Venture beyond ski area boundaries at your own risk

Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008

T he untracked snow beyond the Eaglecrest Ski Area boundary might look inviting, but the backcountry environment outside the boundary is avalanche terrain.

The Eaglecrest Ski Patrol does not mitigate the avalanche hazard beyond the posted boundary, since our primary responsibility is to guests skiing and riding within the ski area.

Outside of the posted boundary, the Alaska State Troopers are responsible for any land-based rescue operations pursuant to Alaska Statute 05.45.080.

Eaglecrest Ski Patrol, under the aegis of the Alaska State Troopers, will provide rescue services, provided patrol has the staff and resources to do so.

If the Eaglecrest Ski Patrol does not have the resources to rescue people in distress who are out of bounds, the Alaska State Troopers may call on other local volunteer rescue organizations, including Juneau Mountain Rescue and SEADOGS.

Eaglecrest maintains an open boundary policy. To venture beyond the posted ski area boundary, you do so at your own risk. Traveling outside the ski area boundary is a personal decision. This decision must include being prepared and taking responsibility for your own actions.

Part of this preparation is having the right tools.

The most important tool is your brain. Learning how to make good decisions for safe travel in avalanche terrain is the best way to stay out of trouble.

You should have knowledge of the current snowpack and how it changes with trends in the weather.

In addition, when venturing into avalanche terrain all backcountry travelers should, at the minimum, carry and know how to effectively use the following avalanche safety equipment: 457 kHz avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe pole, and shovel.

Finally, it is important to travel with a least one partner and always keep them in sight.

If you make the choice to travel beyond the Eaglecrest boundary, be prepared for companion rescue.

Companion rescue is the best chance you or your buried partner has for survival if caught in a backcountry avalanche.

Education and practiced companion rescue skills should be the first assets you call on in a rescue situation.

Education is needed so you can understand the dynamics involved in not putting yourself in a compromising avalanche situation, and to learn the skills and thought processes to execute a successful rescue.

Practice those skills to identify and understand avalanche hazards and how to mitigate those hazards while still having fun.

Know how to use your avalanche safety equipment to rescue your companion in the event of an avalanche.

The first 15 minutes of an avalanche rescue are very critical. Going for help burns precious minutes of rescue time. Companion rescue is the best option.

Only venture into avalanche terrain with people who carry the tools and knowledge for avalanche awareness and companion rescue. It's like wearing a seat belt in a car. You never plan to get into a car wreck, but you always wear a seat belt just in case.

Don't let powder snow envy get the best of you.

On Jan. 26, an experienced skier made a series of misjudgments that almost ended his life. This skier did not have a transceiver, probe or shovel. He ventured out to a slope just 300 yards beyond the Eaglecrest Ski Area boundary. The slope avalanched and buried him completely except for his hand.

His partner lost sight of him. The avalanche debris covered an area the size of a football field. His partner enlisted the help of two young, inexperienced bystanders, one to help search and the other to go for help. It was pure luck that the one going for help skied past only a hand protruding through the snow.

• Brian Davies is Eaglecrest's Director of Snow Safety. He has been with the Eaglecrest Ski Patrol for 21 years.

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