My Most Valuable Piece of Avalanche Safety Gear

| December 29, 2010 | 4 Comments

Without a doubt, solid partners are the A-#1 best piece of avalanche gear out there.  This doesn’t mean partners who can dig you out quickly, but more partners who are less likely to get you or themselves buried in the first place. Good partners come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, sexes, speeds and ability levels, and sometimes being an uber-rad skier is actually a detriment in a partner.  I’ve been on two trips with partners who were very accomplished skiers, yet were livid that I wanted to ski low-angle terrain after waiting out multi-day storms with high winds. One of the better descriptions of an ideal partner came from a eulogy for a French skier whose friend described him as someone who “knew when to hit the gas, but also knew when to hit the brakes.” Last year in the Wasatch was a classic example of riding the brakes almost all season long – I went through two sets of brake pads and almost ruined my rotors because it was such a weird snowpack.  The challenges came in finding fun, safe routes and exploring new terrain instead of skiing steep lines.  There’s a time and place for almost everything.

Derek Weiss probably wishing he had deep, soft powder in the Cortex Couloir.

Contrary to logic, it is way easier to find partners willing  to ski steep, exposed, scary terrain than the boring mellow stuff.  I was reminded of this while reading Powder Magazine’s feature story on “The Return of the Extreme Skier” which said the newest thing is to ski extreme slopes in deep powder.  A 6″ sluff on a 50 degree slope packs a big punch and can easily knock you off your edges.  A 24″ fracture charging down a  tight chute with a rappel at the bottom?  Forget it.   The underlying rationale is that steep lines in deep powder is the ultimate rush, which is true, but personally I’m very, very selective about when I do it.
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Category: 07 Avalanche Avoidance

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.

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  1. White Blog 2 | Powder Magazine | February 15, 2011
  1. ffelix says:

    Agreed that it’s hard to find partners who will ratchet back when necessary. Some even insist on making the same demonstrably bad choices over & over again. You’d think a good scare would change their attitude, but it often doesn’t.

    Seems like the US is gradually becoming more like Europe, where there is a subset of bc skiers who are incredibly aggressive & tacitly accept (or blithely ignore) the fact that there will be numerous deaths in this category each season, including–quite possibly–their own.

    Ultimately, it’s just physiologically impossible for the average young guy to connect actions with consequences, so this sort of risky behavior is inevitable. A couple seasons back, there was a dog wandering around the base of the Aiguille du Midi tram for days. Turned out that its owner died on the mountain, so never came back to retrieve him. Poor thing.

  2. OMR says:

    I ski solo about 50% of the time (35 years and counting). And when I say solo, I mean remote Wasatch terrain where the likelyhood of meeting another skier is nil (yes – it is possible). None of this Ladys-of-the-Snows/Cardiac rush-hour stuff, where you’re atop 50 other skiers. Of my 4 avalanche near misses, including my own partial burial, all have come while skiing with a partner or partners. Peer pressure and group dynamincs create a danger all by itself. When alone I’m hyper-sensitive to my surroundings which helps ratchet back risk-threshold. That, or maybe it’s the bull-horn voice of my deer, sweet wife, echoing through my mind: “don’t get caught, else you’re dead meat!”. She’s a bright women.

  3. Andrew says:

    OMR – I don’t ski solo all that often, but when I do, it is the same thing – I feel pretty safe as I am hyper conservative about my lines and my skiing.

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