Flood of inexperienced backcountry skiers has its own dangers

Flood+of+inexperienced+backcountry+skiers+has+its+own+dangers

Kyra Kliman, Editor

As the COVID-19 virus sweeps through the world forcing ski resorts to close, backcountry touring poses new risks to uneducated and overconfident skiers.

SNU ODAL professor Rosie Hackett touring with her kids in the backcountry and teaching them backcountry skiing etiquette. Courtesy of Rosie Hackett

Since the closing of all ski resorts in the nation, “there’s a huge rise in backcountry skiers that do not have any experience, skills, knowledge to go out there,” said Rosie Hackett, department chair of Sierra Nevada University’s Outdoor Adventure Leadership Program.

Hackett believes, people are finding backcountry spots through social media posts, and people are going out to these spots. The problem is they lack experience or have the proper skillsets and education.

When people go into the backcountry without the education or skills, it becomes dangerous because they fall into the touristic traps and decision-making traps, Hackett refers to as the FACETS principles.

F-Familiarity. This refers to when people are familiar with terrain, and when they notice a crack in the snow, they will disregard it, take shortcuts and make bad decisions.

A-Acceptance. This refers to people wanting acceptance and giving into peer pressure.

C-Commitment. Refers commitment to skiing, people will continue skiing, whether they see signs or not.

E-Expert Halo. Refers to people thinking they’re experts when they’re not.

T-Tracked. Refers when people see tracks in terrain and immediately think the terrain is safe even when the avalanche conditions for this specific terrain is high near treeline.

S-Scarcity. Refers to when there is no snow at the resorts, people will go in the backcountry and charge.

Daryl Teittinen teaches avalanche training classes as an assistant professor in SNU’s interdisciplinary studies program. He has also noticed, along with other Tahoe locals, an increase in people backcountry skiing.

“From a certain perspective getting out into the backcountry seems like a great activity to get outside move your body and it is pretty easy to stay separated from other people,” Teittinen said.

He encourages, people with all sorts of experience levels to get into the backcountry, but to do it appropriately. Teittinen works with the Sierra Avalanche Center. It urges backcountry skiers to familiarize themselves with the “Know Before You Go” principle.

Anyone traveling in the backcountry should (1) have working avalanche gear (a transceiver, probe, and shovel), that they have practiced with recently; (2) have taken an avalanche class; and (3) check the daily avalanche forecast.