Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Avalanches, and Danger Warnings, on the Rise for Thrill-Seeking Skiers

Avalanches are extremely fascinating, but deadly as hell, so be careful out there.

At New York Times, "Avalanches on the Rise for Thrill-Seeking Skiers":

ASPEN, Colo. — The deaths of four people in two avalanches Sunday in the Cascade Mountains northeast of Seattle are the latest examples of what can happen when backcountry skiing, powered by the predictable human urge for thrill, meets the more capricious nature of high-country snow. Though textbook conditions for avalanches have had forecasters throughout the Mountain West ramping up warnings for backcountry travelers, close calls and fatal accidents continue to mount.

So far, 17 skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers have been killed with more than two months remaining in one of the most avalanche-prone seasons in memory. And although that number projects only marginally higher than the national average of 28.8 deaths a year over the last decade, and perhaps closer to the 36 in 2009-10, increasingly those who put themselves in harm’s way seem not to be careless novices, but rather, experts pushing the limits of safety.

Among the victims in Washington was Jim Jack, the longtime head judge of the Freeskiing World Tour, who was killed along with two other experienced backcountry skiers near the Steven’s Pass ski area. Their party of 13, all of whom were buried in snow to some degree, included professional skiers and ski journalists.

“It’s mostly the hardcore riders, people who know better,” Bruce Tremper, director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, said recently of the emerging trend of experts testing their skills against the backcountry, no matter the conditions. “In the past, we felt once you’re in the hardcore category, you’re more low risk for us. But now with the films and the videos, everybody is pushing it to the extreme.”
Read it all.