Tag Archives | Ski Safety

How to Survive the White Ribbon of Death

Photo: Chandler Burgess

Photo: Chandler Burgess

Whether your season’s already started (I’m looking at you, Killington and Sunday River) or you’re planning to ski as soon as your mountain opens, there’s a good chance you’re going to encounter something scarier than a zombie apocalypse (hey, Halloween’s coming. Go with it).

Yes, I mean the dreaded White Ribbon of Death.


Don’t run away screaming. I know it’s frightening, but there are ways to ski it and live to tell the tale. It just takes courage, fortitude, and a little bit of knowledge.

In case you don’t know, the White Ribbon of Death (aka WROD) is the narrow strip of artificial snow ski areas put down early in the season so they can open before Mother Nature cooperates. Generally, it’s populated by about a zillion people, all hopped up because they haven’t skied in a loooong, looooong time. Add in not-so-great conditions, and you’ve got a scary situation. You pretty much take your life in your hands when you ski it — not that that keeps anyone (including me) away.

So what should you do?

• Keep it in perspective. Sure, you’re loaded with excitement. After all, it’s been a long, long summer. But you’re not the only one who feels this way. SO — don’t expect to be all alone out there. It’s going to be really, really crowded. And don’t think it’s going to be knee deep powder, either.  Face facts: The conditions are usually pretty marginal. Just know what you’re in for before you show up.

• Make the necessary adjustments. Whatever you’re skiing on, make sure to check your bindings to be sure they release properly. It’d be pretty awful to take a fall and be out for the rest of the season.

• Use ’em if you’ve got ’em. Old skis, that is. There isn’t that much of a base and you’ll probably encounter a rock or two. So if you want to preserve your good skis, keep them for when conditions improve.

• Don’t dress for the polar vortex. It’s very early season. There’s plenty of cold weather to come. You can leave your heavy stuff at home. Layers help, so you can shed or add as needed.

• It might not be a long day.  You may only get a few runs in before the crowds or conditions get to you. That’s okay. The whole purpose of skiing the WROD is just to get out there. In fact, you may want to bag the whole first tracks thing and start a bit later, when everyone else is fed up with the crowds and long lines and has quit for the day.

• Relax and have fun. Remember, it’s not the only time you’re going to ski this season. There’s plenty more to come. So if you only get a few runs, think about the whole long season stretching out before you. And smile.

• If you do ski the WROD, report back. Share your story. Let us know how if you skied it — and lived.

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A Chat with Freeskiing Champion Elyse Saugstad

Elyse Saugstad.

Elyse Saugstad (Photo by Anthony Solis)

In the world of skiing, Elyse Saugstad stands on one of the highest peaks. Winner of the Freeride World Tour in 2008 and recipient of the Best Female Performance Award at the Powder Awards in 2013, she was also named one of the Top 50 Women in Action Sports by ESPN in 2014.

Not too shabby. (There’s more, too. Go here for the full run-down.)

But Elyse has another title that some of you may not know about: Survivor. In 2012, she was in a group caught in an avalanche at Tunnel Creek in Stevens Pass, Washington. Three people died; Elyse survived by deploying an avalanche airbag. Since the group included some of the nation’s top professional skiers, as well as writers and a photographer from POWDER magazine, the avalanche received a lot of media attention. There’s a terrific interactive article about the whole thing in the New York Times (you can find it here), which I highly recommend.

I spoke with Elyse recently from her home in Tahoe.

Q: So Elyse, how’d you get started in freeskiing, anyway?
A: I started skiing before I could walk. As I grew up I got into racing, and I did well, but I burned out in high school. Then when I went to college I had a lot of friends who were really into freeskiing. I wasn’t racing anymore and I really missed skiing, so I went in that direction. And it was so much fun! I grew up in the big mountains of Alaska, and I think that helped, too. After I graduated I eventually moved to Squaw and became a pro skier. That was about ten years ago.

