Backcountry Skiing News Roundup – Fear Now Excuse for Rescue?

Post by blogger | August 22, 2007      

Blog reader Tom gave me a heads-up about an interesting event yesterday near Vail, Colorado. Apparently two men climbed fourteener Mount of the Holy Cross and somehow got “stranded” near the summit. Responding to the pair’s 911 call, rescue workers flew to the summit in a helicopter, hiked down to the men then hiked with them back up to the helicopter and flew back to civilization. According to Greg Burkhardt of the Vail rescue group, “They just got very scared.”

I’m glad the two rescued climbers are okay, but have to ask the question: Someone can get scared on a wilderness mountainside and call a helicopter via 911, but we can’t watch Davenport’s fourteener movie because it violates some wilderness regulations? Yes Virginia, I know we have to consider the rule of law — but I can’t help thinking about the issue of fairness.

Note to self: If needing close aerial photos of mountains in legal Wilderness, climb first, call 911, then shoot photos while flying out.

You know winter is coming because the Warren Miller PR machine is alive and well, and thus we see the annual press about Warren himself appearing hither and yon. This article (defunct link removed 2015) in Investor’s Daily is a cut above as it shares some interesting details about the great man’s life. I knew he spent winters skiing on private slopes in Montana, but didn’t know his personal resort had lifts that could move 5,500 skiers an hour — yet a normal day might see 35 people on the slopes. No lift lines? You bet. I wonder what it’s like being a ski patroller there? You’d have to get your first aid cert twice a year just so you wouldn’t forget how to put on a bandaid.

And speaking of resorts, the country of Nepal is cutting the fees for off-season Mount Everest trips. Next thing you know, they’ll have Everest climbs for sale on Travelocity! That’s not trivial, as a Nepali permit for 10 people on Everest is $87,600. Add to that the cost of having your cuerpo hauled up and down the mountain by Sherpas, and it gets pricey. Article here.


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22 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup – Fear Now Excuse for Rescue?”

  1. Sky August 22nd, 2007 11:17 am


    How is Dav’s fourteener movie remotely related to two summiters getting scared and calling for a rescue? Impressive non sequitur. Call the guys yellow-bellied if you must, but what does this have to do with fairness?

    “If you’re going to let cowards call for rescue, you better allow movies made from heli footage.” Apples and eggs. I don’t see it.


  2. Lou August 22nd, 2007 11:38 am

    Sky, I’m always striving to impress (grin). My take, as always, is that Wilderness rules are nothing less than an inconsistent construct of the human imagination, and I like pointing that out. For example, it’s okay to fly around in a heli and “rescue” anyone who calls 911, but not okay to shoot 29 jpeg stills a second on hand held vidcam then sell the resulting video.

    It’s more like “If you’re going have Wilderness regulations, can we have some kind of public dialog about what’s appropriate, rather than arbitrary regs made up on the fly by bureaucrats?”

    But yeah, perhaps I’m trying too hard to make the point (grin). I’ll move on.

  3. Toby Whelan August 22nd, 2007 12:39 pm

    Funny you mention the 14er’s movie as I just happen to read Dav’s post from back in Nov of 06′ just yesterday and the forest service logic (or lack thereof) is still a head scratcher. Sky, take a little closer look, Lou’s comparison makes sense to me. The point is given the fact that the rescuers contemplated hiking them down or even staying the night with them means the need for a heli was negligible. As the article states the rescue was sped up by the National Guard heli. Now I am all for a good high altitude training op for our troops but was it REALLY needed? No, these guys could have walked down if there lives depended on it. But because apparently the Feds WILL fly into and ONTO wilderness area to “rescue” every Tom and Harry there lives didn’t. So again, “but we can’t watch Davenport’s fourteener movie because it violates some wilderness regulations?” Why writers on this blog want to take the side of the Feds in The People v. Dav is logically beyond me. Who’s ready for snow?

  4. JK August 22nd, 2007 3:07 pm


    I have worked at the Yellowstone Club as a patroller and yes I only put one bandaid on one of our employees that season. I came from a resort with high accident percentage before that so it was a nice break. I’m the Risk Manager at the Yellowstone Club now let me know if you come up this way. I can get you through the gate (and it will help get me out of the office).

  5. Lou August 22nd, 2007 3:36 pm

    Jk, we’ll be there this winter when we’re on the college hunt! Keep some bandaids handy.

  6. Barry August 22nd, 2007 4:22 pm

    I started off being on the fence over the rescue. Is it better to bring them off scared and alive or at some later point perhaps injured or dead?
    Mostly though I have to shake my head at the complete lack of self reliance that is rapidly emerging. The technological crutches like cell phones seem to suck people’s brains out.
    When in doubt pick up the phone should not be the top of the emergency list.
    I thought things were bad in Europe this year. Looks like North America is not far behind.
    The movie issue is stupid beyond words and a great example of the other plague that is upon us – too many bureaucrats.

