Being Smart In The Backcountry… Making Good Decisions

I am in no way a risk management expert, or claim to know everything there is when it comes to analyzing an accident. But, there are a fair amount of accidents happening everyday in the backcountry. Information from the National Ski Areas Association states that on average 41.5 people die skiing/snowboarding each year. Is it just me, or does that number make you sick. With all that said, there are things to do to be smart about being in the back country. Watch these few videos real fast and then lets really get into the dirt. 
This girl became famous in Utah over the past weekend when she got incredibly lucky in a slide up Little Cottonwood Canyon in an area known as Grizzly Gulch. From her blog, where you can read about her entire account, she says, “When it comes down to it, we didn’t check our blind spot. I have always thought I was too smart to make that mistake, but I did. At some point we all have. I am truly grateful that the situation was not worse. I am grateful that from the moment everything went wrong, everything went  right. I am forever thankful to my rescuers who were smarter and more prepared than us. Most importantly, I am grateful that this can be a wake up and a lesson in humility for me, and everyone one like me, to stay smart, not forget to use our brains and to always check our blind spots.”

Of everyone in her party, she was the only person who was carrying avalanche gear. To my understanding her and her party made the choice to go up above the resort to the gulch to get some powder photos. She was the only one in her group that had a beacon, and any other type of avy gear. She got lucky because of others that were in the area. They were able to ski to her, and get out in a matter of minutes. More on this decision making later. 
Rock climbing in Utah has seen some scary accidents this year, and just climbing in general. Simple mistakes that have caused a lot of pain could have easily been avoided for so many people. One of the most common mistakes that I hear of when it comes to climbing, is people being lowered off the end of the rope. If you would simply tie a knot in the end of the rope, your life would be so much better than getting lowered off the end. This video shows how incredibly vital it is to just make good decisions. I am sorry if the language offends anyone. 

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It’s no doubt that we find ourselves as humans seeking thrill. The internet has only escalated our need for thrill. We see professional athletes doing amazing things everyday on the internet. Alex Honnold has brought the sport of free solo climbing to the forefront of everyone’s minds. We get ourselves into scenarios that can turn from good to REALLY bad with a simple choice.

So where do the choices start?

Think about a time that you got into a position in the backcountry where you made one bad choice, or even a series of choices that ended up not being the best. It then put you into that cliche, “stuck between a rock and a hard place.” Just like our outdoor movie star, James Franco, oh wait, isn’t his name Aron… who got famous and made a bunch of money off of ultimately a series of bad choices.

Some choices start from the very beginning of an outdoor experience. Where you plan to go. What you plan to do. Long before you ever step foot into the backcountry. One of my favorite stories is of climbers Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden, and two other friends, who ended up being kidnapped by Islamic militants in Kyrgyzstan. While doing some big wall climbing there, they were sleeping in their portaledges, and woke up to militants shooting at them. The rest of that story is incredible, and the fact that they were able to get home to America alive. As extreme and uncommon as this example may be, it does illustrate how easy it can be to make a simple choice, and then evaluate the course of events that take place after that.

No need to beat the horse anymore than I already have. But think about it. Think about the series of choices that you make when you go into the backcountry. How often do you stop, think, and analyze a situation before you execute, or even step away. What’s the risk factor? What heuristic elements influence your decision making? What’s more important, getting the rush of adrenaline or making sure that you come home at night unharmed and safe? What risks are worth taking?

With the upmost respect for the events that took place, I leave major details out. A good friend of mine, and a legend in the Utah climbing scene, Shingo Ohkawa recently suffered from a fall in Little Cottonwood canyon, in Utah. Through a series of events, he is lucky to be alive, and continuing to share his love for the outdoors. A series of events that lead to him being lowered off the end of the rope and a 30 foot ground fall. Even the professionals have the worst happen to them. Were just glad Shingo is alive and well, after a very scary accident.

Long story short, just be smart out there my friends! Make sure you look at all the angles and weigh all probable cause. One simple choice could be the last choice you make. We love the outdoors because it’s what fuels us, it’s what we live for. But in order to continue to enjoy that feeling, and love, we just need to be smart about being back there and do it right the first time. Be safe my friends!

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