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By: Best Practices by Lou Dzierzak,
April 23, 2012

According to, avalanches have claimed the lives of 30 people in the United States through March 30, 2012. Headlines announcing tragic losses of backcountry skiers seem to come far too regularly.

Despite tenuous snow conditions across the mountain west and almost daily warnings about dangerous avalanche conditions, the appeal of untracked powder continues to attract skiers to the backcountry. “The lure of the powder is all consuming,” says Marcus Petersen CEO of Ortovox USA, The panache of the sport is definitely in side country powder skiing.”

Dave Wray, western sales and marketing manager, SIA, notes, “Once you’ve had a taste of the backcountry, you are hooked. There is some boundary pushing and pushing the envelope. People want to go further, higher and deeper. The core audience is growing every year.”

Jeff Blakely, general manager, Brooks-Range notes, “There are more and more people heading into the backcountry. New equipment and easier access is creating more demand.”

As more skiers are venturing into sidecountry and backcountry areas to pursue powder, carrying the proper safety equipment is becoming even more important. “Shovels and poles are in the skier’s pack all the time. Now you are adding beacons and air bags,” says Blakely of Brooks-Range.

Nathan Kuder, softgoods category director at Black Diamond Equipment notes,” The understanding that there is a need for something additional to the previous standard of beacon, shovel and probe is absolutely changing. Backcountry and sidecountry travelers are increasingly convinced of the advantages of AvaLungs and airbags and are planning accordingly.”

Snow safety experts like Dean Cummings, founder and owner of H20 Guides, member of National Ski Patrol Snow Safety Team and author of “Be Snow Smart” education program, caution that while safety-oriented equipment is very important, education about snow conditions should be the primary focus of backcountry enthusiasts. At the 2012 SIA Snow Show, Cummings presented Be Snow Smart in the exclusive exhibit  Backcountry Experience that educated buyers and attendees on practical tips for avalanche safety. “All the tools are great for when an avalanches strike but there’s no better tool than the one that sits on top your head. Avalanches happen. Snow science just isn’t precise enough to offer any guarantees. The best avalanche science and forecasting can’t help people who make bad decisions, don’t follow good backcountry protocols, and are simply at the wrong place on the mountain at the wrong time.”

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