Dec 21 2012

Early Season Avalanche Reminder

Now that the end of the world has passed us by – again – it seems appropriate to focus on some serious stuff. Avalanche season is here and even Tahoe has a bit of a layer issue going on right now. As ever though, the real problem with avalanches isn’t predicting them, but in limiting how often and severely we flirt with them.

Most of you don’t know Otto Steiner, never even heard of him. He was the first person to do a trans-Sierra – solo – in the late 30s before WWII. He left Germany before the Nazi’s came to power and was an immigrant who seriously influenced backcountry skiing in California eons ago. He was an Olympic caliber nordic skier, doing 50k races and jumping. He always said, “if it’s worth skiing, it can avalanche.” The trick is to not ski it when it will, only when it won’t. That the slope could avalanche only means it is steep enough to make it fun to ski.

This won’t be politically correct, so let me say it anyway. Avalanches are like guns. They need a person to pull the trigger to be deadly. It is pretty rare for an avalanche to spontaneously happen and kill someone. Almost always the victim’s activity on the slope triggers the avalanche. People don’t randomly or purposefully dive into an ongoing avalanche. However, avalanche victims routinely neglect to consider the conditions at hand, either out of ignorance or carelessness. Whichever the case may be, the results are indistinguishable. Oftentimes it is an unconscious roll of the dice hoping to get lucky one more time ‘cuz they got away with it before. By the way, that’s an admission of guilt, not an accusation. I’m guilty as charged, as you probably are too.

I have commented on this subject before, but felt that there were some articles available elsewhere that you may not be aware. IMO they are worth a few minutes of your time. And if you have suggestions for others, please leave them in the comments section.

Recommended Reading (Tunnel Creek Avalanche Incident)

  • The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek by John Branch (NY Times). This is not a trivial read, neither in detail, or length, but worth every minute. Captivating presentation that sets a new standard for story telling. Makes sites like EarnYourTurns.com look amateurish. Gulp.
  • North West Avalanche Center’s incident report on the Tunnel Creek Avalanche
  • A Tribute to last year’s Avalanche Victims, by Megan Michelson (ESPN)


© 2012