Q: You’ve made a number of ski movies. Are you working on anything right now?
A. Funny you should ask. My husband, Cody Townsend, who’s another professional skier, worked with Matchstick Productions; he had this incredible performance in Days of My Youth – you really should see it — but he wanted to do something a little bit different. So we decided to work together on a movie. It’s called Conquering the Useless. The title refers to a quote from one of Cody’s favorite alpinists, Reinhold Messner, who is one of the greatest alpinists of modern time, and the quote relates to his philosophy of climbing and mountains and how it’s an act of Conquering the Useless.. We brought in Team 13, a production company based in Salt Lake City, as the cinematographer and editor. But since Cody is the producer it’s sort of like an independent ski film. Cody and I are in it, along with Chris Rubens and Dave Treadway. It’ll be out the end of September. I’m working on the website for it now.

Q: I understand you’ll be heading down to South America soon. 
A: Yes, I’ll be heading down at the end of the month to host a camp.

Q: I know you offer avalanche clinics. Is this going to be one of those?
A: No, that happens in early winter. I have to say that I’m really proud of my SAFE AS clinics. I started them with Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso, Ingrid Backstrom, Lel Tone and Sherry McConkey and Ingrid Backstrom. One day we were sitting around drinking coffee and talking about avalanches, and we decided it’d be really great to offer a women’s specific avalanche course. Most avalanche classes are made up of men. We thought if we created an environment that was for women only, then they’d feel more comfortable and be more likely to come get educated. Plus they could meet other women to become back country partners. We do it in December because for most of the winter we’re pursuing professional our ski careers, so we’re not all available. In the past we’ve held the clinics in Colorado, Squaw, Utah, and Washington.

Q: Has avalanche training changed as a result of what happened to you? Do you think you have a different perspective or a different way of teaching?
A: Most definitely. I think it’d be disastrous if I walked away from that event unchanged or unable to reflect on it. I do a lot of public speaking, and it helps me come to terms with what happened that day. And that’s hard to do, going over everything and taking apart all the things that went into it — this or that could have led to our demise. So I think humility is a very important thing in being a skier – not only a professional skier, but anyone who skis, either in the backcountry or in bounds. We can’t always think that resorts are the safest places, either. The mountains are alive. But that’s part of what makes skiing so fun. It’s really good to have the knowledge of what’s going on out there and to bring that to the forefront, to remind skiers that we need to be educated and make the right decisions.

Elyse Saugstad, Girdwood Alaska (Photo:Adam Clark)

Elyse Saugstad, Girdwood Alaska
(Photo:Adam Clark)

Q: I see you’re a big proponent of avalanche airbags and that you attribute your survival in the avalanche to that piece of equipment. Is that something you advocate in your clinics?
A: I do believe it saved my life. And I think it should be a part of everyone’s safety protocol along with your transceiver, your probe, your shovel, and above all, your brain. I’m hoping that as time goes by and as people become more and more familiar with these backpacks, they’ll become as standard a piece of equipment as those other items are.

Q: I saw in the Times article that after you activated the airbag you thought, ‘gee, I wonder if I’m overreacting,’ which I thought was interesting because I think that’s such a natural response. And as it turned out it was the right move.
A: Yes. When I do my talks about the avalanche, that’s one of the things I like to put out there, because there are several reasons why someone would hesitate to pull the lever on their airbag backpack, like, ‘oh, man, this may cost a lot, I shouldn’t pull it, I’ll have to replace the canister.’ But that’s what it’s there for in the first place. For other people – and this is more in my category – it’s about ego. You think, ‘Everyone is going to make fun of me. I’m going to look like a wimp for worrying that something is going wrong when actually nothing is happening.’ It’s understandable, but if that action could save your life then why wouldn’t you do it. Now I’m glad I did.

Q: What advice do you have for someone just starting out in backcountry?
A: Find an avalanche or snow safety course. A lot of resorts offer some kind of talks, and there are web sites that can help you find classes. Then build your gear as you go along. There are so many people out there who are knowledgable. Take advantage of it.

Q: Since you went through the avalanche, has your relationship with skiing changed?
A: Probably not in the way people might think; that I’d be scared to go out there. The kind of skiing I do can be very, very frightening. But the one thing the avalanche did was make me more methodical than I was in the past. I really think through where I’m going and what I do and who I’m skiing with; I don’t naively put my trust in others, which I used to do a lot more readily. I still love skiing more than anything and I think that in life in general there’s risk, so I do what I can to minimize that as much as possible.  I’ve learned how to say no, and I think I’ve become more confident in being able to speak up and say that I’m not comfortable with something. I’ve done pretty well so far. I’m always aware that there’s always an unknown.

