Friday, January 10, 2014

Lethal elixir

    Every mountain town in the world mourns when any outdoor enthusiast is killed in an avalanche. Despite the best training and education, people are lost every year to adventures outside controlled ski areas or to snowmobile-triggered backcountry slides.
    Winter sports participants also are painfully aware that in the right conditions, avalanche deaths can occur even in controlled areas, but are more likely in the backcountry. Sometimes it’s a matter of bad luck, but sometimes it’s a matter of state of mind, something we know less about than the mysteries of snow crystals.
    Young people in the backcountry are especially vulnerable to the sirens’ song of fields of fresh snowfall. Pleasurable brain chemicals can kick in at the mere thought of lush turns through the light stuff, but they can become a lethal elixir.
    Colorado lost the 24-year-old grandson of one of the founders of Vail to a backcountry avalanche Tuesday. Nationwide, he was the fifth to die this season.
    An interview in the Dec. 31 Jackson Hole News & Guide with a survivor of an avalanche that killed a 29-year-old man just five days earlier is a must-read for anyone who recreates in the backcountry.
    It’s a story of training overridden by the magnetic pull of a sunny powder day and group dynamics that made not one of six boarders and skiers want to seem like a wimp—even if not skiing Pucker Face ever occurred to them.
    One of those, Ian Tarbox, told the newspaper he wanted to tell the story of that day so others could learn and be safer in the backcountry. The story can be read online at www.
    Tarbox did a favor for everyone who loves the backcountry. We should heed his voice, honor those who have died and work hard to make our adventures produce joy instead of tears.

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