Conquering Fear Safely
A resort skier moves to the Backcountry for a new adventure
I am afraid of avalanches. They are unpredictable and getting caught in one seems terrifying. One cubic yard of snow weighs a ton. Not a ton like a lot, but a ton like 2,000 pounds. As a skier and snowboarder who spends most of his time within the relatively safe confines of resorts, avalanches are not something I confront when I am in the mountains. But I am bored. Resorts are great when the snow is fresh and the crowds are small, but with annual snowfall levels dropping, and being that I live in the Bay Area with seven million other people, those two instances almost never come together for me anymore.
Solution: The Backcountry
As the sports of skiing and snowboarding have grown, resorts in Colorado, Utah, and all over the West have expanded to meet the demand. As crowds grow, more and more people have made the move to the backcountry where the terrain is not patrolled and the snow conditions can be unpredictable. Under these circumstances, what happens when it is up to you to stay safe when the consequence of not being safe is death? How can you satisfy your desire for gravity fed joy and adventure without compromising your life, or the lives of your friends?
My suggestion: Get Trained. Then get trained some more. Last weekend I took an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education
(AIARE) Level One training course. Like myself, most of the other students were resort skiers and riders who wanted more. They wanted freedom, they wanted solitude, and they wanted adventure, but they also wanted to learn how to achieve these things safely. Now that I have a base level of knowledge, I plan on developing my skills with my local Sierra Club chapter Backcountry ski group. Trips range from beginner to advanced and expert, making it the perfect place to hone my skills while staying safe and meeting other backcountry skiers.
After three days of training and one course complete, I am still afraid of avalanches. The mountains demand our respect, and I intend to grant them mine, but that does not mean they are closed to adventure. As we push ourselves, we must show restraint. Doing so will guarantee a long life of thrills.