Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
Our best to Adam Smith, who got “Maytagged” a few days ago in a large avalanche behind Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Smith’s injuries include a broken femur and being punji staked by a tree. He’s definitely lucky to be alive. It’s said he’s “not out of the woods yet” so send your healing prayers his way.
What I’m seeing in many recent avalanche accidents is that people are pushing too hard on snowpacks with too much deep instability. It’s difficult to dial it back in places like the Tetons or Utah where the pack is usually nicely bonded by this time of year, but every season is different and it sounds like this is a more a year for some standing back when it comes to taking direct ski lines down loaded avalanche paths. Another interesting thing is I’m seeing avalanche forecasts that mention “frequently skied paths” running anyway. I’m a big advocate of using heavily skied backcounty runs for safer turns, but I’m rethinking just what I mean by “heavily skied.”
Last evening I meditated on all this. What kept bubbling up in my mind was the concept of backcountry skiing as a quest for the day’s total experience of adventure and outdoor recreation, not just getting the perfect powder line. Seek the former, and you might glisse a lifetime of fun with nothing more painful than blisters . Seek the latter and the odds can be thin.
But the value system of the extreme is hard to shake. Mountaineering culture bombards us with the necessity of aesthetic lines enjoyed in a white photogenic cloud. White room, dude. More, I’m not going to deny the compelling sensuality of skiing steep deep powder. It’s one of the more special things human beings have invented. Even so, a conservative approach will still yield the goods — in good time. Waiting is the game in many places this season, even on slopes that have been skied quite a bit.