Q: Was it difficult for you to get back out there?
A: You know, it really wasn’t. I started skiing about a week after the avalanche. For me, it was cathartic to be out there with friends. There was so much media attention around that incident. But my friends understood our lifestyle, what we go through. They were very supportive and it felt comfortable. And I wanted to jump back on the horse. I didn’t want skiing to become something I was scared of.

[editor’s note: Take the time to watch Elyse’s TED talk on fear. It’s well worth seeing.]


Q: I read your interview in Powder, and it said you’d been having difficulty getting sponsors, which pretty much blows my mind.
A: Yeah, you know, it’s difficult in being a female in action sports or in sports in general.

Q: Why do you think that is, and what does that say about women in the ski industry? It reminds me of Lynsey Dyer* and ‘Pretty Faces.’ She had a lot of trouble getting sponsors for her movie, and ended up running a Kickstarter campaign with tremendous response. She ended up doing very well.
A: It has a lot to with the ski companies. I’m sorry to say that some of the people who are in charge just don’t see women as a valuable asset to their companies. They don’t see that the women’s market is as important as it is. The Pretty Faces movie should have been a very good example for them. I mean, look, you may not want be fund ski movies that feature women, but the public will. They want to see them; they want to be inspired. I don’t think the industry noticed. It’s still the token female syndrome, where you have one female per company. It’s really unfortunate.

I feel like there’s been a lot of women in action sports who’ve put themselves out there on social media to get attention. They may be amazing athletes, but they put themselves out there in bikinis. It doesn’t make sense. It’s an interesting situation.

Q: You’ve had some amazing accomplishments. What are your goals now?
A: I’d like to do more public speaking, things along those lines. I want to promote skiing in positive ways to inspire females, from young girls to older women. As long as I’m doing that and making a difference, that’s good.


For more information about Elyse Saugstad and her SAFE AS avalanche clinics, visit her website here.

* To see my interview with Lynsey Dyer, go here.

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How much risk can you handle: On sharks and skiing.

SharkGrowing up on the Jersey Shore, I was totally freaked out by the movie Jaws. So I did what any self-respecting coward would do: I didn’t see it until I moved away. I loved swimming in the ocean, and I was afraid the Great White in the movie would scare me enough to keep me out of the water.

I know, it’s a movie, with very little science to back it up. But still, fear is very rarely rational.

This summer the people in North Carolina are going through their own version of Jaws. They’ve had  eight shark attacks since June 11. And as frightening as this sounds, it’s still very, very rare. According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, our chances of being attacked by a shark are just one in 11.5 million. You’re more likely to be killed by a dog or a snake, or even in a car collision with a deer. You’re also 30 times more likely to be killed by lightning and three times more likely to drown.

All this made me think about risk, and how much we’re prepared to take on to do something we love.

Yes, there are accidents in sports. And yes, it is possible to lose your life — which is also something you risk every time you get in your car. The best you can do is make sure to take the proper safety precautions. For skiing, that means wearing a helmet, keeping your bindings and equipment adjusted properly and in good working order, being aware of your surroundings, skiing in control, and skiing in terrain appropriate to your ability.

I recently came upon a chart that compares fatality rates in a number of sports, and I thought it was interesting enough to post it here (it’s from Bandolier, an evidence-based journal on health care from the UK). Granted, some of the data is old, but still, worth looking at.

Sports risk

Skiing is pretty far down on the list.

From the same source, here’s another chart that compares fatalities in a number of sports with everyday activities.



Again, skiing is waaaaay down there.

Eye opening, isn’t it?

The bottom line is this: you can live your life wrapped in cotton and never do anything at all, or you can get out there, have fun, and do what you can to keep yourself safe.

Oh, and if you’re worried about sharks, here’s some recommended reading from the NY Times: Should swimmers worry about sharks?


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Getting to the top.

I live not too far from Suicide Six, a small mountain in Vermont that prides itself on being the first lift-served ski area in the US. The mountain installed a rope tow in 1934, a couple years before the country’s first chair lift went into service at Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1936.

