Snowmobile Powder
Isn't this more fun than highmarking? Photo:
Snowmobile Powder
Isn't this more fun than highmarking? Photo:

It’s been storming here in Whistler for the last week and the skiing has been epic. Locals are happy, tourists are happy, Air Jordan is seeing regular traffic and even the patrollers on the hill have lost that thousand yard stare. So all is well, right?

In the last week there have also been 3 avalanche fatalities in BC. And while so far this year we have not seen an increase in avalanche fatalities in BC, we have only to look south to our friends in the US to see that spooky snowpacks in Colorado, Utah, the PNW and now in Tahoe have all contributed to multiple fatalities in the backcountry.

In the Sea to Sky corridor, our emergency services personnel have been getting busier and busier each winter. Especially up here. Whether it’s the patrol responding to idiots lost in the Khyber or the Cake Hole or Whistler and Pemberton SAR repsonding to injuries, avalanche involvements or just lost people in the backcountry, all of these things have seen an increase. But where the increase has been greatest is with regards to responding to snowmobilers. We have heard time and again this winter from Whistler SAR, WhistlerBlackcomb Patrol as well as the RCMP that people need to be CAREFUL out there.

Think twice before highmarking a big alpine slope. I wouldn't even ski cut this, let alone cut it with a 600lbs machine. Photo:

To me, that begs the question of whether people are, indeed, being careful. I spend a lot of time in the mountains. Whether it’s on the hill, out on my sled or ski touring, I have to say that what I see on a regular basis absolutely astonishes me. Especially when it comes to sledders. Why is it that when coupled with 150 horsepower on a fast, capable snowmachine, people think they don’t need to know anything about snow stability, terrain analysis, transceiver use and avalanche rescue? WTF? Does a sled shrink your brain and induce bouts of ignorance?

I was out on the ice cap the other day and came upon a group of 6 guys rippin’ it up in what was awesome snow. As a little experiment, I asked them about what gear they carried for self rescue and what experience they had using that gear. 3 of the 6 had their beacons, shovels and probes in packs strapped to their machines. One of the 6 had no batteries for his beacon. 2 of the 6 only had shovels and beacons, but no probes. None of them seemed to grasp the fact that a snowmobile was a much larger trigger than a single skier on a slope. And the list went on. What truly amazed me was that in terms of snowmobile skills they were all very capable sledders on really nice machines. But in terms of self rescue in the backcountry, they were completely ignorant and if anything had happened, would most likely prove to be useless.

No one wants to face safe out there and take a moment to learn more than just laying over your new Summit 800 Freeride Edition. Photo:

So what gives? Were those guys stupid? Why were they so ignorant of the very environment they love? It’s not like learning about avalanche rescue, snow stability and terrain analysis is rocket science. Take a course, do some practice searches and get edumacated. Senseless deaths because of ignorance of the mountain environment are maddening. Relying on rescue crews that may not always get there in time to save the day is ridiculous. I understand the glory of dying doing something you love. But dying or getting hurt or worse, putting others at risk to help you because you were IGNORANT is the ultimate selfish and arrogant act.

So take a moment to get trained. Being tough in the mountain environment will never be a subsitute for being trained. Take a course and learn about stuff. Go out sledding or skiing with someone who knows what they’re doing and is willing to impart that knowledge to you. And take the time to think about the rescue crews, most of whom work as VOLUNTEERS, who do go out and help folks come home safely. There is no excuse for being an idiot in the mountains.

Be safe and ski hard.


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40 replies on “Ignorance and Snowmobiles – Do Sledders Have Small Brains?”