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January 23, 2019
Skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry can bring unrivaled mountain views and powder. However, it can also bring a substantial amount of risk -- specifically avalanche risk. Therefore, backcountry riding and avalanche safety go hand in hand.
The risk of an avalanche is influenced by a variety of conditions -- snow pack, terrain, weather, and human interaction. Some days pose more risk than others. It's up to you to decide when, where, and how your play in the backcountry. Like most outdoor adventure sports, backcountry skiing safety is life-long process.
They are truly a convenient and safety device for use when in snow, or any backcountry environs. Walkie talkies become imperative for groups to stay in contact. Much of the time there is wind, which makes it hard to talk to someone even a paltry 15 feet away. When the first rider drops down to cut a slope for safety, the radios allow the lead rider to call back and give a report on what they're finding on slope. Then there is tree riding, where riders get separated easily in the trees and need to have contact to determine the correct line that needs to be maintained, or the lead rider may have found a rocked out section to warn the next rider. Not to be forgotten, when filming, to get the photographer set when the rider is dropping into the line.
I could go on with the benefits, I think the point is made, they’re a valuable tool.
Panhandle Backcountry takes out the work if you're going into the backcountry in the Inland NW, however all these resources are also available (with some research) for every location across the country.
Several things fall in line here. Group dynamics and mentality combined with the desire for Instagram Fame comes to mind as a top mistake. It’s an ego thing where people want others to see how rad they are. There is significant recent research on this and how it plays against backcountry users.
Another mistake I’d like to mention is complacency. People get complacent after going to the same area many times and never had an issue or seen avalanche activity. If there is snow and the right angle, then all it takes are the right conditions and trigger to create a slide.
First and foremost, get the knowledge - aka Know Before You Go. This should begin with an Avalanche Awareness clinic with your local avalanche center which gives you an understanding and base before going for your Level I Avalanche Certification.
Next, get the gear -- avalanche transceiver, good avalanche specific snow shovel, lastly of course is a probe.
Now comes practice with the tools and what you’ve learned.
One thing I think is important is finding a mentor. Your mentor should be someone who understands snow, has spent considerable amount of time in the mountains on snow, and knows when to keep things conservative. It’s important that a mentor does not let ego get in their head when touring, they listen to the group & dynamics, and understand that not everyone has the same risk factors.
Powder!! Ha, seriously though, powder is great, however there are many wonderful aspects about being in the backcountry, from being with friends to enjoying the quiet of nature.
This sounds corny, yet being one with nature or the mountain is so very true. It’s very spiritual, I don’t think I could put into words the feeling of looking out across the mountains, feeling infinitely small in comparison to the world. Also for me, I think of those that have passed, I feel closer to them while standing at the top of a line, asking them to look over me while I spend my time in their presence.
With that said, let’s not forget the challenge, getting out and riding lines that only a few people in the world get to experience. By reviewing Google Earth and topo maps, we've found access to new terrain that we didn’t realize was accessible before.