Venturing into the backcountry requires a serious knowledge of the outdoors and a healthy respect of the unknown.
Ben Markhart, a seasoned backcountry guide, demonstrates this type of extensive backcountry understanding in a recent Instagram post where he does a snow pit test, only to then ask viewers, "what does it all mean!?!? The reality is: it doesn’t mean much."
Markhart goes on to explain that backcountry guides "don’t cut tests to ski. [They] cut test to refine our forecast and our forecast helps us ski. This is a key understanding in avalanche forecasting."
He also explains that forecasting uses larger theories to assess risk, as opposed to taking a singular test or piece of information to make a call. In this case, a snow pit test can be one data point within a larger chart of many other data points used to bet on the conditions on a mountain.
For experts, the backcountry is enticing, providing some much-needed surprise to otherwise bread-and-butter groomer runs at the resort. But for beginners, or anyone curious about what happens off-piste, the backcountry can be a mysterious and scary place. For good reason.
In the last 10 winters, an average of 24 people die due to avalanches each season. Though this number is decreasing, proper preparation and a deep respect for nature is integral to venturing into the backcountry.
Hiring a backcountry guide is one way to alleviate some of the risk going outside of a resort provides. But, like any outdoor activity, there is no way to completely eliminate this risk.
Perhaps exactly for this reason, it's especially exciting to see the backcountry community shifting towards safer practices, whether that be leaving avalanche footage out of adventure films, or explaining to non-experts (very much including myself!) the reality of weather forecasting.
These acts, alongside Markhart's lesson that you are betting your life on the slopes, will only continue to diminish the number of fatalities in the backcountry.
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