  7. Sky August 22nd, 2007 4:40 pm

    I’m not trying to make any statement about the movie. But if you’re on a mountain rescue team, when does it become a good idea to second-guess those in distress? I’m not saying whether the heli was needed. But could the rescuers assess that beforehand?

    One certainly doesn’t want to excuse people who call for rescue unnecessarily. But that’s a necessary evil if you’re going to use helicopters to occasionally rescue people who really need it. No?

    All right, I’ll just shut up now.

    On another note: Holy cow $87.6k sounds like a lot of money to me!

  8. Lou August 22nd, 2007 5:01 pm

    I’d agree, how in the world could you second-guess a distress call? Solution in my opinion is the European model, you have insurance or you pay. That way the gov isn’t paying for the airtime and the ship flys if you ask for it.

    As for the Wilderness issue, let me bring up another interesting thought: On a philosophical level I think it would be very interesting if someone refused to request a rescue because they are a Wilderness advocate and happen to be in legal wilderness and believe flying a helicopter in said wilderness is just wrong — sort of an extension of people who advocate having more grizzly bears and saying they’re willing to take the risk of being mauled and eaten because ursus major is “part of the wilderness.”

    As for me, I don’t like being around bears and I’ll call mountain rescue at the drop of a hat.

  9. Tom Gosiorowski August 22nd, 2007 8:45 pm

    I don’t think that this helicopter rescue can be compared fairly with Dav’s movie filming, but it does provoke some interesting thought about when it is appropriate to land a heli in a wilderness area. Also interesting to consider when it is appropriate to use a heli in a rescue. With regard to the rescue, it’s impossible for those of us not involved in the incident to understand if a heli was needed or not. But, from the facts available it certainly appears that the heli was used for convienience rather than necessity. Undoubtably the operation was paid for with public tax dollars. In that regard I prefer the Euro model where you pay to play. I think the problem is that Americans may be all too willing to pay at the first sign of trouble. It certainly seems that more and more people are venturing into the backcounty with the ideal that the only essential equipment they need is a cell phone, and the only essential skill they need is to be able to dial 911. That’s troubling if only because resucuers often take on considerable risk in extracting people out of the mountains. Of course none of us want’s to die an early death, and if I was in a life or death situation (or thought I was) I would probably make the call too. It just seems in this case that S&R could have fed them, kept them warm for the night, and hiked them down in the morning. Are we promoting poor judgement and lack of personal responsibility by bailing people out of non-critical situations like this? I believe so. On too many bureaucrats – perhaps we get the government we deserve.

  10. Barry August 22nd, 2007 8:59 pm

    I’m not with you on the insurance suggestion. As a SAR person I can’t imagine going up a mountain to recover someone who died because they didn’t call for a rescue fearing the cost because they did not have insurance. I’m also of the opinion that insurance brings the expectation of rescue. Unfortunately I have no other suggestions.

    As for bears. I worked around grizzlies and black bears all the time. But if I get charged by a grizzly or stalked by a predatory black bear, that bear becomes a rug pretty fast. I like bears, but getting eaten is not part of the wilderness for me.

  11. Lou August 23rd, 2007 4:48 am

    Bears. The situation is pretty “funny” around here (Aspen area). They don’t get hunted as much, so now the bear population has bloomed and they feel free to stroll into people’s homes and wander about the towns, finding various forms of tasty human food. Then the problem ones are killed by the Department of Wildlife. Bear killing used to be done by hunters, now our tax money pays for “euthanasia.” Go figure that one out. It’s only a matter of time before a child gets mauled or worse.

  12. Shane August 23rd, 2007 8:09 am

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. With all this talk about Dav, rescues in the Wilderness, and now bears I think we’re missing something much more disturbing.

    JK offered Lou a free pass into the Y-stone Club?!?!

    What about us locals that have stared over at its empty slopes from Big Sky for years? What about my friends who have built the mega-mansions for “members” only to be told that they must walk down the road to take a leak (God forbid they use the bathroom in the house they just built)?

    No offense meant to anyone (and I’d certainly take JK up on his offer) but if Lou gets to ski simply because of his blog/history and without paying the quarter million $ annual fee, I’ll be pretty mad.

    Blixeth has a bit of a bad rep in these parts, maybe a “locals weekend” where the community could sample the goods would be beneficial? Maybe taking some of the $53 million away from “the world’s most expensive house project” and putting it toward a new school in Big Sky would be a better legacy…

    Sorry, rant over.

  13. Lou August 23rd, 2007 6:55 pm

    Geez, I guess I’ll have to wear a gorilla suit disguise or something If I make a few turns there — or did someone already try that?

  14. Lou August 24th, 2007 8:16 am

    Barry, it works in Europe, but it couldn’t work here? I have to admit I like our benevolent system, but it seems inevitable that people will eventually realize it’s free and just a 911 call away, then you may get so many calls that you simply have to switch to a paid system. I think the writing is on the wall with that one.

