Running Away from Scary Avalanches

My friends and I took up backcountry skiing at the same time. A few years ago, as broke students we all simultaneously realized that we couldn’t afford resorts anymore. The burden of rent, tuition and the need to eat overpowered our desire to shell out a hundred plus dollars per day on a lift ticket.

When we took up backcountry skiing we were terrified. Fresh out of avalanche safety training, we made our way to the slopes and realized that the strongest lesson we had learned, is that we knew nothing. Nothing.

We have since grown as backcountry skiers, and along with this growth came the development of a risk-reward balance. The more we began to understand.  We have grown more accustomed to the risks and developed our own balances between risk and reward. The group I have chosen to ski with though varied in our skill level and personalities have on thing in common. We are big mountain chickens. We run away more often then we reach the top. We jump ship at the first sign of trouble. Quite frankly I feel no shame in doing this.

A few weeks ago our party of 4 had tentatively skinned up into a heavily treed area. The sounds the snow was making were sounds I had never heard before. The amount of cracking and whumping, the sheer size of the settling areas was something I had never experienced before. We ran the hell away. We ran away from some amazing terrain and a *literal* foot of fresh because our risk reward balance was WAY off.

We ended up having an awesome couple of days hiding from avalanches. We convinced my (totally rad) parents to tow us up a fire road behind their SUV, skied down some mountain bike trails and had the best resort day in recent memory. We had a hell of a lot of fun and managed to stay out of any sort of avi terrain.

Backcountry sports require a serious re-adjustment of expectations on a regular basis. You have to be flexible, and willing to make last minute plans. Beyond all of that, you can’t take it too seriously (unless you’re somehow managing to pull a paycheck off of it). We can all get wrapped up in our plans, and lose sight of what is really important. Maintaining perspective is something that we all have to work on.

This season has been a particularly bad one. Conditions have flip flopped between “ungodly cold” and “trying to kill me”. It’s so easy to get cabin fever and head out in conditions that are less than prime and potentially dangerous. For me and my group, it’s a matter of keeping each others egos in check and coming up with safe places/activities to keep us busy until the hazard subsides.

Personally, my risk reward balance means that I run away a lot, and that’s fine. Other people may have continued up when we turned back and that’s fine too, provided there is an understanding of what risks are being accepted.

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