Backcountry Ski Safety: A Journey to Ourselves



These are thoughts about my current ski guiding practice and in relation to Bruce Kay's book; "Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. In The Avalanche Patch"  It frightens me to watch people with skill get humbled out there and it seems to be happening more.

The mountains are not dangerous unless we are there. As backcountry skiers it is our job is to be masters of knowing when, where and how. However, it seems apparent to me that we are falling prey to the pressure to suceed. Surely we learned from the Everest tragedy in 1996 about the folly of perceiving we can push at all cost. If we do that we may just succeed at cost.

Put a frog in a pot of hot water and they jump out. Put the same frog in a pot of cool water and slowly turn the heat up and it boils to death. Do film makers of ski porn have their fingers on the dial that turns up the heat?  Have there been changes to backcountry sking that have been so slow that we have not taken note? Has the greed for more of "everything" affected us so deeply that we are no longer making choices in line with human longevity? Is there a disconnect from our own better judgement?

I have a perspective that fortunately few share. However, my guess is that as backcounry skiers we all share the loss of someone in the community. Whether or not we are responsible for their death or not may be the difference I am underlining. It is hard to know consequence unless we have lived it, but that is where wisdom resides, to learn before the sting of profound ramification. Learning can only be done through deep personal reflection based in the notion that we are responsible for our actions in the winter mountain environment.

Backcounrty skiing is profoundly important. Some people need adventure and if they do not get it they make it in destructive ways. Anecdotally we know that adventure in the mountains saves and enrich lives. It teaches us how to make difficult decisions (or it should) which helps us with our daily lives. But it is a deeply personal practice to be good at this game. It is our mountain martial art that can only be done well by a deep understanding of who we are and why we are making the choice we are making. It is my belief that this is the frontier of risk management, mastering ourselves. A scary but important journey and one that gives life, ultimately, more meaning.

Bruce Kay's book is a wonderful read for any one who cares about getting better at the real game. It is not about the turns, it is about ourselves.

Ken Wylie


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