The Vermont Cynic

Ignorance Kills, Not A Lack of Fire Power

In my short 3 years here at UVM I have read a lot of ridiculous political articles in the Cynic, but none as preposterous and utterly absurd as Matthew Silverman’s “We Can Do Better” article. The recent and tragic Utah avalanche deaths are absolutely not related to the war in Iraq and it was outrageous that he would even try to make that argument. People can and do die in the backcountry, but it has nothing to do with avalanche control, or lack there of.

First off, lets clear up the facts. It is true that mountains like Alta, Snowbird and resorts across the country use old howitzer’s as avalanche control tools. They shoot explosive shells into the mountain side to dislodge unstable snow and artificially trigger avalanches. Ski Patrol, forest service employees, and Department of Transportation employees also use hand charges to set off avalanches. All of this is done inbounds at mountains and around major road ways and canyon passes.

It is true that guns were taken from ski resorts. Last year, 3 guns were taken back by the army from Mammoth Mountain and 2 others from Alpine Meadows (I found nothing saying guns were taken from Snowbird.) The guns were on loan from the army so the army did have the right to take them back. The guns were of the more modern type that would have been useful to the army, not like the old WWII guns that Snowbird and Alta have.

Matthew’s last paragraph stated that, “People who may have bought a lift ticket or used their season pass were unable to use them, because mountains like Snowbird cannot open their doors fast enough. The increases of backcountry ski accidents are a byproduct of the War in Iraq and our military’s deficiencies.” This could not be more false.

Snowbird opens a little after 9am every morning and most control work happens between 7am and 9am. In the event of a huge snow storm or extremely dangerous conditions, only parts of the mountain are allowed to open while the patrol continues to work on other, unsafe areas on the mountain. To say that people are turning to the backcountry because Snowbird is not opening fast enough is completely wrong.

If anything, it is the complete opposite. If avalanche danger is high enough that Snowbird is slowly opening terrain, conditions in the backcountry are going to be twice as deadly. Anyone who knows anything would not be venturing out that day. The biggest delay a skier will find will be the closure of the canyon road that runs from Salt Lake City to Alta and Snowbird. The road is surrounded by potential avalanche paths and is not opened until all avalanche control work is done. It should also be mentioned that many times during this control work, “interlodge” is declared. That means it is illegal to go outside and you can be fined $300 if you do so. If a closure happens, you can guarantee there will not be anyone in the backcountry.

So why has backcountry use increased then? Access is a huge factor. Not only has the skiing and snowboarding media emphasized backcountry travel, but resorts across the country are adopting open gate policies. These policies allow skiers and riders to access the backcountry through specified openings in the resort boundaries. This kind of access used to be illegal, but as it becomes easier, and legal, to go out of bounds, more and more people are doing it.

So why are people dying? Mother Nature combined with the lack of avalanche awareness, education and understanding is getting people killed. All of the deaths in Utah this year have occurred in the backcountry.

Backcountry slopes DO NOT receive avalanche control work and they are NOT patrolled. If someone ventures into the backcountry, they are on their own. They have to make their own decisions regarding snow pack stability and terrain navigation. It might be noted that in all of the accidents this year, the avalanche rating for those days was either Considerable or High. You can see for yourself by going to the Utah Avalanche Center at http://www.avalanche.org/~uac and looking at the accident reports. So whether Snowbird lost a gun (they didn’t) it would never have prevented these people from dying.

For more information on avalanches you can visit http://www.avalanche.org/ or take a Level 1 Avalanche Course. Many are offered on Mount Washington throughout the year. So Matthew, please don’t write an article like that again, avalanches are a very serious issue within the mountain community and do not deserve to be tainted by your political bullshit. Its ignorance like yours that gets people killed in the backcountry, not military deficiencies.

Ignorance Kills Not A Lack of Fire Power

In my short 3 years here at UVM I have read a lot of ridiculous political articles in the Cynic, but none as preposterous and utterly absurd as Matthew Silverman’s “We Can Do Better” article. The recent and tragic Utah avalanche deaths are absolutely not related to the war in Iraq and it was outrageous that he would even try to make that argument. People can and do die in the backcountry, but it has nothing to do with avalanche control, or lack there of. First off, lets clear up the facts. It is true that mountains like Alta, Snowbird and resorts across the country use old howitzer’s as avalanche control tools. They shoot explosive shells into the mountain side to dislodge unstable snow and artificially trigger avalanches. Ski Patrol, forest service employees, and Department of Transportation employees also use hand charges to set off avalanches. All of this is done inbounds at mountains and around major road ways and canyon passes. It is true that guns were taken from ski resorts. Last year, 3 guns were taken back by the army from Mammoth Mountain and 2 others from Alpine Meadows (I found nothing saying guns were taken from Snowbird.) The guns were on loan from the army so the army did have the right to take them back. The guns were of the more modern type that would have been useful to the army, not like the old WWII guns that Snowbird and Alta have. Matthew’s last paragraph stated that, “People who may have bought a lift ticket or used their season pass were unable to use them, because mountains like Snowbird cannot open their doors fast enough. The increases of backcountry ski accidents are a byproduct of the War in Iraq and our military’s deficiencies.” This could not be more false. Snowbird opens a little after 9am every morning and most control work happens between 7am and 9am. In the event of a huge snow storm or extremely dangerous conditions, only parts of the mountain are allowed to open while the patrol continues to work on other, unsafe areas on the mountain. To say that people are turning to the backcountry because Snowbird is not opening fast enough is completely wrong. If anything, it is the complete opposite. If avalanche danger is high enough that Snowbird is slowly opening terrain, conditions in the backcountry are going to be twice as deadly. Anyone who knows anything would not be venturing out that day. The biggest delay a skier will find will be the closure of the canyon road that runs from Salt Lake City to Alta and Snowbird. The road is surrounded by potential avalanche paths and is not opened until all avalanche control work is done. It should also be mentioned that many times during this control work, “interlodge” is declared. That means it is illegal to go outside and you can be fined $300 if you do so. If a closure happens, you can guarantee there will not be anyone in the backcountry. So why has backcountry use increased then? Access is a huge factor. Not only has the skiing and snowboarding media emphasized backcountry travel, but resorts across the country are adopting open gate policies. These policies allow skiers and riders to access the backcountry through specified openings in the resort boundaries. This kind of access used to be illegal, but as it becomes easier, and legal, to go out of bounds, more and more people are doing it. So why are people dying? Mother Nature combined with the lack of avalanche awareness, education and understanding is getting people killed. All of the deaths in Utah this year have occurred in the backcountry. Backcountry slopes DO NOT receive avalanche control work and they are NOT patrolled. If someone ventures into the backcountry, they are on their own. They have to make their own decisions regarding snow pack stability and terrain navigation. It might be noted that in all of the accidents this year, the avalanche rating for those days was either Considerable or High. You can see for yourself by going to the Utah Avalanche Center at http://www.avalanche.org/~uac and looking at the accident reports. So whether Snowbird lost a gun (they didn’t) it would never have prevented these people from dying. For more information on avalanches you can visit http://www.avalanche.org/ or take a Level 1 Avalanche Course. Many are offered on Mount Washington throughout the year. So Matthew, please don’t write an article like that again, avalanches are a very serious issue within the mountain community and do not deserve to be tainted by your political bullshit. Its ignorance like yours that gets people killed in the backcountry, not military deficiencies.

Leave a Comment
Activate Search
Ignorance Kills, Not A Lack of Fire Power