| A slide coming off Mt. Shuksan, Washington
Photo by Gary Brill
Editor's Note: References to incidents in the article took place in the winter of 2000.
You look at the slope just beyond the "Closed Area" boundary sign, checking out the fresh snow beyond best stuff you've seen all season. Just a couple of days ago, you saw people ski it and it looked fantastic. A steep chute with a foot of freshwhat could be better? You check to see if the patrol is around and then duck quickly under the rope.
You just made a big mistake.
Did you check to see what the avalanche forecast was? Did you check the snowpack to see if there was instability present since the last snowfall? Above all else, have you taken the time to equip yourself with the knowledge necessary for assessing potential avalanche conditions?
"Make sure that you have a good education or background in avalanche knowledge to make sure that you don't go beyond your skill levels," says Gary Brill, Director of Winter Programs for Mountain Madness and former heli-ski guide for the world famous Canadian Mountain Holidays operation. "You should do these things for yourself, not to impress people or whatever it might be, or whatever that drive might be."
When you step outside the rope, to ski into a closed section within a ski area, or go for a full-on backcountry travel experience, you need to be absolutely aware of what kind of snow conditions you will be encountering. The backcountry experience is becoming very popular as skiers and snowboarders seek fresh tracks and exciting terrain outside resort area boundaries.
"The risk is that a lot of people get into it without having a real foundation of knowledge..."
Recent avalanche deaths in Utah, Colorado and Washington have increased attention to the fact that many new backcountry travelers are not exercising good judgment when entering terrain with uncertain snow conditions.
"I do think there is an increase in population in general in these areas," says Brill, himself an avid backcountry skier for over 30 years. "To the extent that these people develop their knowledge, over time, with respect for the mountains, I think it's a good thing. The risk is that a lot of people get into it without having a real foundation of knowledge."