“They were a group of experienced backcountry skiers.” “They had all the equipment that they're supposed to have.”
“They had emergency beacons to be able to call for help” … and finally the quote: “Unfortunately, even with that, this person died in this avalanche.”
The above statements have been said over and over in past years, usually whenever another unfortunate person loses their life in an avalanche.
As if being equipped with beacons, probes, ABS-packs and shovel would make an avalanche stop itself from burying you!
Yes, it goes without saying that all this equipment—and the knowledge of how to use it—is important, and one should never go into the backcountry without it.
However, knowledge of terrain and snowpack are at least as—if not more—importantthan all this gear.
Quotes, such as those above, can so mislead a kid to think that because they have “the gear” they can now ski the “rad line.” I wish that people would become more aware that it's the terrain (coupled with an unstable snowpack) that they enter that kills them!
To read the terrain correctly, you need courses, mentors and years of backcountry travel—and even then, sometimes, an accident can happen.
You can travel in the backcountry quite safely even in high-avalanche danger as long as you pick and choose the right terrain in which to travel. This goes for uptrack and descent, as well as the neighbouring slopes that can set an avalanche loose to spill into your line of travel.
So please, all of you young (and not-so-young) whippersnappers out there, who feel they have to prove something in the backcountry, educate yourself not only about the gear and how to use it, but start learning to read the terrain.
Sometimes you might just have to stick to a 25-degree slope instead of whatever other descent you had in mind.
That other descent, it will still be there for you on another day, maybe in the spring, where “maybe” the conditions might be a bit safer.
Patience in the backcountry might not only be a virtue, it might save lives.
Mountain Guide, Whistler