Don’t blame A-Basin patrol for inbounds slide
The first loop around Polly I felt I held my own pretty well. After all, two of the people I was skiing with had summited Everest within the last year. The rest of the crew looked chiseled from stone. Their raccoon-eyes told of hundreds of laps on Pallavicini, the resulting smiles looked permanently emblazoned across their hardened jaws.As a self-appointed representative of Vail, I felt it was my duty to show the Summit County crunchies that we, too, had a hard-core element.But by lap three, I realized I should have appointed someone else.We dropped knee after knee, lunge after lunge on Polly’s unforgiving bumps. No stops. Lots of whoops and laughter (from them). Lots of catching up (from me).The people who ski Polly ski it almost every day. They form a bond together. They climb Himalayan peaks in their free time. They are knit together like a warm, camel-wool cap. They watch out for each other, and they always play it safe. There’s no bravado only a constantly whetted desire to get up into the mountains, kick ass and have fun.The Arapahoe Basin Ski Patrol form a portion of this A-Basin clique. Like eagles perched on a mountain aerie, A-Basin patrollers watch over their domain from a one-of-a-kind patrol shack atop the mountain. I’ve spent a bit of time kicking around in their patrol HQ over there, getting to know those guys and girls, skiing with them, trying to keep up.For the A-Basin patrol (and for all the good patrollers in Colorado), studying snow science becomes an obsession. Long hours logged at PHQ and in the field are spent conjecturing, analyzing, compiling information and comparing results. Terrifying anecdotes provide reminders that nothing in snow science is absolute absolutely nothing.The brutality of this truth was proven again on May 20, when David Conway, 53, a construction company owner from Boulder, was killed in an inbounds avalanche at Arapahoe Basin. The news was everywhere almost immediately, circulating by word of mouth as quickly as through media.For everyone who skis, Conway’s death became bitter reminder of the truth that everyone at A-Basin already knew: anything can happen in the outdoors.True, it doesn’t happen inbounds very often. Patrollers everywhere do everything in their power to make inbound terrain as safe as possible. But it’s happened before.According to a book called The Snow Torrents Avalanche Book, by Knox Williams and Betsy Armstrong, Polly slid in 1974 and killed a training ski patroller. Longtime Vail patrolman and former Loveland patrolman Dickie Pete called the VT to remind us that, yes, in fact, this HAS happened before, and he was there to witness it.It was patrolmen who recovered the body the first time, and it was patrolmen who recovered the body this time. Inbounds or out of bounds, it is patrolmen who go out of their way to take care of people who discover the inevitable pains that come with going up against the mountains. They take risks to lessen our risk, but they know there’s never a guarantee.Conway’s family is likely to try and sue, to seek some recompense from Arapahoe Basin because of this tragedy. A Forest Service investigation is under way, and the family of the victim may be looking for evidence in the details of that study, looking for a way to place blame on the small A-Basin ski operation.But I encourage the family to keep their lawyers at bay. I encourage them not to sue. As much as we wish we could control the power of nature, even in our inbounds areas, the A-Basin slide was a simple, devastating reminder that we are sometimes weak in the face of the overwhelmingly complex power of the outdoors.Instead, the people of ski country should unite and create a fund for the family. Mountain people hold self-reliance as one of our core values, but another core value is that we watch out for one another. With a volunteer effort, we can honor both. VTSend your opinion on the matter to Tom Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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