Ski lifts have come a long way since then. Today you can ride a tram, gondola, high-speed quad, double, triple, rope tow, J-bar, T-bar, and Magic Carpet, to name a few. And oh, the places you’ll go. The Peak-To-Peak Tram at Whistler-Blackcomb, for example, spans 4.4 km in just 11 minutes. The Aerial Tram at Jackson Hole takes you 4,139 vertical feet in 15 minutes. And the Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky brings you up to 11,166 feet, climbing 1,450 ft over a distance of 2,828 ft. Lifts open up terrain that would otherwise be inaccessible to the majority of skiers, and substantially expand a resort’s skiable acreage. Skiing wouldn’t be the same without them.

Single Chair, Mad River Glen

Single Chair, Mad River Glen

People get incredibly attached to lifts. Here in Vermont, it’s not unusual to see a house with an old lift chair or gondola cabin in the yard. And then there’s the historic single chair at Mad River Glen, which has a mystique all its own. When the mountain refurbished its lift in 2007, the old chairs were auctioned off to raise funds, with a minimum starting bid of $1,000. They sold.

Every now and then you hear a crazy ski lift story in the news. In 2010, five chairs fell 25-30 feet from a lift at Sugarloaf, Maine, injuring six people. In 2009, a nearly 40-year-old lift at Devil’s Head, Wisconsin, ran backwards at an out-of-control rate of speed, overriding the safety brakes and injuring 14 people. Luckily, these are exceptions rather than the rule. Statistics compiled by the National Ski Areas Association show only 12 chairlift fatalities in North America between 1973, when data collection started, and 2011 (the date of the source I found), making chairlifts safer than cars, escalators, or elevators.

Ski resorts do a lot of lift maintenance, refurbishment, and installation during the summer. This year my local mountain, Okemo, is installing a six-person bubble chair, complete with heated seats, to replace a high-speed detachable quad. It’s the first one like it in North America, and it’s been interesting to read people’s reactions on the internet. Some see it as an absolute travesty, more evidence of the corporatization and sanitation of the ski experience — which I think  is pretty silly. Unless you’re hiking, you have to rely on some sort of automatic conveyance to get to the top, and I see little difference between the new lift and riding a tram or a gondola. All offer wind protection and a larger group of passengers than a typical chair — except with the bubble lift, you don’t have to remove your skis, which to me is a big plus. Yes, the heated seats may be a bit over the top. But ask me about this again on a day when the temps dip below zero, and I may give you a completely different answer. After all, no one gets a medal for being uncomfortable.

Bubble Lift to be installed at Okemo Mountain Resort

Artist rendition of Bubble Lift.

A lift being demolished or installed doesn’t happen every day, and I’m hoping to see some of this at Okemo this summer. It’s a massive undertaking that relies on incredible logistics and lots and lots of money; the lift at Okemo is clocking in at $6.9 million and is slated to start rolling in mid-December. I’ve been told they’ll be using helicopters to install the footings for the new towers in a few weeks, and I may go over to watch. If I do, I’ll take some pics so you can see, too.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of a chairlift installation at Vail in 2011:






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Trees: Are they out to get us?

Big Sky, Montana

Big Sky, Montana

Not that I blame them. People are tough on trees. We cut them down for lumber and paper. We clear them away for housing developments and strip malls. And we change the environment, creating conditions that can make it hard for them to grow.

But how well do we really know trees? I mean, look at them standing there, strong, tall, and silent.  Who knows what they’re really thinking? And even though this past Friday was Arbor Day, a day set aside for us to celebrate trees, maybe that’s not enough to keep them appeased. Maybe they’re actually plotting their revenge, luring us to ski among them and then taking us out with collisions or tree wells.

Ah, they’re wily devils, aren’t they?

So this Arbor Day week, I propose we fight back. Let’s step up, people, and show the trees we will not be defeated! Let’s take tree safety into our own hands.

By far, the best way to stay safe is to never ski in the trees alone. Always ski with a buddy, and always stay within sight of one another. If you lose visual contact, don’t ski on ahead. Regroup instead of meeting down at the lift.

Why? Because someone who falls into a tree well can drown as quickly as someone who’s submerged in water. Tree wells account for 20% of ski area fatalities. And 90% of  people involved in tree well research experiments were unable to rescue themselves.

