Venture into the mountains and you will be met with an intoxicating mix of inspiring landscapes and pristine nature, you will also be subject to the multitude of daily variables that decide whether the slopes on which you slide are safe.
Avalanches are as natural as the mountains themselves and witnessing mother nature shake off her excess load is both awe-inspiring and terrifying.Thanks to the advances in avalanche science we now know a lot more about why avalanches occur, but we also know that the snow forms only one part of the avalanche puzzle.
The avalanche trigger, is often skiers or snowboarders, who venture beyond the rope in full knowledge of what lies ahead and fully prepared to manage a day in the off-piste. Snowpack history or weather conditions will tell us a lot (as long as we know how to read the signs) but it’s almost impossible to predict the human mind and what decisions we will take.
Why is it that some people are able to back away from a questionable run, whilst others are tempted to take the risk? “It’s not wort hit.” Words we often hear when considering risky snow conditions, but how do we act when faced with a situation where the balance of ‘worth’ is hard to evaluate?
Backing away from something that in all likelihood is dangerous, but also looks like bad skiing, isn’t that hard, but backing away from something that is most likely dangerous, but also looks like good skiing is notas easy. And then, after hiking for five hours to a fresh canvas of steep, deep snow, what about backing away from something that looks like the perfect run, that’s a decision that will not come easy, but it’s the one we all need to master.
The most important thing to remember when you start the day is that backing off can never be a bad decision, unlike driving a car without a seatbelt at 150km/h, which is always a bad idea. Regardless if you crash or not it’s still a bad decision. Even though you might return to the a près ski and hear tales of bottomless turns in the exact area from which you returned, it was still a good decision. The most important thing, every single day is returning home, safely.
Taking the right decision is about lifelong learning, a combination of spending time in the mountains and keeping your head and senses clear, so that you can take in the information and interpret it correctly. Jeremy Jones, who has spent more time in the mountains than most talks of listening to the mountain – “I try to have a very fluid mind that is open to the signals the mountains are giving me and sometimes that means riding back down the boot pack because of safety concerns.”
Backing away is an essential skill to master and needs regular practice, on days with and without powder. Each time you take that decision, mother nature will look at you with respect and your mountain karma will grow, and that’s a great way to learn for a lifetime in the mountains.