Anyone on the Wasatch Front is probably aware by now that we had another avalanche fatality yesterday. That’s death number two in less than a week.
It seems as if there’s an unavoidable human urge to Monday morning quarterback these things and figure out what went wrong. And to the extent that helps us avoid mistakes in the future, that’s a good thing.
Sunday’s was pretty simple—the guy shouldn’t have split up with his partner. His arm was sticking out of the snow after the burial, so he likely could have been rescued had anyone been there to find him. [Update: victim was found face-down on top of the snow and apparently died of trauma. Who's to say whether having someone there right away would have made a difference. He may not have intended to go out of bounds and did not deliberately separate from his partner. Regardless, a tragic situation.]
Yesterday’s is a lot spookier. The skier was with partners, with the right tools, and they observed travel protocol by entering the slope one at a time. He was the first, he triggered the slide, and he was caught and carried. He was buried so deep that trees had to be removed to extricate him. The slide ran the length of the slope, across the creek at the bottom of the drainage, and up the other side. It was a big one. Even had they got him out faster, it likely would have made little difference due to the trauma suffered when he entered the trees.
The downside with Monday morning quarterbacking is that most people doing it assume they would have chosen otherwise. But nobody really knows what he or she would have chosen to do without actually being in that situation.
The thing that bothers me most about these incidents, aside from the loss of life itself, is the way the public reacts to them. Here are some sample comments to the article on KSL.com, with grammar and spelling errors left in for effect:
F-150: This is getting to the point of stupidity. People? why are you going out in avalanche territory?
If thats what you want to do then dont come crying for help to get your but out!
Eichhoernchen: Call me a bad person, but I don't feel sorry for these people. I do feel sorry for their families and friends, but not them. They made a conscience decision.
Paravon: Sounds like their getting what they deserve. Its no secret we've all been warned about avalanche season, they must have figured they could pull it off but goes to show how ingorant stupid people can really be.
Xanax: They are called Darwin Award winners
Maverick07: The problem is that they ignored the avalanche warnings. WHy not go sky diving without a parachute?
Where is the compassion here? A man is dead, and saying “I told you so” after the fact won’t bring him back. Decision making in the backcountry is a complex thing where one little mistake can have huge consequences.
Yesterday morning, just a few hours before this incident, we were standing at the top of Flagstaff Mountain, looking into Days Fork, one drainage West of where this incident occurred. Of course we were thinking about skiing it—it was untracked and deep, and we hadn’t been in there all year because of avalanche conditions.
We kicked a few cornices and didn’t get anything to move. Still, we didn’t trust it. We thought about getting onto the slope and digging a pit, but even being on the slope to make assessments could trigger a slide, and we didn’t see any safe spots from which to evaluate. Ultimately we just headed back the way we came up, down a south-facing slope devoid of the rotten base layer that is causing everything to slide.
We all make decisions every day based on the best information we have available. Sometimes those decisions work out the way we hope they will, sometimes they don’t. But when they don’t, the human and decent thing is to comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Accusations and spite accomplish nothing.