So what can you do, if your ski buddy falls in? Here are some tips, from deepsnowsafety.org by way of unofficial networks.com:

  • Stay with them. Don’t leave to get help. Instead…
  • Call for additional resources. Use a whistle or yell for assistance. If possible, call ski partol or the resort’s emergency phone number.
  • Evaluate scene safety for yourself.
  • IMMEDIATELY begin snow immersion rescue efforts.  Go directly for the airway, and keep it clear, be careful not to knock more snow into the hole. Clear any snow from the airway and continue necessary first aid or extrication efforts
  • Do not try to pull victim out the way they fell in. Instead, determine where the head is and tunnel in from the side. When tunneling directly for the airway be careful not to knock more snow into the hole. Continue expanding the tunnel to the airway until you can extricate the body. Efficient “strategic shoveling techniques”with multiple rescuers is very useful.

And what can you do for yourself, if somehow you fall into a tree well and you’re buddy’s not around?

  • Yell or use whistle to get your partner’s attention.
  • Do whatever you can to keep your head above the surface of the snow, including rolling, grabbing tree branches or the tree trunk. If possible, keep your feet below your head.
  • If you become immersed, make a space around your face and protect your airway – resist the urge to struggle, it could compromise your airspace and entrap you further.
  • Stay calm to conserve air.
  • Trust your partner is on their way.
  • If possible, use your cell phone to call ski patrol or the resort’s emergency number.

Remember, there are more of them than there are of us. And they’re very, very patient…….

Be careful out there.



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Reflections on the Loveland Avalanche.

As I sit here writing this, the Loveland Avalanche is only a few days old.  Sandwiched in a news cycle that included the Boston bombings and the Waco fertilizer explosion,  it was easy enough to miss. In case you did, here’s the story: five very experienced backcountry snowboarders were killed in a spring avalanche in Loveland Pass, Colorado. This, from the Denver Post:

Crested Butte snowboarder Jerome Boulay was trapped for almost four hours in an avalanche that killed five men on Saturday, according to the official report released Wednesday on the state’s deadliest avalanche in 50 years. That’s much longer than was originally reported by rescuers who said the sole survivor told them he had been buried for an hour.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center report concluded the six men — five snowboarders and a skier — triggered the avalanche as they traversed an open slope hundreds of feet below the point where the snow fractured. Two of the men — Joe
Timlin of Gypsum and Rick Gaukel of Estes Park — had reached a stand of trees
on a knoll. Boulay was close to them. Three others were behind Boulay as the group climbed toward the northwest slopes of Mount Sniktau.

“Heard a whumpf”

The group was spread out, spacing 50 feet between each climber as they crossed the north-facing slope. They “felt a large collapse and heard a whumpf,” reads the report.
“It took several seconds for the crack to propagate uphill and release the deep slab. In those several seconds, they all ran for the far end of the slope and towards the
small stand of trees,” said the report.

They all knew about the danger. Windy storms had loaded north-facing slopes,
raising the risk of avalanches. They had read the avalanche center’s bulletin for the
, warning of “recent deep persistent slab avalanches” on the region’s north-facing slopes, including a fatal slide near Vail Pass two days earlier. The bulletin ominously warned: “If you find the wrong spot, the resulting avalanche will be very large, destructive and dangerous.”

The group found that wrong spot Saturday as an avalanche 800 feet wide roared
600 feet down the north-facing slope around 10:15 a.m. After discussing the danger,
the group had decided the safest route would be to start from Loveland Pass’
uppermost switchback and traverse along a summer road and cross the Sheep Creek drainage, just above a narrow ravine.

“They aimed to avoid the more north-facing slopes which they recognized as a threat,
by crossing well below the start zone, in the runout zone, to reach what they
deemed safer terrain,” said the avalanche center’s report.

Slide debris

Just after noon Saturday — almost two hours after the slide — avalanche forecasters
on highway duty with the center noticed the slide’s debris while driving over
Loveland Pass. The two forecasters parked and walked to the debris and searched
with avalanche beacons and binoculars. They didn’t find any tracks or signals.

They drove down the pass to the closed Loveland Valley ski area, where
snowboarders were participating in the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry
Gathering, an event that was raising money for the avalanche center. At 1:30 p.m.,
the forecasters asked if anyone knew of the avalanche or if anyone from the event
had triggered the slide.

