A little reflection with a red chair.

For the past two evenings I’ve been attending an Avalanche Awareness Class.  After two nights of classroom work and two days in the field this weekend, I’ll be Avalanche I Certified.  The problem is, for the past two nights after coming home, I’ve been off…not myself.  I don’t know how to explain it…just kinda down I guess.  So tonight when I came home I decided to crack a Deschutes Red Chair NWPA (Northwest Pale Ale) and figure it out.  What better way to reflect upon something than with a beer in hand and via my blog?  So I guess that probably answers a lot of “are you pregnant” questions roaming around in my friends minds.  haha.

Anyways, this post will probably feel a lot more like a diary entry than some of my others.  So be warned. 

The first night of class we did the normal ice breaker crap…who are you…what are you doing here….blah blah blah.  I think I said something like “my name is Janna, I’m pretty awesome….I’ve been skiing all my life but just getting into backcountry.  I want to take this class because we are spending more and more time either skiing or snowmobiling in the backcountry.  I also want to take this class because the Hubs has all of this knowledge but I want it for myself, and I want to be able to rescue him if something happens.” 

If something happens….

That’s where I’m getting caught up.  I’ve always known avalanches are a real danger.  Especially when you go outside the comfort of ski area boundaries.  But for whatever reason, the allure of the powder is stronger than that little voice in the back of your head saying it could be dangerous.  It’s good to push yourself, right?  It’s fun.  You’re out there with nature.  You’re getting out of your comfort zone (as long as it’s safe)?  But…I’m completely questioning all of this after 6 hours of class.  Is it worth it? 

It may have been this quote that got me thinking today:

There have been joys too great to be described in words, and there have been griefs upon which I have not dared to dwell; and with these in mind I say: Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.

Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

I think this class has made it all too real for me.  What avalanches look like.  How easily they can happen.  How you never see it coming.  How you only have fifteen minutes to rescue someone before their chances of survival decrease considerably (that includes talking yourself out of a freakout, finding them and digging them out).  That 93% of all avalanches are not natural, they are triggered by a person or tool (snowmobile).  That trauma (not the avalanche) is usually the cause of death.  That digging someone out won’t be like shoveling your driveway….it will be like shoveling cement.  That it will be impossible to do anything but “ride” if you are caught in an avalanche, and that they can travel up to 80 mph.  In fact, they can reach 30 mph within five seconds.    Rescuers have found snow packed down someones nasal canal all the way to their lungs….that’s how forceful these things are. 

Shit.

I began to realize that these words I said on the first day: “I want to be able to rescue my husband if something happens”  were completely irrelevant.   Most likely I won’t be saving him. 

Scary.  Seriously.  Is.It.Worth.It?  I guess that’s the question we all face.  Do I fully acknowledge that a mere second of negligence could destroy a lifetime of happiness?   This is deep stuff people.

On one hand, I’m glad I am fully aware of the dangers.  I’m not just glossing over it like in the past.  I’m not going to be relying solely on The Hubs to make decisions about whether or not we ski something.  I’ll be actively involved and I’ll have the knowledge for myself.   On the other hand, it makes me wonder if we’re better off at home avoiding it all together.

And the ironic thing about all this debate?   I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.

I think (and I hope) I’ll get to a place where I can still go out in the backcountry and enjoy it.  The risk will always be there; it’s never going away.  The key will be to use the tools I’m learning to make educated decisions.   We need to be smart about every decision we make and never do something  because “we worked so hard to get there” or “we will never have the chance again.” 

We need to adopt the attitude that we may just be going out for a tour that day…if we’re lucky…we’ll get to ski.  If not, at least we had a beautiful day and got some exercise.   It will be hard to turn around and walk away from something that could have been amazing.  Especially because there’s no guarantee that something will slide.  Sometimes 3 people can ski down and on the 4th…it slides.  

And you know what?  It’s NOT worth it to me.   But honestly I don’t think it’s about avoiding the situations all together, or staying home.  It’s about being smart.  I don’t want to make decisions that put ourselves in a bad situation. We both have knowledge to make decisions that are in our best interest.  And I promise (myself) that I won’t be complacent.  I won’t let my friends be complacent.  I’m going to play an active role in making decisions regarding my own safety, and if I don’t feel it’s safe.  I won’t ski.  Easy enough.

Besides, someday I want to be pregnant!  Until then I’m going to enjoy this another Red Chair.

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7 comments

  1. I was wondering if you should take that class or not, but I certainly think its best that you learn it for yourself. Avalanches probably about the worst case scenario so it never hurts to be more educated about them. However the knowledge is meant to help stay safe and give insight to what was before unknown. Hopefully you can think back to the snowmobile/ski trip we took to Hoodoo pass during high avalanche conditions. You shouldn’t let fear keep you out of the woods, but knowledge allow you to proceed safely. We assesed the steeper slope and chose to ski a mellow < 25 degree slope and had a blast in some amazing country. While we didn't ski a 1200' powdery chute we did experience something that most people would certainly rather do than spend the day dodging buses!

    1. Awe….HUBS! Now I’m going to have to refer to you by your real name! Thanks for your reply and insight. You’re just worried I won’t go in the backcountry anymore though…haha. Don’t worry, that’s not the case. You’ll just have to wait for me to dig my OWN pit now.

  2. I am so happy you put the bus theory in there. In reality we need to ask ourselves if anything is ultimately safe including staying in the house all the time. Knowledge is scary, someone smart im sure said that. Worst case scenarios suck and education is key in avoiding them but I too got a little more apprehensive about stuff the more I learn about them physiologically. Want me to explain what beer does?! ;-) In the end E is right… the other stuff is usually way more fun than dodging buses or redecorating the inside of the closet…again.

  3. “A women uses her intellect to find ways to support her intuition.” I read this in a feminine lit course years ago and it has always stuck with me. The author’s name escapes me at the moment, but I still thought it was worth sharing.

    The backcountry is no place for an ego. Thank you for sharing your fears and feelings.

    Erin

    PS – The BD Joules are my backcountry ski of choice as well. So choice! They will be my ski of choice on the L’Aiguille Du Midi next month.

    1. That’s a great quote Erin, thanks so much for sharing it! And you’re right: check your ego at the door. Er….car door? haha.

      Ooooo….you’ve got the Joules too? Aren’t they glorious?! I heart them. Have so much fun on your trip!

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