Weekly High-Five Report: Know Boundaries Avalanche Awareness

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The North Face is raising avalanche awareness with their Know Boundaries safety initiative, offering insight into the knowledge, skills and training required to travel safely in the backcountry.

It’s easy to think that avalanches won’t find you, especially when you’ve skied the same line the day before without incident, or the sun is shining, or you’re standing at the top of a pristine line with a large group of friends. With the allure of skiing powder beckoning, tricking yourself into an illusion of safety is easy.

I’ve done it.

The tricky part about staying alive in avalanche terrain is that most of the time it is safe. The snowpack is usually in equilibrium, happily shouldering the burden of accumulated storms, offering the goods to those willing to get after it.

A powdery slope gives very little indication of the avalanche hazard. Let’s face it. Fresh powder always looks inviting. We could convince ourselves it was safe just because we wanted it so badly.

The Know Boundaries initiative provides a series of videos to offset that human tendency. Because the slopes are usually safe makes them that much more dangerous when they aren’t.

Just picture it. You and three of your best friends have hiked to the top of an easily accessed peak. The sun just came out. Below you sits a large north-facing bowl of untouched dreaminess. The temperature is so cold, wisps of ice crystals shimmer in the light. You’re about to drop in, but you know you should dig a pit first. Two feet of snow has fallen since you were last here. But the temps have stayed cold. You don’t know about wind, but the snow on the surface looks pristine and fluffy.

Hell. You’ve got your transceiver on. Your friends have your back. Another group has just crested the peak. It’s now or never.

You drop in and your skis break the mantle of snow, sending shooting cracks across the top of the bowl. A voice tells you to stop, but you can’t. You turn again and hear a whoomph. You notice to your left that one of your friends dropped in beside you; that he didn’t wait to let you get to the bottom. You can tell by his face that he doesn’t realize it yet. The slope is beginning to slide, like a white table cloth slipping off a table, taking cutlery and crystal with it…

Raise your hand if you’ve been there. If you have, then you know why I’m putting The North Face on my weekly high-five list. I applaud the Know Boundaries initiative, where avalanche professionals, mountain guides and pro skiers share their knowledge and experience.

While yes, the slopes are usually safe, all it takes is that one storm to tip it over the edge. If you spend enough time chasing powder in the backcountry, then you will probably get close enough to an avalanche to scare you.

Check out the first episode below. With ski season starting, let’s all respect our boundaries.

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One response »

  1. You can never overstate the importance of this stuff. Even with our stable marine snowpack down here in the Sierra Nevada, we still lose a few people to avalanche tragedies, and sometimes those we lose are very experienced.

    It’s all a numbers game: you can never guarantee that it won’t happen to you, but if you can reduce the probability from 5% to 1% to 0.1% by following careful procedures every time, you’re giving yourself the best chance to become an old skier telling the grandkids how it used to be.

You people are amazing. Thanks for commenting.

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