Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Beware of powder?s lure

New powder snow on Baldy is the ultimate sensation for adventurous skiers who throw caution to the winds and look for new thrills where few dare to go. But it also can be a disaster in waiting for the incautious and foolhardy.

Some skiers are tempted to go off-trail to experience the high of carving new trails in backcountry areas that are totally isolated and not covered by ski patrols. The evidence is everywhere these days—tracks snaking through out-of-bounds areas where avalanche danger is high.

This is foolish. Despite the allure of fresh powder in unpatrolled areas, wise skiers remain in the controlled areas on Baldy where help is near in the event of problems or accidents.

Consider the remarkable rescue of a 13-year-old skier who was overcome by a small avalanche on Baldy inside the ski boundaries. Buried by the snow and unable to free himself, he nevertheless was saved in 11 minutes because ski patrol rescuers were nearby.

Had he been outside the boundaries in an unpatrolled area, he might well have perished before he was discovered missing and rescue efforts could have begun.

The ski season has been blessed with a plentiful series of snowfalls, certainly enough to please skiers of all skills. But they have made avalanche danger high.

Baldy is not only known internationally for its diversity of runs that range from challenging for experts to pleasant for the less skilled, but also for the mint condition of runs maintained by constant grooming and attention to safety standards.

So, when the avalanche danger is high, there's no genuine justification for skiers to venture into backcountry areas and to risk an avoidable tragedy.

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