Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Be snow smart

Avalanche season has started with a fury. Two snowboarders were killed in Northern Idaho this week, one killed in Nevada, seven in Utah, three in Montana, two in Washington and one in Colorado. And the season has just begun.

In more than one instance, a skier or snowboarder went into closed, uncontrolled terrain or ignored avalanche warnings.

Central Idaho survived the big storm of Jan. 7-9 without incident, though plenty of people tempted the fates by going out of bounds without really knowing what they were headed into. They were luckier than they were smart.

Last year a scientist named Ian McCammon presented a paper at a conference in British Columbia that examined 598 avalanche accidents between 1972 and 2001. He found the following:

· Those with advanced avalanche training exposed themselves to the same risk as those without training if they were on familiar terrain. "I've skied this before, it was safe then."

· Victims who had met other people in the area prior to the accident exposed themselves to much greater hazards than those who had met no one on the way. "Other people are doing it, it must be safe."

· Those more "committed" to a given adventure exposed themselves to more risk. "We've come this far ... ."

· Groups that felt they were "competing" for powder put themselves in riskier situations than they otherwise would have.

Be smart, don't fall into these "mind traps" when the next storm comes along.

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