Silence in the Aftermath of an Avalanche
It was potentially the ride of the year. In a “perfect storm” of events, a massive winter squall had passed through, and it was the first bluebird day to follow. The break in weather had coincided with your mid-week shift change, and you and your buddy had the chance to bust up all the fresh powder before the weekend crowds hit. It promised to be an epic day, and there was no better company to enjoy it with than your best friend of 20 years.
If you’ve spent much time in the backcountry you know that, as great as it is having friends around, a few moments of quiet solitude can be pretty incredible. And while one should never ride alone, if you ever have the opportunity to sit by yourself on a snow-covered mountain, it can be a truly humbling experience. The silence can give you a moment of self-reflection and clarity into life that can’t be found elsewhere in this hustle and bustle world.
This time however, the silence is different.
Instead of being enlightening, it is oppressive and crushing. This time you are alone without being alone. This silence is not peaceful and the reflection is focused on regret; regret that you didn’t make time for that avalanche training last year when you could have. Regret that you didn’t have the knowledge that perhaps would have changed your decision-making on this day. This silence is also the sound of remorse; remorse that you didn’t have the right tools, equipment and skill to change the situation. The deafening silence also carries with it the sound of guilt. The guilt that you feel for not being able to help your best friend.
The guilt of sitting there alone, still breathing and unable to search any further.
Soon the darkness will settle in and the silence will become the sound of resignation as you give up hope, your frantic efforts to find your friend futile. Finally, the silence will be broken by the sound of your sled as you wearily pull the cord for the loneliest ride you’ve ever had—a long and cold run back to the truck, leaving your best friend behind for search and rescue to recover from the avalanche that buried him.