With several avalanche deaths at Washington ski areas last weekend, Northwest skiers and riders got a sobering reminder that even familiar, ski lift-accessible "backcountry" can turn deadly in a flash--no matter how expert, cautious, and prepared you are when venturing off-piste.
I've felt the pull of the backcountry, especially at Crystal Mountain where I used to teach skiing. Over lunch breaks, sometimes I'd tag along with my fellow instructor Mad Mountain Dean and do a lap in Silver Basin or Northway (before the lift went in). We'd hike out beyond the patrolled area and get our freshies in light, sometimes heavy, or even crusty snow, munching on Clif bars during the lift rides up.
Liker surfers searching for the perfect wave or a golfer working on that perfect swing, many of us skiers and riders dream of that perfect run of perfect turns down untracked, light, deep fresh snow. And it's even better when you've earned your turns with a hike away from the crowds.
I'll admit I've not been as prepared as I could be most of those trips out to the Southback and beyond. Sure, I have an avalanche transceiver and shovel, but I haven't always taken them with me on these deceptively safe mini-adventures.
While I'm don't venture to Stevens Pass much nor did I personally know the expert skiers who perished there last weekend, I know people who knew them. It's not that big a ski community here in the Northwest, although there are thousands of skiers and riders in the region.
They were skiing an area most of them had skied many times before. Those who skied down first were standing in the trees, out of the avalanche path. Or so they thought. However, nature happens.
So I'll think twice when I head out to the backcountry tomorrow, with all the fresh snow that fell today (if it's open). How about you? Have you had any close calls with avalanches?
May we all have stable slopes and safe runs. Be careful out there.