I was hoping that this winter would see a trend to wiser avalanche safety in backcountry snowsports, but it appears the mania has begun again.
Yesterday’s death of two snowmobilers near Cameron Pass is particularly disturbing, as SEVEN sledders were caught at once! Reports say a few of them had transceivers. Big deal. If the snowmobilers had been exposing one person at a time to hazard, only one would have been caught. He might have been rescued quickly and lived.
It’s a pet peeve of mine regarding avalanche safety: Over and over again I observe both snowmobilers and skiers grouping up in the backcountry when they should spread out because of avalanche hazard. If there is any thread in this winter’s accidents, violating the one-at-a-time rule is it. The snowmobilers did it. The kids near Kelso Mountain did it, the snowshoers in Utah did it. What is going on here?!
Because of human nature, it is indeed counterintuitive to break your group up — and social sports such as sledding and skiing make it even harder. But when we choose to play the avalanche game, the one-at-a-time procedure has such immense safety benefits it is something we should all be fanatical about. What’s your game? Do you wear your beacon like a talisman, but get sloppy about grouping up?
A few questions:
Imagine you arrive at the trailhead for a day of backcountry skiing in avalanche terrain. Someone forgot their rescue beacon. Do you let them join you anyway? If you’d forgotten yours, would you go? Most educated backcountry skiers would say NO — and be correct to do so in most situations.
Then imagine you arrive at a trailhead and one of your companions hangs a sign around their neck saying “I often don’t bother traveling one-at-a-time in avalanche terrain.” What would your reaction be? Would you react the same way as you would in the case of a missing beacon? In my view you should.