already talking about cutting new ski runs by logging out the dead and infested trees. Tree huggers take note: if beetles can kill zillions of trees, what’s wrong with logging a few so we can build houses and wood core skis? Nothing, unless you’re a specist and put beetles over humans in terms of their right to log. Article in Denver Post.



12 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing New Roundup”

  1. Polly December 21st, 2006 9:40 am

    Hey Lou – What is your take on the cell phone interfering with beacons? I’ve heard mixed things about that – although I became convinced that a cell phone might mess with the beacon the other night when a friend was showing us his new Pieps and when we turned it on we were running around the house trying to find the source of the beeps. It turned out that no other beacon was on, and that several of the electronics were giving readings – although you couldn’t track it to the source. Enjoy all the new snow! Polly

  2. Mark Worley December 21st, 2006 9:54 am

    I don’t know all the details of the incident, but how does anyone straightline Laramie Bowl, which is completely wide open, and not take maneuvers to miss someone who is stationary? Guess the nearly 50 mph speed and youthful stupidity overrode sensibility. I’ve seen people hit others at probably less than half that speed, and it’s sickening the impact. Straightline all you like–in Cody Bowl with NO ONE ELSE AROUND to run into.

  3. Mark Worley December 21st, 2006 10:05 am

    Mt. Hood is sometimes like the Everest of America in that it garners more media frenzy than just about anywhere a climbing incident ensues. Hood is amazingly accessible, but we can’t forget how savage it can be.

  4. g woelk December 21st, 2006 10:28 am

    The term “murdered” is inappropriate, and sensational. Accidents happen, and unfortunately, accidents can result from very bad decision making. That a 16 year old boy would have made a very bad decision is not out of the ordinary. Anyone who has spent hundrdeds of days at an area skiing, has had experiences where they were probably either pushing the limit, or at times, perhaps even “out of control”. That noone was killed by perhaps my own temporary lapses in judgment when I was younger and skiing the village on a daily basis does not mean that had the stars aligned and someone was killed in a wreck that resulted, I should forever be deemed a “murderer.”

    With regard to the Hood incident, and questions concerning, the issues are easily answered, the climbers were all from Texas.

  5. Mark Worley December 21st, 2006 10:51 am

    Glibly dismissing climbers simply because they’re Texans is unfair as well. Dick Bass and Vern Tejas, not to mention the proprietor of this blog, all were Texas residents and highly accomplished climbers. Killer mountain weather doesn’t care if you’re from North Conway or Dallas when it hits high in the mountains.

  6. Tim Carroll December 21st, 2006 1:40 pm

    “what’s wrong with logging a few so we can build houses and wood core skis? Nothing, unless you’re a specist and put beetles over humans in terms of their right to log.”

    Not typical of you to miscolor the analysis, Lou.

    It’ snot about being a “specist” as you call it.

    The question is whether the forest is healthier with the dying trees removed, or with the dying trees falling and decomposing.

    Your perspective seems colored by the notion that we’re supposed to “clean up” forests in the same way that germ-obsessed people keep their bathrooms hospital clean.

    Unfortunately the ecological scientific evidence is to the contrary. We’re not supposed to “clean up” forests, and we’re not supposed to “make them healthy” either. They are healthiest when left to their own natural course.

    If you want to excuse timber extraction for making ski cores, that’s one thing. But don’t excuse it with some cheap pot-shot at what you seem to be implying are deluded people who focus on what specie is primary. This isn’t about man being primary over beetles. I hate to tell you, Lou, but the pine bark beetle was here a long time before you or your homo sapiens ancestors. In that strictly scientific sense, you’re well mistaken.

    For what it’s worth, I ski wood core skis and I like them better than any foamcore cap contraption. And I know that it’s necessary to log trees to get the timber for wood cores.

    I just don’t think it’s fair for you to create a straw-man argument.

  7. Max Rhyner December 21st, 2006 4:45 pm

    Regarding the issue of the Jackson Hole incident. I guess there is a big difference between skiing or riding incontrol vs out of control. If you want to push your limits do it when no one is around. I see it year after year somebody that thinks they can be the fastest skiier or rider and something or someone keeps knocking them down. Dont get me wrong I like jumping of cliffs and skiing extreme line but there is a place and time for that, and it usually isnt at a resort.

  8. g woelk December 21st, 2006 5:57 pm


    You are right, I was very “glib” and should redact my comment for fear that it is probably inappropriate given the tragedy. However, since it appears as if you have logged a fair amount of time in the Tetons, I suspect you have come across many self-proclaimed mountaineers from Texas during the summer climbing season. Perhaps my memories of those moments caused me to write before I thought. Apology given.

  9. Marc December 21st, 2006 9:00 pm

    Hey Lou, I love the blog, keep up the good work.

    I’d like to point out, however, that as stated by the linked article, the snowboarder was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, which is a misdemeanor, and that if Doda had been of legal age, prosecuted for no more than felony manslaughter. Neither of which are murder, which in nearly every jursidiction in the US requires intent and premeditation. I’d even question the legality of publishing on this site the sentence as it is worded “the snowboarder who murdered a skier was sentenced yesterday” as the snowboarder in question (and this is no defense of his actions) was certainly not convicted of the crime of murder in a court of law by a jury of his peers.

  10. Lou December 21st, 2006 9:57 pm

    G, two wrongs don’t make a right. I did some stupid things when I was young, that doesn’t make them right or okay.

  11. Lou December 22nd, 2006 6:04 am

    Wow, this is like working for a major news magazine with a bunch of editors and a legal department! It sounds like I should change the word “murdered” to “killed.” Using the word murdered was of course deliberate to make a point and I’d let stand, but since I used the guys name it could indeed be construed the wrong way, so I’ll take the editorial committee’s advice.

    Thanks everyone for visiting and leaving so many terrific comments!

  12. Marc December 22nd, 2006 3:25 pm

    I’m an engineer, so I might be overly obsessed with accuracy…

    Also, I have no formal legal or editorial training, so that will be taken into account before you receive my bill.

    Seriously, I didn’t mean to nitpick, but I’ve learned so much from you and this site, and now that it is so popular, and in today’s sue for anything culture, I’d just hate to see you get in trouble.

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