New Kook, who ‘dis?
Fear was the one sense that quelled my inane gift. I was humbled by fear and its presence created a crystal-clear reality, where there was no room for Mr. Know-it-all. Having lived in CO a whole 2 years and put a solid 100+ days under my belt at the resorts, I was already looking for a less manufactured experience. Enter “backcountry skiing”. I had turned down invites to go touring and to go out gates because of this unknown. The only way that I knew how to conquer this fear was to outsmart it with knowledge. I made it my job to network as many people that backcountry skied as possible and picked their brain for how it worked because of my fear of this unknown force that could go from delight to death in the blink of an eye. One of my new friends gave me a copy of “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain” by Bruce Tremper. Now my eyes got wider. This same friend took two of us out on Berthoud Pass and taught us a full set of pit skills and tests. So now I know how to “check” for avalanches right? WRONG, BRIAN!
Luckily that same friend was part of my new network of BC skiers. Several of them went out and started FOBP, which I have been fortunate to be a part of since day 1. First, I was just hanger-on and lingering around to pick up and glam as much knowledge off of these folks as I could. Then I started to see the picture of what they were trying to do and I needed to be a part of it, to make a difference, to enlighten others on HOW they should be thinking. Being a part of this group kept me from developing bad habits, making me a bit over-analytical at times but overall an adept decision-maker. Why? The time that I spent with these BC travelers was one without judgment similar to a learning environment. Sometimes it was heckling, but that is my love language. There was no “hand smacking”, but the guidance of the discussion to keep me in the correct lane of thinking. These “mentors” made sure that I was making the right decisions based on the knowledge at hand. Because, in the end, you are the most responsible person in the backcountry. Hopefully, everyone in your group feels the same way.
This is a great time to define “mentors”. Take a minute to close your eyes and imagine what you think a backcountry mentor looks, acts, and talks like. One would think they are a cloak and gown, intellectual type, unquestionably infallible of mistake, mastery of their craft, and so on. Perhaps I spent too much time in educational institutions in my youth, so WRONG AGAIN BRIAN. Those cut from that cloth are definitely not the characters that you find at your neighborhood BC trailhead. They don’t have a common look from which you can identify them visually. A mentor is a person who has humility in the presence of avalanche terrain, does not brag about their exploits, is a good listener, respectful. Cross-pollinate a Boy Scout with a mountaineer then throw in a dash of Zen. Mentors come in different forms, depending on what you are looking for. Most of all mentors are your friends, they share a load of decision making with you, even if they know better than you, because otherwise, how will you get it right? Lastly, mentors don’t have to be someone of greater knowledge than you but could be on equal educational paths while sharing a similar goal, where you can grow together through similar experiences. They aren’t someone you spend every outing with either but are a sounding board for open and honest discussions about avalanche science.
Photo: Zach Wilson
An important lesson that I learned on that first day of BC education with Ben, was that avalanche avoidance is best paired with a keen sense of observation. What is going on around you? Wind direction and temperature, recent snowfall, signs of instability, recent avalanches, and everyone’s favorite brown pants moment “shooting cracks and whumpfing”. Avalanche education is truly a multi-dimensional and complex science. Anyone that tells you differently has more dumbass merit badges than I do. You have to be able to manage personal metrics like “risk management” multiply by “tolerance”, carry the 2, divide by the level of danger in the CAIC forecast, square that answer then solve for EGO. (This equation is complete BS and made up for the sake of this blog entry’s point, which I promise I will get to) While I still have yet to solve this equation, with time and experience, I have learned some parameters to make more sense of it.
One way to solve a complex equation is to simplify the problem. The equation gets easier to solve when you lower the risks, lower the tolerance, ski on low danger days, and don’t have to square an answer because of EGO. How about you remove EGO all together? Seems impossible right? How can we possibly take this OUT of the equation? My perspective became that of humility. I don’t know it all, I won’t ever be able to know it all, the best that I can do is bow down before the almighty avalanche of education being and mutter my prayer.
“Dear big scary white dragon monster, know that I am not here to wake you but to celebrate your presence by staying far far away from the temptation of super steep north-facing wind loaded slopes. I come to make a few measly turns and perhaps a slash that allows me to enter the happy white room place and retreat back to my family with a smile and a smidge of joy. Please rest and don’t wake from my giggles or acoustic slaps from my high fives with friends. AMEN”
Author - Brian Pollock
Brian has been a team member of FOBP since 2003, 15 years instructing, 10 years as Director of Education.
9/19/2022 02:44:39 am
Thhis was a lovely blog post
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