I was reading another blog by Bryce Phillips, owner of EVOGear.com, with an account of an absolutely crazy avalanche incident that happened in British Columbia near Mt. Waddington in the Coast Range. Have a read… it is pretty miraculous that everyone escaped serious injury. The reality is that avalanches are scary buggers. They are unpredictable and can be deadly. So, why do we risk heading into the backcountry and what can we do to cover all the bases every time we go out?
First and foremost is having the proper equipment and knowing how to use it. Without an avalanche beacon and working knowledge on how to use it in a rescue situation, you are a walking liability. What’s worse, your friends are the ones that can die because you don’t know what you’re doing. You are the one that will be saving or not saving your friend who was just buried by a slide.
Don’t forget to round out the equipment with a probe and a sturdy shovel. For goodness sakes, get yourself a metal-bladed shovel with a D-shaped handle. They are much more efficient snow movers and when you’re digging up your best friend, every second counts.
After you have all the equipment covered, you need to get educated–not only on how to use your new equipment, but on backcountry safety and etiquette. Go to a library and check out books on avalanche safety. Visit the Utah Avalanche Center’s Books & Video section to see what books they recommend. There’s even one written by Bruce Tremper, who runs the UAC. There are a ton of resources… please get yourself educated before skiing, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or snowmobiling in the backcountry so you don’t put you, your buddies or others in danger by pulling something stupid.
Just as a reminder, avalanches can happen even when we least expect it. The photo below shows that even early-season avalanches can happen. This one was skier-triggered on Mt. Baldy within the Alta Ski Area boundary on Oct. 18, 2007. Note that Alta was not open for the season and was not doing normal avalanche control work at this point.
Where do I find more information on avalanche safety in Utah?
The Utah Avalanche Center is the place with the most information on avalanches along the Wasatch Front. They have education courses taught throughout the winter. And their Web site has tons and tons of resources to keep you on top of avalanche conditions and slide activity in Utah. We support the UAC 100% and encourage you to do the same. Not only be visiting the site and using the information, but by donating to help them keep us all safe in the backcountry.