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Living Large

The culture of extreme skiers

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J.D. points out that they don’t get surprised very often in the backcountry. "I’ve been going into the mountains a long time, not just as a skier but hiking, climbing, winter mountaineering, and you develop a mountain sense."

Although he admits there are some objective dangers, "You can’t really predict."

"There’s a risk-to-benefit ratio with avalanches," Joe tries to explain.

"In other words you balance how dangerous a slope looks against how nice it looks to ski?" I ask.

"I suppose, but when an expert goes down, it’s usually a snowpack anomaly, whereas when it’s a rookie, the avalanche is most likely caused by the victim."

However, both admit that sometimes good skiers allow their physical ability to overwhelm their mountain sense.

"Sometimes patrollers go out and analyze an avalanche that has claimed a life and they look at the situation and wonder what the hell the guy was thinking," says Joe.

"It’s not a matter of getting down it, it’s a matter of finding it in the right condition," says J.D.

"Then there’s failure of human perception," says Joe. "It’s happened to me, it’s happened to J.D"

"Yeah that’s how I got this," says J.D pointing to the scar on his forehead. "I let my guard down because I was in bounds, I got too close to the edge of a cliff even though it was a really obvious place for a slab to detach. So it let go and I went about 50 feet through the air and hit the bowl, then the bowl let go and I went another couple of hundred feet."

Obviously the two of them accept the inherent dangers of their chosen sport, but does everyone?

"There is a stigma about what we do in some circles," says Joe. "Ironically from mountaineers, of all people. You know my skis are tools just as much as an ice axe. They’re what I use to get back down the mountain. But climbers kind of look down on that as not a noble pursuit. You know, you can rappel off a mountain or down climb it, but not carve it."

Well rivalries between different types of thrill seekers is one thing, but I was thinking more along the lines of say girlfriends.

"It’s not easy on relationships," says J.D. "My girlfriend is a ski patroller – and she has issues with what I do. But generally speaking girls in Whistler aren’t going to be interested in a guy working a desk. The downside is we’re away a lot and it’s dangerous."