Technical information, news, research, and opinion on avalanches, snow safety, and winter backcountry travel.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Flashlights & Explosions

I don't know what more to ask for, I was given just one wish—Royksopp

I have been writing about avalanches for five years now, and I've done a respectable amount of professional work, all pro bono. Part of that work involves reviewing accident reports for publication, some of it involves avalanche education curriculum, and I do a bit of work involving computer analysis of various things. Every now and again I answer a question from a friend or relative of someone who was killed or injured in an avalanche.

There's something I've noticed that other professionals have noticed as well: the mountains change, the names of the people change, but by and large the accidents are carbon copies of each other. If you've read my blog for long enough, you'll notice that I'm always looking for patterns in piles of data. This is mostly simple process: I'll review literature, with a computer if I have to ( for word counts and semantic analysis ), and I'll ask questions. When all is said and done, I'll think about it, sometimes for a long time, and then I'll arrive at a conclusion. With luck, this conclusion may be useful to others as well.

People have been wondering for a long time if avalanche education makes you more likely to get involved in an accident, and while I don't have a particularly scientific answer to that question, I think it's much fairer to say that the education and training are blamed because they're such easy targets. It's just like sex education ... I mean sex education just teaches teenagers how to have sex, right? So if we stop educating teenagers about sex, the problem will go away. I'm not sure about your politics, but I refuse to let my politics get in the way of my common sense.

In reality, recreational backcountry skiers who are involved in accidents often fail at the most basic of tasks: they choose terrain that is entirely inappropriate for current conditions. Here are some of my ( redacted / additional ) comments for an accident review in which I participated over the past few days.
  • It takes REAL skill and discipline to get the basics right again and again and again.
  • ( You know why? Because the basics are repetitive and dull and pretty fucking boring! )
  • Learning to rigorously apply basics is the heart of skill. Knowing how to do something is not the same as knowing how to do something the right way, but true mastery starts with the basics. If you don't have the basics down, then you're just an amateur, even though it's pretty easy to fool yourself for a long time.
  • But, if you get the basics wrong, pretty much everything else is wrong too, and your knowledge and experience stand a good chance of making things worse. Yeah, knowledge and experience could help... or they might push you closer to the edge. That's really what happens if you get in the habit of ignoring the basics... pretty soon you'll be ignoring more important stuff too.
  • The importance of getting the basics right is well-known in most domains.
  • Everything else is just damage control and/or covering your ass.
The first item is really important. You have to get the basics exactly right, and I don't think you should consider yourself a skillful backcountry skier if you don't know the basics or can't be bothered to apply them. If you skimp on the basics, then everything else is just luck or damage control.

We all know that luck runs out, and damage control ... is for amateurs.

No comments:

Post a Comment