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5 Mistakes that Bite Ski Touring Groups


"The reality is that often, the more experienced people there are in the group, the more dangerous it can be."

To get a feel for the most common mistakes people make while backcountry skiing, I talked with Marc Piché, the author of The Bugaboos, One of the World’s Great Alpine Rock Climbing Centres, and a well-rounded mountain guide who splits his time between ski touring, heli-skiing, rock climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering.

Marc and I went on a ski tour together a couple of years ago with an aspirant guide practicing for exams, a couple of experienced skiers, a certified mountain guide, a professional climber, and some other random people.  From the beginning we pretty much made every mistake in the book, but got away with it that day.  Nobody got hurt, but not for lack of trying.  It was a classic example of experienced people making mistakes.  Based on that day, Marc came up with five big things that cause even experienced  backcountry users problems in the mountains: 

MP: I think it is all about making an ASS out of U and ME when it comes to experienced groups traveling in the backcountry...

  1.  We ASSUME that someone else has checked the weather and avalanche forecast when often nobody has.  Hey, its my day off work...and besides, we have all been out so much already this year.
  2. We ASSUME that someone else is taking care of all the rescue gear.  Nobody has a tarp or real 1st aid kit.  Did anybody check beacons before leaving the parking lot?  Oh wait, some of the skiers have already left the parking lot. 
  3. We ASSUME that someone else knows where we are going.  I haven't done the trip but I'm pretty sure that she has so I didn't bring a map.
  4. We ASSUME that whoever is in front knows what is going on.  They must have checked the snow, know the route...When in reality they are thinking that since nobody said anything, it must be okay.
  5. We ASSUME that nothing will go wrong.  How could it?  We all know what we are doing.
The reality is that often, the more experienced people there are in the group, the more dangerous it can be.  People often let their guard down and push condition much further than they would if they felt responsible for others in the group.

CMH will be leading helicopter assisted ski touring adventures - with just the right number of experts - in the Bugaboos, Monashees and the Adamants during March and April of 2010.  


I worked for The City Of North Vancouver for 18 years (now retired) and was close to the North Shore Search & Rescue Team as their Operations Base was located in our Works Yard. 
They perform 80-100 rescues every year mostly in the winter months in the areas of Cypress Bowl, Grouse Mountain & Seymour Mountain. 
Tim Jones one of the Team Commanders used to describe to me some of the factors that most people including expert skiers never even consider when venturing out into the mountain environment for a ski trip. 
Not carrying some extra water, food, cothing, space blanket for warmth, fire starter for warmth, flashlight, whistle, map, cell phone. 
Not knowing; avalanche conditions, terrain, escape routes, distance from closest exit point. 
Also not informing family or friends of when they should be back from the trip, and not registering with Park authorities or RCMP just in case they get stranded or injured. 
These are all the common factors that people ignore, that can end up in disaster, as nobody thinks that it is going to happen to them. 
Tim advises that the key is education of the public in general to the dangers and risks, and taking the appropriate measures to prepare for the worst.
Posted @ Friday, November 13, 2009 5:58 PM by Terry Krysak
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