Check the full article on Boulder Weekly website. Excerpt below:
Even for an expert, making the right decision can be tough. After three weeks camped on the Carroll Glacier in Alaska, waiting to ski a certain line after it went into the shade, longtime backcountry skier and guide Donny Roth finally set out for the summit. It was the second to last day before their flight out. He and his team hiked to within 200 feet of the summit and assessed the situation. It was, he says, certain death.
“There was no escape route, there was no way of doing it carefully,” he says. With the money spent and sponsors waiting for content, cameras rolling for skiing films and photographers waiting to grab potential cover shots of that perfect line and the full moon rising behind it, he pulled the plug.
“It was heartbreaking,” he says.
Staying safe in the backcountry can be tough even for the experts, requiring some careful decision making that draws on knowledge and experience. So how much harder for the mere mortals? But as more retailers market the idea of individual freedom of the backcountry and ski areas get more crowded, more people are turning to backcountry terrain to do their skiing.
The 2011-2012 season was a particularly harsh year for backcountry avalanche fatalities. Thirty-four people lost their lives in avalanches in the United States, which is two short of the annual record. Many of them were experienced and knowledgeable skiers. No amount of training can guarantee survival, but a little knowledge can go a long way. The steps to building that knowledge — and gaining the associated gear and experience — can begin with an investment as small as a couple hours of time and zero dollars.
Grassroots organizations like Friends of Berthoud Pass have cropped up around the country to offer free clinics on avalanche awareness. In addition to safety and access, making avalanche education accessible to more people has been one of the mission statements guiding the Friends of Berthoud Pass since its founding in 2004.
Though the Berthoud Pass ski area closed in the late 1990s and the lodge was bulldozed and lifts removed, that didn’t seem to deter people from skiing at one of the early entries in the Colorado ski scene. In fact, the first year after it closed reportedly saw more skiers than the previous year. But even with maintained slopes and avalanche mitigation, the resort had seen avalanches in bounds. The risks increased without them, while skiers carved turns often operating under the impression that, as a former ski resort, these lines were safer.
Friends of Berthoud Pass began as a grassroots movement to advocate for the Forest Service to keep the terrain open to backcountry skiing, interfacing with the federal agency to represent the interests of backcountry skiers. But they’ve also developed an avalanche education program designed to keep more people safe in the backcountry. In the eight years since they started teaching avalanche awareness classes, there has only been one avalanche fatality in the Berthoud Pass area.
Shan Sethna, executive director of Friends of Berthoud pass, was among the former ski instructors and veteran backcountry skiers who recognized a need for continued education in avalanche safety. “We took it upon ourselves to start offering free introductory classes, free awareness classes to the public in 2004, primarily targeting college campuses. That’s our No. 1 risk demographic,” Sethna says. Roughly 1,200 people attend those classes, including two days on the snow.
The entire article continues here.