Why the F&*K do you not have avalanche rescue gear??
Image courtesy of Curtis Pawliuk
I was reading a blog post on Avalanche Canada this morning about a number of “near-miss” avalanche involvements in the Northern Monashees/North Rockies/Caribous/Northwest Inland regions of BC. The snowpacks in those regions are very touchy at the moment, and there have been a high number of very close calls in last two weeks.
But I couldn’t even finish reading the article.
After the first few reports I had to stop. Two of those first six reports indicated that the riders involved in near-death avalanches did not have avalanche rescue gear.
Just think about that for a second.
Two out of six groups did not have avalanche rescue gear and came close to dying. Of those people involved, three were almost fully buried. Had those three people been covered with just a little bit more snow, they would have probably not been found and suffocated to death. The question burst into my mind:
Why the f&*k do you not have avalanche gear??
Fully one-third of the riders mentioned in those first handful of reports did not have avalanche rescue gear. One-third. I thought we were past this. I thought things were getting better. I thought that we, as sledders, skiers, snowboarders—hell, backcountry enthusiasts in general—were starting to get our shit together and figure it out and be safe out there.
Hello, is anybody listening?
Is the message not getting out to these people? Or worse… are they choosing to disregard it?
If the message is truly not getting out there, then Avalanche Canada has even more work cut out for itself than we all think. But I think that it is. I think that the message is getting out there.
Maybe that’s because I work in the snowmobile industry and have been involved in avalanche safety. But I feel like we are constantly bombarded with the message, so much so that it feels boring and even passé to say, “Don’t forget, you need avalanche training and a transceiver, shovel and probe!” Like it’s something my Grandma might remind me as I’m pulling on my riding boots in the morning.
Sure, it could be that my immersion in mountain sledding for the last decade has blinded me to the possibility that some “mountain sledders” just don’t know better. But man, I find that a hard pill to swallow.
I can’t help but think that anyone who has gone so far as to spend a shitload of money on a mountain capable snowmobile has heard the message, at least in some form. And I think it’s even more likely that they’ve heard the message in full, and on more than a few occasions. There’s so much information out there about avalanche safety that you’d have to go out of your way to avoid it.
In fact, if you are reading this right now, that means that you know at least something about sledding in the mountains. You know it exists. You have a passion for the sport. You enjoy reading about it. Or you plan to do some riding in the mountains yourself some day. You’ve heard us rant about being prepared with avalanche skills training and the proper rescue gear time and time and time again.
If you are reading this, and you plan on going into avalanche terrain without training and avalanche rescue gear, I need to ask: what the f$*k is the matter with you?! Why won’t you listen?!
Let’s all be happy and it will all be not fine
I know we are supposed to keep it positive, and keep positively moving in the right direction. But I feel like the events of the last couple of weeks have shown us that a metaphorical slap in the face might be in order. And if it can’t be said strongly enough by Avalanche Canada, or the new outlets, or your wife, or husband or friend, then let me be the one to do it.
If you ride in the mountains without training and gear, then you are not a mountain sledder. I don’t care what kind of hot-rod sled you own. Don’t call yourself that. Being a mountain sledder means something. It means that you’re prepared. It means that you can take care of yourself and others. And it means that you’ve taken the necessary steps to be as safe as you can out in the mountains.
I’m not trying to shame anyone, especially the riders who report their near misses. I couldn’t agree more with Avalanche Canada forecaster Ilya Storm, who in his latest blog post said that one person’s near-miss report is the free gift of knowledge to another. I’m trying to offer a wake-up call to riders who have heard the message and chosen to disregard it. I want to help prevent the senseless loss of life, and if it needs to be said strongly, so be it.
I’ll probably take a lot of heat for this one. The truth is, I don’t care. I’ve dug dead sledders out of the snow, and it sucks and I didn’t even know them. I can only imagine the despair and sense of loss the family and close friends have had to endure. That’s the real tragedy, and by riding without avalanche gear you’re setting the people you love the most in this world up for it.
If one life can be saved by asking self-proclaimed mountain sledders that should know better to open your eyes and give your f&*king heads a shake, then whatever fallout there is as a result of this piece will be worth it.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better
Given the current conditions and number of these recent near-misses, I believe that this message can’t be said strongly enough. This pattern has got to stop.
And things are about to get a whole lot worse this weekend when a ton of new snow drops on our mountains. We are likely reaching a tipping point, and this weekend could be it.
Mountain sledding is much more than just riding a snowmobile on slopes. It’s part of a bigger backcountry experience and culture. It demands a respect for the mountains, nature and the well-being of yourself and others. You can’t just call yourself a mountain sledder because you own a Whizzbang 800, you have to earn that right.
And let me tell you, I would be just so goddamn proud if I knew that every single reader of Mountain Sledder knew what it took to be safe in avalanche terrain and had the gear and the training to do it.
So do the right thing. Get avalanche gear. Get training. Get out there and have fun and be safe.
PS Sorry for all the foul-language.