Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Getting ?Snowstruck?

Avalanche expert Jill Fredston shares experience

Express Staff Writer

Jill Fredston will give a talk and slideshow presentation on her latest book ?Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches.?

Ever since Jill Fredston was about 6 years old she has had a curious interest in snow and ice. In her life-long pursuit on the subjects, Fredston has become North America's leading expert on avalanches.

On Thursday, Jan. 25, at The Community Library in Ketchum, Fredston will present a talk and slideshow on her latest book, "Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches," which is a compilation of 25 years of her living and thinking about avalanches.

"I felt I could offer a unique inside perspective," Fredston said. "They don't happen by accident, and we often have this attitude that we are innocent victims."

Fredston and her husband, Doug Fesler, have done a great deal of avalanche education, forecasting, rescue, hazard mitigation, explosive control, consulting and mapping. They also do a fair amount of rescue work.

"Often, the helicopters land at the top of our driveway, and we have about 15 minutes to get ready," she said. "We respond to missions all over Alaska, which can take hours."

"Snowstruck," according to Fesler, is a book that encompasses all perspectives of avalanches, and even if a reader is not an avalanche savvy person one can learn something without even realizing it.

"The snow and avalanches have their own terms, but really that makes it pretty easy. It's a clear set of rules. Avalanches happen, and if you pay attention and allow a little bit of room the clues are there," Fredston said. "If you pay attention, you can be a happy backcountry skier."

Fredston compiled many stories and photographs with the goal of telling stories that had a great deal of power.

"Stories are told of how someone could not move a finger buried under snow or just a pizza box of snow covering sent them down the mountain, and now they're in a wheelchair," she said.

Fredston believes there is a great deal to learn about avalanches, especially for people who don't go to the mountains.

"There is no such thing as a new accident. We have seen everything," she said. "All that really changes are the faces of the people involved and the families."

In addition, Fredston believes that we do not do a good job preparing for natural disasters, but that we are masters of recovery.

"There is a major natural disaster everywhere around the world," Fredston said. "We act as though it never happened before. If we keep acting surprised all the time we will keep getting slaughtered."

Both Fredston and her husband are extremely comfortable with hazard. They know how to maneuver deep snow cover and navigate wavy icy water from their experience.

"I think each of us really is an accident trying not to make mistakes. We are all blinded to some degree by our human agenda and what we think we can do," she said. "You make decisions on different terms. Snow is a unique material on the planet flowing like honey or splintering like glass."

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