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Midseason Concern

A feisty snowpack and a string of incidents sound the safety alarm
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• Check every morning: Sierra Avalanche Center

Do a free online program: Know Before You Go

Read a book: Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper

Take your level 1 avalanche course: American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education

Keep learning: National Avalance Center

Difficult Decisions

This winter’s snowpack, coupled with these high-profile incidents, reignite the complex discussion of safely recreating in a high-risk environment. While the intricacies of on-snow safety could span several books, there has been a push toward emphasizing how the various human factors affect the decision-making process in the backcountry.

“There are so many decisions based on emotions and previous experience, and not facts and observations. It’s hard to get out of your head and make decisions from a strictly snow safety perspective,” Meyer said. “Avalanche courses have shifted somewhat from the science of snow more toward the decision making aspect.”

A modern problem applicable to all aspects of skiing is the strong drive to capture footage no matter the conditions, fueled largely by affordable POV cameras and social media.

“All too often I see people at the local resorts skiing and riding while holding 'selfie sticks' up. It is, in my opinion, similar to texting while driving,” said Tahoe-based photographer Court Leve, who has over ten years experience shooting big mountain skiing in Alaska as the lead photographer for Points North Heli-Adventures. “It’s also very frustrating to see people all over the hill setting up for a shot without any regard for safety … someone stopping on the backside of a blind rollover waiting for their friend to hit a jump. Others have no idea someone is standing there.”
Additionally, the snowboarder that triggered the slide at Sugar Bowl, who is facing prosecution for trespassing, was wearing a GoPro, and is seen wiping his lens clean as one of the first actions taken after the slide stopped.

By following the protocols laid out by decades of avalanche research, experts agree the powder can still be enjoyed safely, and they encourage people to do so.

“I tell people to get out in the backcountry. But maybe take it down a half notch. Have a plan B and don’t be afraid to not always go with plan A,” Meyer said. “Still go, just go with caution and education.”

The search for Carson May is considered an ongoing investigation. Anyone with new information is advised to contact the Placer County Sherriff’s Office at (530) 889-7885.

~ Portions of this story appeared in our Jan. 19 online story.


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February 14, 2019