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Recent avalanche deaths cause concern over reliance on beacons

Avalanche: Harsh lessons
December 21, 2003

Background: Dec 12-13, 2003, two avalanche fatalities. Two deadly Washington avalanches: 3 snowshoers (not just one, but the whole party) caught "near" Artist's Point, 1 snowshoer caught in Source Lake Basin following tracks set by a group lead by Mountain Madness Inc..

Mountain, Madness had no business leading folks up avalanche central in Saturday's conditions. It is hard, sometimes, to question our leaders and experts. Their job, after all, is to lead, but is it yours to follow?

Question authority. Not to pick a fight, but to better understand the reasons behind the decision. Help them revisit the decision and prove, not justify, the action to your satisfaction.

Never delegate decisions to others with out understanding them.

I fear that this weekend's avalanche fatalities could be the sign of a disturbing trend. The recreational industry wants to sell as much gear as possible. It is more difficult to sell an activity that appears dangerous or fool-hardy. I fear that the industries reaction to the sad events of this weekend will be to sell more avalanche beacons, or as I call them "corpse finders." It is a simple thing to buy an avalanche beacon, play with it a little, and feel safe whereas what is really needed is the training to be able to identify avalanche zones and route-find around them. Unfortunately, this type of avalanche training is not something I see the industry selling in a box at the local recreation store.

I call upon all of you to educate your fellow back-country users, be they skiers, snowmachines, snowshoers, or others. Promote avalanche classes that emphasize route-finding and safe travel. Help other parties make informed decisions.

YOU can help save lives.
>>. . . I am thinking about my own decision-making process. . . << - markharf







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