I remember taking a one day course from Bruce Tremper, Director of the Utah Avalanche Center, and a friend who was also taking the course had brought her copy of Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain for him to sign, stating that Bruce was basically celebrity in her household. It gave me pause to think of how lucky I am to have known Bruce for a few years now and to have him here in Utah running the Avalanche Center.
When he came out with the first edition of his book “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain” most of the mainstream media and general population had little concern or care for avalanches. It wasn’t until January 14, 2005 that a shift in that interest and desire for information.
In fact, it was just a couple of weeks ago that Backcountry.com athlete Andrew McClain was a guest on the Good Morning America Now show (if you click the link you’ll see the video on the right) talking about avalanches and related gear like the Avalung and the Pieps DPS Beacon both of which I also happen to use.
I remember back on that date in January of 2005 when a huge avalanche in the adjacent sidecountry of The Canyons Resort resulted in a frenzy of news stories, internet speculation and misinformation that up to 15 people had been caught in the slide. Sadly and ultimately it claimed the life of just one man. A popular sidecountry destination, Dutch Draw has been the site of many close calls, including one that I Jason and I were witness to.
Despite the media and general populous gaining more interest and knowledge of avalanches, albeit superficial and often time incorrect, that was not the reason for Bruce to come out with a Second Edition of Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. The fact is that Avalanche Safety is a science, one that is continually evolving and the skills and knowledge necessary to keep you safe in the backcountry are being refined each day by pros like Bruce.
Review of Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper
When comparing this the second edition to the first, there are more than a few changes. Content, layout, some of the figures and charts have been updated (although some are still old, which is one of my only criticisms) and some personal notes and suggestions from Bruce are added.
New techniques like the Shovel Tilt Test which Bruce and other UAC forecasters developed are covered in this new addition. That and other new information accounts for the page number increase from 284 pages to 310. Also of note is the expansion in Chapter 10, The Human Factor.
The Human Factor
Avalanche accidents and safety in the backcountry more often than not involves the human factor more than was previously attributed. People often cite an avalanche for where it broke, on what layer, and how. Tremper dives into a number of personal experiences as well as the Dutch Draw slide and others to cite how the human factors play an even bigger role in an avalanche and should be more widely considered when in the backcountry.
I suppose it’s sort of psychology 101 or better 310 when it comes to decision making and group dynamics. For example, below are the contributing factors cited from the book along with the number of times they were directly attributed as the main factor in an avalanche fatatily from 1990-2000:
- Overconfidence – 15
- Attitude – 12
- Group Management – 8
- Complacency – 6
- Poor Communication – 6
- No Error
The book then dives into how to identify when these things are present within a group. I for one almost became a victim of complacency when late in a day I and a partner decided to ski a slope that we both had suspect feelings about but dismissed it since other slopes had been solid all day. My partner was swept over a small cliff and lost a pole in the ensuing slide.
I like how the book presents a large number of images, charts, illustrations and graphs that add to the learning. Like I said above, if I had a criticism it would be that a number of the charts could use some additional updated information.
One of the highlights for me throughout the book are the “Hot Tips”, generally found in each chapter, where Tremper often opens up with personal insights. It’s almost like you’re taking a class from him and he gives you the “by the way…”. This is exactly how Bruce teaches in the field – without ego and with a lot of personal experiences.
The Bottom Line: Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain
Of course, reading this book won’t make you an avalanche expert overnight like real life field experience over years and years can and will. But a good text (I consider this more text book than casual reading) it’s definately worth picking up and reading and rereading and nothing I’ve read or seen can top Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper.
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