Yesterday was a bad day for skiing in Washington. Four people were killed in two separate avalanche incidents. It’s been all over the news–especially the avalanche at Stevens Pass that killed three. As I followed the condolences and shock on Twitter and Facebook yesterday afternoon, I realized how easy it is to cast judgement. I live and play in the mountains. Even those that have never spent a day chasing powder have still taken risks that 99% of the time do not end poorly. But when others take risks and die, the convenient response–the reaction that makes us feel just slightly better–is that we would not have taken the same risk. We would not have skied in the backcountry when the avalanche danger rating was high. We would have been more responsible, more careful, more lucky.
I knew those that passed away at Stevens Pass yesterday–Johnny Brenan, Jim Jack and Chris Rudolph. They were all good men, and an important part of the local community. Chris was the marketing director at Stevens. I can’t imagine how they must be navigating this tragedy when the very one who would normally field questions from the press was a victim. Our hearts, not our judgement, should go out to Stevens.
They were careful, they were wearing beacons and avalungs and carrying all the right gear. They had stopped in a group of trees, skiing from safe island to safe island, one at at time.
Just the way we are taught to mitigate risks. But mitigating risks doesn’t mean eliminating them.
The deaths in Tunnel Creek, as well as the avalanche fatality that occurred in Alpental’s BC yesterday, are tragic accidents. Yes, risks were taken. But we all take risks every day. My heart is heavy today for the families that have lost their loved ones.
If a lesson can be teased from the wreckage, it is in Elyse Saugstad’s story. She was standing in trees with the others when the avalanche broke out above them. She, too, heard the freight train sound of the avalanche barreling down on her. She, too, was taken over 1,000 vertical feet in the debris. But she wasn’t killed or fully buried. She was wearing an ABS system and deployed her airbag. It saved her life.
Click this link for a firsthand account of the avalanche from ESPN’s Megan Michelson, who was there. Megan describes the scene from the top of the slidepath and interviews Elyse regarding her experience. This is the best footage I’ve read so far.
- Washington avalanche kills 3 veteran skiers – CBS News (cbsnews.com)
- 3 Skiers Die in Washington Avalanche (abcnews.go.com)