Several attendees raced up the pass. Two rescuers from Loveland ski patrol
arrived at the avalanche debris at 1:45 p.m. At the same time, two more skiers
arrived at the bottom of the debris pile. They all began scanning the debris field for beacon signals.

Tangled beneath Boulay were his friends Timlin and accomplished guide Gaukel.
When Boulay was found, only his left forearm was free. He had used it to scrape snow from his face to breathe.

Farther down the slope were three more victims —Chris Peters of Lakewood, Ian Lamphere of Crested Butte and Ryan Novak of Crested Butte. One of them
was buried in a hole 10-12 feet deep, according to the report.

Halsted Morris, the avalanche educator who joined Loveland ski patrol
as some of the first rescuers on the scene Saturday, said “it was more like
16 feet deep. We didn’t even feel him on the end of the probe,” said Morris,
a former avalanche center forecaster who spent years studying snowpack in
the Sheep Creek drainage. Morris dug a 10-foot pit over the beacon signal
and started probing again. A veteran avalanche rescuer, Morris said the hole
“was about the deepest I’ve ever dug” for a rescue.

Two of victims were wearing avalanche airbag packs that were not deployed.
Others were wearing Avalungs, which allow buried avalanche victims to breath
through a hose, but none had the Avalung mouthpiece in their mouths.

The report concluded that the group had selected terrain that was less likely to
produce a devastating avalanche, “but to get there they traveled through a
dangerous area.”


US avalanche deaths have climbed steeply since 1990 as new gear has become available for backcountry travel. Until then, avalanches rarely claimed more than a handful of lives each season in records going back to 1950. The deaths of the past weekend bring the total avalanche deaths this year to 24.

I’m not a backcountry skier. I live and ski mostly in the east, where opportunities for sliding in the backcountry are limited and avalanches rare. And to be honest, I’m really not that daring. I seem to lack the “no fear” gene that many extreme skiers seem to have in spades.

That said, this doesn’t prevent me from having some thoughts on what transpired out there.

• Backountry skiing/boarding is a risky enterprise. Heck, skiing and boarding are risky, wherever you do it. But so is driving. Walking down the street. Arguing with your spouse. Eating a peanut. There are lots of things that are risky. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them. We can’t spend our lives in bed wrapped in a blanket. All I’m saying is that we have to weigh the risks with the benefits and proceed with caution.

• If you’re going to go into the backcountry, be sure you know what you’re doing. Take avalanche courses. Pay attention to warnings. Bring appropriate gear. I’m not saying this would’ve saved the people who died this past weekend. They were all very experienced and no doubt had training. But there may have been signals they missed. Which leads me to my next point…

• Even if you know what you’re doing, it may not be enough. Mother Nature has her own agenda, and doesn’t care if you’re an expert or not. Avalanche prediction is not an absolute science, and nature will do what it will do, no matter how much you know.  In fact, the 16th victim this year was Craig Patterson, a seven-year veteran of avalanche forecasting for the Utah Department of Transportation. It appears Patterson died while gauging snow conditions alone above the Big Cottonwood Canyon highway outside Salt Lake City. Which leads me back to point #1.

• Dying while skiing or boarding is particularly sad. Maybe because it’s a sport that brings me so much joy. The people who died weren’t rushing into a burning building to save someone, they weren’t on a battlefield fighting for our country — they were just out for a day of fun. They left behind lovers, friends, children, co-workers.  One of the victims had a six-month old baby who will never know his father. What could be worse than that?

The victims of the past weekend are not the first to die in an avalanche, nor will they be the last. But that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking.

My thoughts and condolences to all those who mourn.

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Saved By A Peach.

A better title for this might be “How a fuzzy fruit saved my bacon.”

I know. Ha, ha, ha.

The thing is, no matter how you put it, I actually avoided what was probably serious injury by stopping at a fruit stand to buy a peach.

Here’s what happened. I was out on a bike ride with some friends when we decided to stop at a roadside stand. I laid my bike down on the grass, bought a nice, juicy peach, and was just giving it a big bite when I heard what sounded like a firecracker exploding. I looked over at my bike, and my front wheel was spinning around….. and around…. and around.  The front tire had completely blown: the inner tube, the outer tire,  the whole thing.

