Snow School

Going big for backcountry safety


To this day, I still don’t know who he was or where he came from. The guy was just some nappy-headed, super-crunchy snowboarder who I once bumped into during one of my annual exploratory forays into the otherworldly backcountry splendor of Shuksan Arm.

The very first thing he said to me was, “When it comes to ambulating safely through the backcountry gnar, no single piece of gear, equipment or technology can supersede your innate human potential to make timely, well-informed decisions.” 

Then, before I could get a word in edgewise, he asked if he could borrow my multi-tool. 

“Night-vision goggles, GPS navigation systems and a tricked-out 600 RMK Polaris might come in handy sometimes,” he said, torquing mindfully on his bindings as he spoke. “But still—pound for pound, I think—the most powerful and effective piece of machinery you can ever pack with you into the backcountry is your own mind.”

“Wow,” I whispered to myself, “Dude’s pretty tweaky, but he’s pretty much right on, I guess.”

It was then—just as I began to unwrap my grilled chicken rosemary panini from my lunch bag—that I became aware of how intensely hungry he was. 

“Say there, pardner,” he suddenly said, “do you suppose you might be willing to part with a morsel or two of your tasty and nutritious-looking sammy? I wouldn’t bother asking, except I really could use a little something to help bump my energy up for the epic, mind-blowing line I’m about to hit.”

Dutifully, and with a singular sense of purpose, I ripped said panini into roughly equal halves and gladly handed him one. 

“Strive, above all else, to become more acutely aware of your body and your surroundings,” he suddenly blurted out, his voice growing louder and more enthusiastic as he ate. 

“Keep yourself in shape every off-season! Lay off the booze and ciggies when you can! Cultivate confidence in your own abilities but do it slowly. Always remember: ego, ignorance and impatience are detriments to better riding.” 

On and on he went, pontificating about one snowsports-related topic after the next until finally he zipped up his jacket, slipped his beanie back on and hopped on his board.

“You can’t have fun in the mountains without considering your safety as well as the safety of others first,” he said, pushing himself closer to the lip of the cornice. “The moment you stop thinking about safety, then you are no longer capable of having fun. And when you’re not having fun, you are just being stupid. Nothing wrong with being stupid once in awhile, granted. But, even so, you need to choose when and where to be stupid extremely carefully. Hell! Used to be I could afford to break a leg. But not any more.”

And with that, he let out one final, triumphal hoot and went shredding down the gnar pow, back to whichever planet he came from. 

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