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.

2011 Ski supplement

After too many late nights and hours spend organizing and editing, The 2011 Gauntlet ski supplement is out (ok, it was out a couple weeks ago…i’m a little behind)I helped edit last year’s supplement, and I picked it up again this year.

Despite the amount of work, it’s a lot of fun, with the added bonus of copping some free ski days. I got out to fernie on comped tickets this year.

Ski Supp is one of teh few opportunities I get to use really big photos, so my inner photo nerd really enjoys making the photos the focus of the page. Words are great, but when it comes right down to it, I’m a pictures sort of person. Even though I was given most of the colour pages in the paper, I still had an unfortunate amount of Black and white. Nevertheless, I think it looks pretty good.

I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. It would have been nice to get a few more pages of content, but when you have to rely on volunteers, I’ll take what I can get. The supp pdf can be found here. Enjoy! A lot of people put a lot of time and effort into this.

I was the one covered in mud.

Hon. Jim Prentice, Minister for the Environment

I shot the announcement for funding of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute today for the Gauntlet. It was the first time I have even gone to an event as “media” which was really interesting. I had the chance to tour some of the labs that the Hotchkiss Institute is home to.  There was one project involving computer chips and brain cells. All I could think about was cyborgs.  The Doctor is charge was saying that they can use the microchips to help control pain and addictions. Maybe I’ve read too much dystopian fiction, but there was a lot about that  which seemed like it could potentially have negative consequences.

What I found really neat was that there were a few photogs from professional papers in attendance, one in particular (I believe from the Calgary Herald) was interesting to watch while he was working. You could tell that he’d been in the business for quite some time, and had no problems bossing  the subjects of his photos around, be they a lab assistant, or Higher ranking Ministers. I enjoyed the flickers of annoyance that crossed the environment minister’s face when this guy was telling him what to do.

I did feel a little out-of-place however, being the “young kid” in a crowd of dignitaries and seasoned media folk. I hit a mud puddle by accident with my bike on the way there, so I showed up all covered in mud and a little out of sorts. Not to mention that I was the only one not wearing a sport coat (read Threadless tee and Chuck Taylors). Nonetheless, it was a really neat experience. It’s a lot different from most of the assignments that I normally cover, hopefully I’ll have a chance to do things like this more often.

Syd