All I can say is it’s a good thing I wasn’t riding. A friend of mine had his front tire blow a few months ago, and suffered a couple cracked ribs, a punctured lung, a broken clavicle, and a couple fractured vertebrae. He spent some time in the ICU and has undergone two surgical procedures.

That could’ve been me. So yeah, I got lucky.

It’s amazing how the simplest act can have such far ranging consequences. The decision to stop for some fruit. To take this or that plane. To ski that trail. To go to a movie.

I have a friend who says, no matter what sport or activity you’re discussing,  “I know soooooo  many people who’ve been injured doing [insert sport here].” This is ludicrous. You can get hurt doing anything. Someone I know broke her leg in 3 places when she stepped of a curb to get the morning paper. This doesn’t necessarily make getting the newspaper hazardous.

Oh, sure, you can take precautions to minimize your risks. When I drive, I wear a seat belt. When I ski, I wear a helmet. And since my bike tire blew, I’ve purchased a pair of Kevlar-lined tires. They’re pretty puncture-proof.

Bottom line: You can’t live your life wrapped in cotton. There’s inherent risk in just about anything you do. If you don’t want to get hurt, maybe you should just stay in bed.

Or maybe you should just eat more peaches. :)


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An Untimely Death.

Richardson, Natasha



I’m sure all of you have heard of the tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson. Talented & beautiful, out for a day of fun with her children, fatally injured by a fall on the bunny slope. Sad. So sad.

There’s considerable debate on whether or not her death would have occurred if she’d worn a helmet. I’m not going to go there. I’m not a doctor or an expert in these things, so I’m certainly not qualified to judge.

All the same, people continue to argue about whether or not helmets are necessary. Some people say they’re useless in a high speed crash, so why bother. Some people say they never fall, so they’re not needed. And some people just don’t like being told what to do.

My opinion? It’s your head. So if you don’t want to wear a helmet, be my guest. I’m a helmet wearer. I just don’t see how it can hurt. I wear one for biking, and I wear one for skiing. I don’t fall much, but it doesn’t take a big fall to cause a bad injury, as the Richardson death makes plain.

My hustand, Jon, and I started wearing helmets a number of years ago after my daughter got a concussion while snowboarding. And I’m glad we did. Last winter Jon was skiing on a very easy connector trail when he caught an edge, went down, and hit his head so hard his helmet acually cracked. I shudder to think what might have happened if he didn’t have one on.

I do think kids should wear helmets. They shouldn’t have a choice. When you’re adult, you can engage in all the risky behavior you want. That’s why only adults are legally allowed to smoke and drink. It should be the same with helmets.

I also think helmets should be required for ski patrollers and instructors, while they’re on duty. To set an example for everyone else.

None of this brings Natasha Richardson back tolife. But if it gets you seriously thinking about helmets, that’s a good thing.

Think about it.

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About Avalanches.

We’ve all seen the news reports about the deaths in Canada, Colorado, Utah. This is shaping up to be a terrible year for avalanches.

It’s important to remember that avalanches aren’t just limited to the backcountry. This season, there’ve been in bound avalanches at Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley, Snowbasin, and Snowbird.

What causes an avalanche? Wind, temperatures, slope angle, all play a part. Generally, avalanches occur when a weaker layer of snow is unable to support a heavier layer on top. The ensuing instability can cause snow to break away as a slab or crash down the slope in a raging torrent.

No matter what your experience, anyone can get caught in an avalanche. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk:

  • Heed avalanche warnings. No, you are not immune. Nor are you invincible. Check with area experts. When those in the know say that avalanche danger is high, do yourself a favor and listen.
  • Tell people where you’re going. If you plan to head out to ski even for an hour — especially in the backcountry — make sure someone knows where you’re heading, and when you expect to be back.
  • Don’t travel alone. And make sure you and your companions have received avalanche training and know how to conduct a search and rescue operation.
  • Have proper equipment. This includes a transmitter. Make sure it’s set on “transmit” rather than “receive.” And make sure more than one person has a shovel.
  • If you get caught in an avalanche, try to stay on top of the snow. It’s best if you can remain on your belly with your head pointed toward the bottom of the slope, if at all possible.
  • Use common sense. Don’t go where you shouldn’t go. If you have no avalanche training and conditions are dicey, stay away.

Stay safe out there, everyone.

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