Pow­der’s dan­ger­ous ca­ress

Action Asia - - COMMENT -

IT WAS MY FIRST BACK­COUN­TRY TOUR and, as luck would have it, it had dumped all night be­fore and was still dump­ing as we drove out with our guide. A bluff Kiwi with heaps of ex­pe­ri­ence, he is­sued us with the nec­es­sary avalanche kit: trans­ceiver, probes, shovel, then took us off into the trees. That morn­ing we worked two snow-choked gul­lies, fol­low­ing the guide’s vir­gin tracks which twisted be­tween trees and crossed and re­crossed streams deep un­der the snow. The two of us who were board­ing had to be es­pe­cially care­ful to keep our speed and not get bogged in all the snow. Still it came down. It was some of the best con­di­tions we’d ever seen – and among us were skiers who had grown up in the Alps and Rock­ies. The spread of abil­i­ties was wide though and we started to string out more and more. Af­ter lunch we re­turned to the gul­lies. At one point I fell in a hol­low and had to work hard to get back up and rolling again. The oth­ers were gone as I re­gained a trail and picked up speed to dip down across the stream and up the other side. Swoop­ing up the op­po­site bank, I nosed lightly through the top layer of fresh as I swung about. Sud­denly a soft wash of snow came over my boots. I slowed quickly to a halt as the slide con­tin­ued over my knees. It wasn’t stop­ping. I swept snow around me as fast as I could as it mounted over my waist. Prop­erly scared now, I could only keep sweep­ing and hope the slide would stop. It stopped when it reached my chest. Re­lieved I wasn’t go­ing to be en­tombed af­ter all, I started to dig. Two other board­ers showed up with shov­els and soon I was out, un­hurt. It was a salu­tary les­son. Our group of six was too many for one guide, es­pe­cially given our dif­fer­ing abil­i­ties. And, no mat­ter how many guides we might have had, we needed to look out bet­ter for each other, to be in a po­si­tion to help with the gear we all had on our backs, if it was needed. Hav­ing the kit is es­sen­tial – page 43 of this is­sue’s Great Gear Guide can help there – but if you are head­ing into the back­coun­try this win­ter, take care, guided or not. Learn about snow con­di­tions, fol­low the guid­ance of the ski pa­trol, watch out for each other, don’t get com­pla­cent. Be ad­ven­tur­ous by all means, but also be safe.

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