No friends on a powder day is proving itself to be more and more outdated. With fatter and fatter skis on our feet, we seek out every last stash. We crave one more smooth turn, one more face shot, and one more soft landing. The risks are inherent and we try to mitigate them the best we can. But there are pockets and tree wells. And that’s where your buddy comes in. Who will pull you out if no one sees you go in?
We talk about skiing with a buddy on deep days, but what does that actually mean? It starts with having meeting places in case you get separated. That could be at the bottom of the run or the bottom of a specific lift. This is good practice for all days. On deep days, we like to take this one step further: always keep your partner in sight. Have slower skiers go first and the stronger skiers go last. Stop in safe places along the way to re-group. The best places to safely stop include visible spots on higher ground away from tree wells. I bring up tree wells because they are just as big of a culprit as avalanches in taking skiers. Tree wells are defined as a void that forms around the base of a tree, usually loose snow around it. Pro Patrollers around the country spend many early mornings mitigating inbound avalanche hazards. However, there is nothing we can do to mitigate the dangers of tree wells. Our best bet as skiers is avoidance. They do mark themselves well with a tree, but accidents happen. So keep each other in site. Time and time again I hear stories of skiers and snowboarders alike finding themselves head first in a tree well and their ski buddy being right there to pull them out.
Last December on one of those epic powder days, Crystal skiers stopped to help another skier who was buried by an avalanche on the trail I-5. They probed in likely spots and eventually found her in a tree well downhill of where she was last seen. The rescuers were comprised of your average powder day skier. And they did everything right. They called ski patrol immediately to alert us to the situation and their exact location. They attempted a beacon search and began a rough but productive probe line, probing in possible areas she could have been buried. In the end, they found her. Most importantly, she was okay. These friends weren’t necessarily the friends she came skiing with, but like-minded individuals that accept the risks together.
So perhaps there is something to friends on a powder day. There are many of us that owe our next powder day to our friends’ actions. As a community, let’s work together to ski another day. And we will get there by building good friends.
For more information on Deep Snow safety visit: www.deepsnowsafeety.org