The following post was written by North Face athlete and champion freeskier Kit Deslauriers.
The mountains are always in charge. To approach a mountain with the thought of "conquering" is, in my mind, setting you up for a battle, which often means someone ends up winning, someone losing, and maybe someone even getting hurt. This makes no sense to me, and I think a part of any mountaineers recurring successes can be attributed to working with the mountain more so than against it.
Knowing this is enough to realize that we can never be 100 percent sure we are safe; yet that is part of the adventure and the challenge. To heighten our senses and skills to the point where we are making a darn good educated guess about if conditions are safe enough to proceed is, to me, a big draw to the sport of mountain climbing and ski mountaineering. It is one of the ways we must be aware of our environment and conduct ourselves in a respectful manner, while of course pushing the envelope of fun and adventure. And face shots in fresh powder!
When I talk about awareness and senses and skills, many of these things are cultivated from experience, but there are some tools to the trade that are worthy of sharing with readers here. Before you venture in the backcountry, make sure that you have the appropriate avalanche safety equipment AND know how to use it. The most important piece of technical gear that you will need is an avalanche transceiver. This is a battery powered device worn on the body, which transmits a signal when turned on and in the case of an avalanche, allows rescuers to search for you buried in the snow. The people who will conduct the rescue turn their receivers from transmit to search to begin the process of looking for you, which you hope they will be good and quick at since the likelihood of being uncovered alive goes sharply down after even just 10 minutes of burial.
Other items to have in your backcountry ski pack include:
- A snow shovel (for digging that friend out and also for digging snow pits to learn about the snow pack, or getting your truck out of the ditch!)
- An avalanche probe; this is useful in pinpointing the exact place to dig once the searcher has honed in on the burial location.
- Water and food — be prepared
- Headlamp, you never know
- Extra hat and gloves
- Small medical kit including a space blanket and athletic tape
- Multi-purpose tool
- Cell phone (turn it off when skiing in dangerous terrain as the signal can interfere with an
Beyond having your gear and knowing how to use it:
- Remember to ski with a friend, and ski one at a time in avalanche prone terrain.
- Don’t ski in dangerous places during or immediately following a snow storm.
There is no substitute for good judgment, and while that is an acquired skill which takes time, consider taking an avalanche course so you can learn more about snow science. You may just learn enough to feel comfortable out there which the experts will say increases your chances of getting caught in a slide! Stay safe and have fun.
For more mountain time fun, be sure to read all of Kit's posts.