[photo: Utah Avalanche Center]
Some of us are scoring powder days, while others are getting skunked. Either way, it’s shaping up to be a weird and dangerous winter all across the country—and nowhere is this truer than the backcountry. So far, 8 skiers and boarders and four snowmobilers have died in avalanches this season across the United States, where erratic snowfall and temperatures have created a dodgy, unstable snow pack. Among the fatalities was 13-year-old Taft Conlin, who was skiing inbounds at Vail in late January when a slide caught him. And earlier this week, a solo snowboarder who was wearing an Avalung and an avalanche air bag was buried and killed in Bear Creek, outside Telluride.
Whether you’re ripping the resorts or skiing the backcountry with the requisite safety gear—beacon, shovel, probe—your first line of defense is always basic snow smarts. With more young people than ever heading into the backcountry, the National Ski Patrol, in conjunction with the Utah Avalanche Center and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, have released “Know Before You Go,” a free 15-minute video designed to educate teens about how to understand the inherent risks of traveling in the backcountry. If you have children who are old enough to ski the backcountry or the steeps at your local hill—whether it’s the White Mountains or the Wasatch—this video could save their life. And yours.
(If the video doesn't play, click here to watch it on YouTube)
The "Know Before You Go" initiative takes its cue from Hawaii, where school kids are taught basic safety about rip tides and shore breaks. In Alaska, pro extreme skier Dean Cummings helped create a statewide Be Snow Smart program for youth. Of course, this video is only a start. To take avy-safety to the next level, bring your kid to an avalanche education course. The National Ski Patrol offers four levels of clinics, for beginners through pro ski patrollers. Check the NSP or your local ski resort for upcoming classes, some of which—like Kirkwood’s one-day Juniors Intro to Avalanche Awareness, on March 18—are geared for teens. For a checklist of essential safety principles for all ages, check out the NSP's backcountry avalanche safety page.
Stay safe out there, everyone.