Recently, I met up with a friend at a youth lacrosse tournament. My friend lives in the Vail area and her sons play for Backcountry Lacrosse. The first thing you have to know about Backcountry Lacrosse is that their logo is a skier. This makes my son, whose team logo is a Spartan, quite jealous. This season however, Backcountry Lacrosse has something else on their jerseys: three initials and a number.
My girlfriend explained. “Those initials are the initials of the boy who died in the avalanche, and that was his lacrosse jersey number,” she told me.
I don’t know the final statistics, but this past winter was dangerous. Low early season snow limited the terrain that was open and forced greater numbers of skiers onto less skiing acreage. Informal reports from emergency rooms told of many more collisions and accidents than normal. And then in mid-winter, the snowpack was unstable. For about three weeks, it seemed that there were distressingly regular reports of slides and fatalities across the Western U.S.
More Skills Than Sense
But in Colorado, no accident hit as hard as the report of a thirteen-year-old boy at Vail who was killed in an inbounds avalanche. Media reports stated that the young man was skiing in a “closed section” of Prima Cornice, a challenging double-black-diamond run. My friend had more information. It turns out that the boy was skiing with two friends. They entered the run where it was open and then hiked up the run. While skiing down through the closed portion of the run, they were caught in an avalanche.
“He was an incredible teleskier,” my friend shared. “But he had more skills than maturity. He had more skills than sense.”
As a parent of young teenagers, I can completely understand this. My boys are expert skiers. Our oldest is a competent young driver (still with a permit). Both have skills, but often they seem to have no sense. Put a friend in the car with my son and his skills deteriorate. Tempt them with untracked powder and they’ll complain about the Ski Patrol closure. They see the immediate payoff, but none of the danger. They just see an authority that is preventing them from doing what they desire.
The “Authorities” Are Not Your Enemy
On the day the 13 year-old boy was killed, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued a “backcountry avalanche warning” which meant that avalanches, either natural or triggered by human activity, were extremely likely. Elaborating, CAIC stated that avalanches could be triggered from remote distances and on low-angle or even flat terrain. Skiing inbounds, at a resort, there is no reason to think these three boys had any awareness of the danger. Who checks the backcountry avalanche report when you’re skiing inbounds?
And that’s what I tell my boys: Authority, be it the Ski Patrol, the traffic police or teachers at school, is doing the checking, anticipating the accidents and working to keep you safe. Authority, when it’s a matter of life and death, must be respected: in a car, on the ski slopes, or wherever you may be.
This Is Your Decision Point
At ski resorts with backcountry access there are signs marking the resort boundary. “This is your decision point,” the signs say alongside a skull and crossbones. The message is clear: don’t go here if you don’t know what you’re doing. Inbounds, there are no frightening messages: just ropes and closures. In a car, when a driver takes a call or answers a text message, there aren’t any ropes or signs with scary skulls. But each of these risky behaviors involves a decision point.
I want my boys to grow up to think for themselves. I also want them to simply grow up. Thinking for yourself involves recognizing these decision points and taking wise action, I tell them. Laws, regulations and the Ski Patrol are not trying to ruin anyone’s day. Often, they’re just trying to save your life.
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