Let’s begin with our recent Western U.S. avalanche tragedies. Without delving into nuanced analysis, I’ll dwell on the obvious. It is sad and disconcerting that so many accidents have involved multiple entrainments and fatalities. I’m considering this a wake up call and reminder. If you’re exposed to hazard, do everything possible to expose just one person at a time. Making this happen is easier with a smaller group — I’m a fan of three being the ideal. But situational awareness is key as well. With our sport’s explosion in popularity, you’re bound to share terrain with multiple groups. Given weather or timbered terrain, you may not see groups below you, and they may not know you’re above.
Remember when Backcountry.com was in the news, and not in our hearts? When they invoked legal action against other businesses using the word “backcountry” in their names? But for a public outcry, boycott and other demonstrations of discontent, this ridiculousness could have gotten out of hand. I still wonder how it happened. I’d been involved with Backcountry.com since their founding, as an affiliate publisher, starting when they were called the “Backcountry Store.” They were so nice back then. Then they bought the Backcountry.com domain name for a rumored eighty grand. When you have that kind of paper to toss around, you’ve got power. And that kind of power doesn’t just sit there doing nothing. Latest: They announced the opening of two brick-and-mortar stores to happen this spring.
I’m pro-business, but I’ll be the first to admit that when Wal-Mart comes to town, things change. I saw it happen here in Colorado. If Backcountry’s foray into the world of clothing racks and commercial grade carpet causes just one privately owned specialty backcountry retailer to go under, that’s one too many. Your opinion, readers? More here.
While skiing, I’ve been chased downhill by plenty of dogs. Never by a bear. Apparently, a bruin galloped after this skier, who appears to be entirely oblivious as he makes turn after casual turn. It must have been quite a surprise when he finally looked over his shoulder.
Would you quit skiing your favorite backcountry area if lynx needed it for habitat? Lynx issues have been bandied about for years. Can they coexist with human recreation? Motorized? Non motorized? And should we restrict human access to lands where the cute kitty lives, or might live? As you can expect, I come in on the side of recreation. But I see the dilemma. How much of the backcountry do we obviate through our very presence before it becomes frontcountry? The science will someday tell us what the lynx need, but will we give it to them? More here.
Good news from Wyoming, and something similar could happen near Aspen. Grand Targhee resort will not implement a cat skiing operation in a popular sidecountry zone. From my read, it sounds like they still might develop the area called South Bowl, and the article alludes to someday installing a ski lift, but there’s the possibility they could leave it as, for wont of better term, I’ll call “developed backcountry.” More here.
As for Aspen, one of the best things about the town’s signature hill, Aspen Mountain, is the plethora of small, secretive sidecountry zones that those in the know can access from the lifts. One such zone is known as Pandora’s, a gladed powder stash I and most of my local skier friends have dropped hundreds of times. Aspen Skiing Company can not resist the temptation of developing this fine little gem. You can’t blame them — that’s what they do. But times change. Ski lifts are not as important as they once were. To that point, at least one of the Pandora’s development proposal’s public commenters advocates managing Pandora’s as a “backcountry [avalanche] controlled area.” In my view, that’s what should happen. No specific lift, no grooming, perhaps a bit of logging to open up more terrain. Other than avalanche control, the area is used this way already — there’s even been a modicum of outlaw vegetation management over the years. More here.
Snowflake photos are always delight. This fellow is next level.
I’m a backcountry guy, yet for some reason the idea of urban skiing has always appealed to me. Perhaps it’s the seeming outlaw nature of the activity. Or maybe the domination of concrete and steel by snow and board. In any case, always fun when the media hits on it.
A big shoutout goes to our local friend Peter Arlein of mountainFLOW Eco-wax, the plant based glidy for your planks. His company was selected for the Shark Tank show, and it appears he made a deal. For those new to this sort of product, the concept is basic. Conventional ski wax is petroleum based. It wears off your skis and ends up in the watershed. Eco-wax is biodegradable, and is ostensibly friendlier to the environment. However significant this might be to the overall scheme of environmental challenges, it can’t hurt to use it or other biodegradable wax products. One less thing to worry about. Reportage here.
In covid skiing news, I’ve been watching Austria. I’m jonesing to visit. For now, the only visiting I’ll do is in my imagination. Apparently, if you’re foreigner and choose to enter the country for skiing or whatever, they can ding you for big bucks, in this case $2,633! I suppose I’d better not attempt a stealth mission. Apparently the police search the hotels for scofflaws! While I was googling around, I also landed on this enormous article about the Jackson, Wyoming region’s covid woes. It was an interesting comparative read after studying up on Austria.
Check this article for a good overview of the skiing-riding situation in Europe. It’s not pretty.
Lastly, we have the continuing legal case of the Colorado skiers who triggered a destructive avalanche. They’re looking at a possible $168,000 fine. The case against them is based on a video they shot, then shared with the Colorado Avalanche Info Center out of the goodness of their hearts. No good deed goes unpunished. If the pair are convicted, we hope the court shows leniency. As for the rest of us, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s come close to knocking an avalanche onto an open road. Lesson: “road below” should be included in the list of avalanche red-flag priorities. More here.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.