Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Yeah, I Know it was Dumb. But it was SOOO Worth it.

There's been a lot of backlash against my latest post and my reckless, ignorant approach to backcountry skiing. Dozens of people have read my article (thanks Mom) on the importance of keeping your eye on the powder prize. Only one has had the courage to admit that when vacation powder is on the line, we'd all choose the snowy line back to the lodge.

There have been some important points raised though. First, I'm reminded that simply having an avalanche beacon, or even knowing how to use one, may not actually save your life in a dangerous situation. There are a lot of other factors at play. To be fully prepared for a day of powder pilfering AND lifesaving in the backcountry, the forward thinking skier will have packed:

1. Beacon
2. *Shovel*
3. *Probe*
4. First aid kit
5. Knife
6. Duct tape
7. Water
8. Bananas
9. Candy bars
10. *Dynamite/Fireworks*
11. Detonators/Matches
12. Etc.

There are two problems here. First, this is the abbreviated list of required goods. The full list numbers somewhere in the 30s or 40s, depending on your affinity for down booties and avy dog treats. It's possible to keep it simple and focus on the essentials. The BCS Life Link Slingblade is a handy way to get take your shovel and probe along without a lot of added weight. You have to lose the pack, but you do get to keep that all important helmet cam for your final farewell video.

The second problem? There are more ways to read snow conditions than there are possible weather forecasts in New England. And, if you're skiing snow far outside your sloppy cement-y northeast comfort zone, you might as well be looking into a crystal ball when you dig a snow pit and pound on the adjoining snowpack. Up high in the wispy alpine glades and slides of Vermont and New Hampshire, I'm pretty confident I know what the snow is going to do on any given day. I've been there, seen the week's weather happen, know how severe the temperature shifts were, how windy it got overnight, what spruce buds look like rolled together in a layer of subsurface hoar... pin and needle dry snow bearings... all that jazz. I have no idea what to expect in the Sierras, the Wasatch, even the mighty Poconos. I think that comes with time. And maybe (regretfully) an actual avalanche class or two.

SO, there's a tough line to walk. You and your team have to be ready to save a life, and you have to know how to keep everyone out of harms way in the first place. There's a lot to be said for cutting up the groomers and sticking to the inbounds. It's a thrill. Getting first cuts through that corduroy can even be... a spiritual experience. But, when you get out there, strap on those skins, hike your first boot pack, look down your first couloir... do a quick (or thorough) check of the avy danger... polish your brass balls... that's really living.

No one at NEBC is actively seeking our own demise. There's a lifetime of drinking and hot tub nachos to accomplish that. We are, however, actively seeking out-of-bounds ski bum perfection. Live a little. Learn a little. That is only way to attain perfect line nirvana.

First, watch this:

Then, study this:

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