Vail Today: US ski racing legend Daron Rahlves cautions Vail youth about backcountry dangers (video)
Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy students were treated to a visit by U.S. Men’s Ski Team legend Daron Rahlves during the 2017 Bird of Prey World Cup races. But this time, Rahlves wasn’t taking about being the fastest skier in the world, he was sharing stories about the risks and fears that he faces in the backcountry.
Rahlves was brought to the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy by The Glide Project, an organization put together by Vail siblings Chris Anthony and Kelli Rohrig.
“The Glide Project provides age-appropriate snow science and avalanche education for youth balanced with personal responsibility, teamwork and respect for the mountain environment,” Anthony said.
“I like to think avalanche education is more than just learning about avalanches. The more we can teach our youth about snow science, backcountry etiquette and respect for the environment, the better our students will be as advocates for using the forest in a safe and responsible way,” Rohrig said.
Rohrig led a Q-and-A session with Rahlves after the audience got an overview of some of Rahlves’ accomplishments. Not only has he won some of the most difficult races on the World Cup circuit, like the Birds of Prey Downhill course at Beaver Creek or the Hahnenkamm in Austria, he has also raced Skier Cross in the X-Games and the Olympics.
After skiing competitively, Rahlves went on to create big-mountain films and ventured into the backcountry more. He spoke to students about the more difficult experiences he’s endured. He’s been in two avalanches, one while in Alaska filming with Rage Films and the second while filming with Teton Gravity Research.
“The first time I was buried just under the surface but able to get out on my own. I went for a big ride. The second time I had a section of a line pull out on me and flushed me off a cliff. Luckily I had a BCA Airbag that saved me from getting pushed into a bergshrund by keeping me on the surface. Both times I lost a ski and was mentally shaken up,” Rahlves said.
The worst experience for Rahlves came in 2016 when fellow skier JT Holmes was buried under 5 feet of snow.
“We had a strong group that day and dug him out in a little over 6 minutes, saving his life,” Rahlves said. “These are not experiences I ever want to relive. I do my best to be armed with as much knowledge about the conditions and snow pack as possible and to avoid any terrain traps or terrain where it looks even a little suspect.”
Rohrig asked Rahlves which is more intimidating, standing at the top of the Hahnenkamm looking down at that steep race course or being perched on top of a big-mountain run waiting to descend.
“Standing on the top of a big mountain is scarier,” Rahlves said.
“At the Hahnenkamm I have a chance to inspect the Streif race hill, every inch. Out in the wild on big peaks you usually don’t have a chance to touch every turn of your run until you’re actually skiing it. There are more unknowns in the backcountry. I do my best to limit the risk and ski with intelligence,” Rahlves said.
To learn more about the Glide Project and avalanche education for youth, visit http://www.chrisanthony.com.