    Or will the country Sheriffs start coming down on people who make frivolous rescue calls? In that case, won’t fear of that be just as discouraging as cost of a paid system?

  15. Ryan August 24th, 2007 12:26 pm

    I agree there is a loss of self reliance as more and more people venture farther and farther without having any form of knowledge or experience. It’s a numbers game.

    I think another example is the experienced climber from Minnesota that suffered the fall. The thing that struck me was, even though it was a day hike, she didn’t have some basics such as an emergency blanket, headlamp, extra layer or at least a hat.

    I’m not saying bring the whole garage, but if I’m doing a long day in the mountains, I’m bringing a few extra things that are going to make an emergency bivy possible without the fear of hypothermia.

  16. Kevin August 24th, 2007 12:30 pm

    I’m confused about your bear comment. I’m sure it’s still legal to hunt black bears in CO, so why do you say they’re not hunted near you? Did the DOW prohibit hunting bears in your part of the state, which seems unlikely?

  17. Barry August 24th, 2007 7:56 pm

    I hear you Lou. And I’m swayed. As part of the old benevolent system, I’m biased. However, you are likely right, the end of the old way must be near.
    I guess it is not much different than all of the other insurance that we need in life. And, perhaps ironically, I would be happy to buy insurance.
    So, how much would you pay? I’m thinking $50 per year?

  18. Barry August 24th, 2007 9:14 pm

    Not a bad guess on cost. After a much less than extensive search I found:

    35 Euros per year sounds good – did I say insurance was a bad idea?

  19. Lou August 25th, 2007 7:19 am

    Kevin, about bears, yes, we had a vote in Colorado to change the bear hunting regulations. You can still hunt bears but in mine and many other’s opinion the mortality from the hunt is greatly reduced, mainly because the old styles of hunting resulted in more cubs dying. Also, as culture has changed there is probably less hunting by locals close to towns such as Aspen. Result is more bears, and bears that are less scared of humans. I’ve lived here long enough to know this is true. In Aspen in the 1960s you just didn’t worry about bears in town. And you didn’t see them much in the backcountry either, nor have much trouble with them while backpacking or camping. Now they’re like flies.

    Also, It was very different being a bear in the early days on through perhaps the 1940s or even 1950s. If you were seen, you were usually shot at. This tended to modify behavior.

    Now you’re just allowed to roam free ’till you’re trapped a few times, then you’re euthanized.

    Which was more humane? Hunting bears aggressively till they avoided humans, or being nice to them then giving them lethal injections when they respond to our gentle society?

    I’ll take the former, where large dangerous animals know humans are trouble and stay away from us. Seems like that’s more “natural.”

  20. Dan Lowell September 3rd, 2007 9:13 pm

    Re: Rescue Ins.:

    My comment may be a bit late, but the “rescue insurance” topic is something that receives a lot of discussion on the drives to and from the mountains. I like the concept, but I am not sure the Euro model would work in North America because there is no professional “mountain rescue infrastructure” here. Or, at least it is not obvious to me. The local sheriff is great for a lost hunter, but not so good for mountain rescue. The military is the only organization that employs true rescue pros (they get mucho training , also at taxpayer expense) and there simply are not enough of them to cover all the mountainous areas in the US, never mind Alaska and our great frozen neighbor to the north. Also, the military would likely not always be available because they might be occupied somewhere else (like Iraq). If you are going to charge somebody, say $100 per year for rescue insurance, then some professional org. must actually be able (practically speaking) to actually provide the service everywhere and when it is needed, right?

    As an aside, frequently I hear comments about the taxpayers footing the bill to recue climbers, skiers, hunters, etc. Here in western Washington, the US Coast Guard is forever rescuing private and commercial boaters at all times of the year in sometimes unbelievablly poor conditions. How would you like to get the bill for calling out a 90 foot (I have no idea how big they are) cutter and the para rescue helicopter that precedes the cutter in many situations.

  21. Jim Jones September 7th, 2007 9:28 am

    Dav could have gotten a permit. The difference is he would be
    making $$$ off the movie. The rescued guys won’t be making any $$ off this embarrassment.
    As for the bears, you can still hunt bears the difference from now and in the past is how you hunt them. In the ‘old days’ you baited bears and just waited by the trash and then killed them. Now you
    can’t use bait, that makes it a lot harder to get them, since they have a keen sense of smell.

  22. Lou September 10th, 2007 5:54 am

    Jim, yeah, my point is now there are a lot more bears, and they’re a lot less scared of people. You think they walked into a mining camp in the 1800’s with impunity the way the stroll around Aspen these days? Back then, they would have become dinner for the miners, and they knew it. Now they’re in a petting zoo and taking advantage of it. Which is more natural?

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