Click & Chute – The Perils of Web Based Skiing

| August 27, 2008
When I published “The Chuting Gallery – A Guide to Steep Skiing in the Wasatch Mountains” in 1998, I was told by a few well meaning Pros that I was going to have the blood of countless sixteen year-old kids on my hands as they all rushed out to try skiing steep lines and died in avalanches or cartwheeling down slopes.  Thankfully, this hasn’t happened.  I think a major reason this hasn’t happened is that it is one thing to know where a steep line is, yet another to know when and how to actually ski it.  Skiing a steep avalanche prone slope always sounds better the night before over a few hot Postums (hey, this is Utah…) then it does when you are post-holing your way up deep snow, getting lost or carrying crusher loads.  In many ways, the difficulties of steep ski mountaineering make it self limiting and reduce many of the potential accidents.

But then came the internet.

Stan Brown goin' down "Roman's" in Wolverine Cirque.  This used to get skied a few times per year and now gets skied multiple times per day when it is in shape.
Stan Brown goin’ down “Roman’s” in Wolverine Cirque. This used to get skied a few times per year and now gets skied multiple times per day when it is in shape.

Nowadays when a steep line is skied, it is often national knowledge within an hour of it being skied, and once “the booter is in” it may get skied many times in quick succession.  This phenomenon is becoming very common in Europe, and closer to home, a classic example is the East Face of Pyramid Peak which went unrepeated for 20+ years, then saw a rapid succession of descents last year once word got out that the booter was in and it was stable.

This is both good and bad.  Part of learning how to ski mountaineer is literally following in the footsteps of others, yet at the same time, conditions on steep slopes can radically change within just a few hours and what was safe yesterday might be dangerous today.  I’m a big proponent of self responsibility (and trip reports) and hope that people realize that a booter and ski tracks don’t necessarily mean a slope is good to go.

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Category: Commentary

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (4)

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  1. randosteve says:

    Sloppy Seconds=Poor Style.

  2. Great post. A couple thoughts on this…

    1) Personal responsibility. Holding the author of a guidebook responsible for the mistakes and misjudgments of others is nuts, me thinks.

    2) The increase you’re seeing on these steep lines is probably a simple function of more people in the backcountry. What was once a niche extreme sport is becoming commonplace. It’s now common to see as many AT bindings standing in line at the lifts as alpine bindings. Then these folks go hit the backcountry like they would the resort. It’s still about personal responsibility, though. As an evangelists of the sport, our only responsibility should be to preach education, not restrain people from venturing out of bounds.

  3. Dongshow says:

    Wolverine Cirque is a great example. When I moved to Utah it was a nice, easily accessed area on the fringe of Alta, that didn’t see much traffic Now it gets so much traffic it’s essentially a “hike to” area in resort.

    I think it’s a resort/road proximity issue. The amount of pictures on the internet really allow someone to see what’s out there, but hard work keeps most people away. Places like Wolverine Cirque, which to be honest doesn’t require much work (it’s what 30 minutes of a safe traverse/hike from the supreme lift) are ripe for exploitation. But there are many places where the best pictures in the world can be posted and people will stay out, for the exact reasons you’ve stated your book didn’t lead to bloodshed. But I will concede that skiers are very sheep like and do enjoy following a good trail.

  4. Andrew says:

    It’s funny to see how Alta, Solitude and Brighton all call Wolverine Circus “their” backcountry. Well, except when something goes wrong, then it is just The Backcountry. :)

    I prefer first tracks and the process involved in getting them, but after that, I could care less if 100 people follow the trail. I just hope they know what they are doing!

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