Do Not Underestimate the Danger of Leaving the Ski Resort Boundaries

This headline in Skiing Magazine caught my attention today: “11 Avalanche Related Deaths in January, What are we Doing Wrong?”  

It’s been a very deadly year for avalanches.  Sadly this seems to be a trend that has continued to worsen over the past few years.  There are a lot of factors that are contributing to this this tragedy, but the main factor really has to do with the fact that more skiers and boarders are leaving ski resort boundaries and entering the backcountry than ever before.

Ski resorts do a lot to keep their slopes safe for skiers.  This often includes extensive avalanche mitigation work.  Resorts often use explosives to intentionally trigger avalanches and stabilize the snow pack before skiers have a chance to.  Outside of ski resort boundaries however, you are left to nature’s unpredictability.

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Backcountry terrain is dangerous to even the most educated and experienced back country skier. Often the dangers can be difficult to assess and not at all apparent.  One slope within a ski area may be perfectly safe, while a nearly identical slope just outside the ski area might be deadly.  When you couple backcountry travel with lack of experience, education and preparedness, you have a deadly combination.

A number of the tragic deaths that occurred this year involved skiers and boarders with little or no backcountry experience.  Several were found completely unequipped for the terrain without essentials such beacons, probes and shovels.

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Despite how good the snow looks or how exciting the terrain appears to be, please use extreme caution when considering leaving the ski resort boundaries.  Only pass through those gates if you really know what you are doing, where you are going, you and your partner have the right equipment,  and you understand, appreciate and accept the risks.

Checklist for leaving ski resort boundaries

Before you leave the resort, at a minimum consider this checklist:

  • Check the avalanche and weather forecast here
  • Ski with a partner and keep your partner in sight.
  • Ski one at a time.
  • Have the right equipment:  avalanche beacon, probe and shovel, cellphone.
  • Practice with your avalanche equipment and know how to use it.
  • Take an avalanche awareness class and get some formal education.
  • Be able to assess conditions in the field and expect variability.
  • Know how to avoid dangerous terrain traps and high consequence areas.
  • Check with the local ski patrol about current conditions.
  • Have the local ski patrol or rescue agency’s phone number programmed.
  • Know where you are headed and have a plan.
  • Let someone know where you are headed and when you expect to be back.
  • Airbag technology and avalungs are no guarantee.  Many avalanche deaths are caused by trauma.
  • Staying out of an avalanche in the first place needs to be your objective.
  • If in doubt, don’t go!

Remember, skiing is fun, but not even the most epic powder turns are worth dying for.



Always carry this essential equipment outside the resort boundaries


For more information, check the Northwest Avalanche Center’s website for forecasts and learning opportunities. 

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Our team at Evergreen Personal Injury Counsel wishes you a safe ski season!