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New Strategies for Avalanche Survival? | UNITED STATES, WYOMING | 01/30/2009, by Ski Waheenie
Sometimes we, as backcountry skiers, can get carried away with talking about safety. We say things like, "If only they had known about the depth hoar and re-examined that Q6 Rutschblock result, we might not have had to use our multiple burial function on our S1, Blah Blah Blah...."
We carry around magnifying glasses to study snow crystals in our spare time. We scoff at the concept of plastic shovels. We bury powerful people under 6 feet of snow, just to see how long they can survive!
Statistically, driving to go backcountry skiing is more dangerous than actually skiing in the backcountry. This statement is almost cliché, but here is the math:
22 car-accident fatalities/100,000 licensed drivers = .022% chance of death
Nobody seems to know how many people are backcountry skiers, but the ski industry reports $139 million of backcountry gear sold in 2007. Let's be generous and assume that each backcountry skier spent $1000. One can interpret this to mean that there are 139,000 backcountry skiers in the US.
On average over the past 10 years, the US has had 25 avalanche deaths each year.
25 avalanche deaths/139,000 backcountry skiers = about .018% chance of dying in an avalanche. (That's .00018)
The risk of driving is higher, but I know that I spend more time worrying about and trying to avoid death by avalanche.
I'll be the first person to call BS on statistics. They are manipulative, yada yada yada. All I know is that I don't want to get caught in an avalanche. I'm scared. So what should I do?
Here's what we've been hearing for the last 10, 20, 30? years:
Beacon ($300) + Shovel ($50) + Probe ($50) + Education ($300).
Although these things have no doubt saved many many lives, some statistics show that backcountry skiers are unrelentlessly stupid. We don't know how to use our beacons, we aren't strong enough to shovel, we ignore everything that we learn and mortality rates have failed to improve. In fact, the more safety knowledge that we have, the more likely we are to get caught in an avalanche! Is that $700 well spent?
Avalanche Airbags ($1000), on the other hand, reduce avalanche mortality rates from about 35% to 1.3%!!! So here is an open question:
Should we, as a backcountry skiing community, re-think avalanche safety?
Could it possibly be as easy as wearing an avalanche airbag?(The American pill popping dream come true...)
Please comment below! Our intention here is simply to invoke meaningful conversation and awareness- we are not advocating for or against any particular solution...