I recently found myself chatting with a group of avalanche professionals about education take homes for avalanche safety students. We arrived at the idea of sourcing small snippets or ‘nuggets’ from the group that had strong, concise meaning and could be easily remembered. Perhaps a cleverly stated point could penetrate the dubious stream of sometimes an overwhelming amount of new information. What ensued in my opinion resulted in some great ideas; some new, some old and most fairly wise. The following are some of my favorites in no particular order. I apologize in advance to my lack of credit given to the sources of such gems.
1) Skiing by itself can be an individual sport but skiing in the backcountry is different; it’s a team sport.
Backcountry skiing requires orchestrated movement between group members and good communication to execute safely.
2) All experience is not equal.
The backcountry is a ‘wicked learning environment.’ We don’t always get negative feedback (an avalanche) if we make poor decisions and this can reinforce confidence in poor behavior.
3) Some people are not worth skiing with.
Backcountry skiing partners should have similar goals and risk tolerance. They should also be able to talk through decisions openly in rational conversation and be a team player.
4) You cant understand snow if you don’t look at it.
Looking at the snow time and time again gives us reference to its behavior.
5) Turn your avalanche eyes on in the morning.
Wake up early, gather yourself, look at conditions from a stress free location like your living room and plan your outing. Do everything you can to facilitate your day out in advance.
6) A snow pit never says yes but it can say no.
Due to the idea of spatial variability there is no single tool that will tell us if a slope is safe to ski. A snow pit can, however, yield red flags to say we shouldn’t ski something.
7) You are the forecaster!
Yes, many regions have good information provided in a periodic avalanche forecast but ultimately it is up to the individual to assess conditions in the field and make their own decisions.
8) Are you prepared to do a rescue?
If the shit hits the fan do you have the skills and equipment to recover, stabilize and potentially evacuate your partner?
9) There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.
Knowing something at arms reach is not the same as firsthand experience. Be honest with where you stand in the learning spectrum.
10) Avalanche skills are perishable.
Every backcountry traveller needs to practice his or her skills and review topics over time to prevent stagnation.
11) Have a system.
Having a routine makes it easier to make effective decisions in the field. Checklists can work well for some.