In Jackson, Wyoming the snowboarder who killed a skier in February of 2005 was sentenced yesterday. At Jackson Hole Resort, Greg Doda straightlined a ski run then hit a woman at around 47 mph., virtually knocking her head off. According to an article in the Jackson Hole News, Doda said he rode his snowboard at a fast speed but â€œwas not out of control.” We hope the young man has changed his definition of “control.” Otherwise his six months in jail might have been better as years — to protect the rest of us.
Interestingly, the judge at Doda’s trial criticized ski resorts for doing little to prevent this sort of thing. Skiing and riding should be sports of freedom and a bit of wild behavior comes with the territory, but from what we’ve seen ski resorts could indeed reign things in a bit. Yet truth be told, where is the incentive to do so? That’s like telling a bar to sell less whisky because someone might get drunk. So how does this relate to backcountry skiing? Let’s just say I’d rather deal with an avalanche than a 16 year old maniacal kid straightlining a ski run straight at me!
In Oregon, county sheriff Joe Wampler has suspended the search for a pair of climbers missing for eleven days on Mount Hood. Their companion was found dead in a snowcave near the summit a few days ago — the two missing climbers are presumed to have become disoriented in a brutal storm and fallen off the mountain, or been blown off by 100 mph winds as they tried to escape. Most of this tragic debacle was sadly predictable, but a few interesting things came to light.
It turns out that a cell phone does function fairly well as a personal locator beacon. As long as it’s turned on, the phone can be “pinged” and a location triangulated. That’s of course assuming you’re within range of a few cell towers. More, cell phones with GPS capability will function as a highly accurate locater and need only transmit a signal to any receiver.
Lesson one with Mount Hood is that traveling light (as the climbers were doing) can be a huge problem if you’re stranded. It’s easy to survive for days on end in a snowcave if you’ve got a bit of food, some damp resistant insulation and perhaps a stove. But with just a thin damp jacket and little or no food you’ll rapidly succumb to hypothermia. What’s sad is that even if the Hood climbers had used more communication technology, they were stranded in a gigantic storm with no possibility of rescue, so without gear they would have just sat in a snow cave and chatted while dying of exposure, like Mount Everest climbers have done on their sat phones. Even so, having effective communication is a no brainer because it could indeed get you out of trouble (or at least help reduce risk to rescue teams by eliminating the necessity of massive search efforts).
Thus lesson two, if you’re doing backcountry activities where you have cell phone reception, leave your phone turned on and carry a spare battery in case you get stranded. Good bet for a spare battery are the small “rechargers” sold at most discount stores. I keep one of these in my emergency kit most of the time. Another lesson I inferred from the Hood reports is to carry said cell phone in a waterproof container such as a ziplock.
Best coverage of the Mount Hood events is probably at OregonLive.com
And lastly, back here in Colorado we’ve got an immense amount of new backcountry ski terrain on tap for the coming decades. Turns out the region’s pine beetle infestation will likely cause an apocalyptic change in our state landscape, creating more treeless timberline terrain as well as large swaths of open land that’s now heavily timbered with unnaturally dense overgrown forest. Bummer for this generation is the insect loggers won’t have completed their work for decades, as the standing dead trees left by their initial attack will remain standing for years and may even cause our forests to become quite hazardous from falling trees if you’re caught in a dead grove during a windstorm. But the ski resorts are already talking about cutting new ski runs by logging out the dead and infested trees. Tree huggers take note: if beetles can kill zillions of trees, what’s wrong with logging a few so we can build houses and wood core skis? Nothing, unless you’re a specist and put beetles over humans in terms of their right to log. Article in Denver Post.
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.