The rebukes of hazard today |

The rebukes of hazard today

After a long slog into the hut, we had exchanged soggy gear for warm, dry duds and were sipping on well-deserved beers. Suddenly, the radio crackled.

One of our crew had, against all protestations, gone out into the evening to rendezvous with friends that he thought were still making their way up the skin track. Now, not 20 minutes later, his voice pleaded for help with what was believed to be a broken ankle.

His erstwhile touring partners had already made it up to our altitude but decided to stay out reconnoitering without checking in, even though dusk was long past. With one friend hurt and two more not yet accounted for, a placid scene turned chaotic as the reality of the situation became apparent.

Despite an avowed dedication to evaluating and mitigating the consequences of the environmental hazards posed by our high alpine location, the worst was happening. The desire for adventure trumped good sense. Substituting “profit” for “adventure” in the previous sentence reveals the main reason why otherwise intelligent and rational people end up mired in years of litigation.


Life is one giant hazard. It is a wonder that we live as long as we do. We face down cancer and heart disease and terrifyingly poor drivers and a seemingly infinite amount of daily dangers.

Those called to the mountain life expose themselves to even greater risks. Avalanches crash down upon the aware and unsuspecting alike. Crevasses swallow seasoned mountaineers as easily as a fish slurping a fly. Advances in backcountry education and preparedness are encouraging, but yet the mountains claim victims. It is both sad and inevitable.

Business is similarly awash in hazard, with a literal payoff for pushing the envelope. Insurance provides some insulation against risk but has enough loopholes to make the decision to lure an employee away from a competitor or to skimp on materials a dangerous choice.

Perhaps there are some who derive the same adrenaline rush from maximizing the bottom line as I do from skiing a powder line, but I lack the frame of reference to understand that feeling.


Putting aside the ski film stars and corporate raiders, the vast majority of us are relatively reasonable. We want to have fun and make money but are not willing to put our lives on the line to do so. We take our avalanche education courses, practice beacon searches and religiously review avalanche conditions online. We work hard to please our clients, pay our taxes, revise that marketing campaign that was a tad bit too cheeky.

Sometimes we go outside of our comfort zones in order not to miss those moments that make life worth living. Or at least that is how we justify our choices to ourselves and our families. Largely though, we derive happiness and security from understanding our limits.

The problem arises when our emotions override our intellect. These could be hubris or rage or greed or even boredom. Sure, it snowed a lot in the past two days and the snow is touchy, but that peak is so picturesque that it is just itching to be bagged.

Yes, the company is on solid financial footing despite being understaffed, but that massive project will bring in so much money that we must bid on it.

The further into the decision-making process one goes, the greater the excitement builds and the more likely one is to be lured into a foolhardy decision. Despite all of the planning and desire to avoid hazards, we nonetheless find ourselves squarely in their path.

As our two absent partners finally returned to the hut, a rescue mission for our injured compatriot was launched. After a few tense and dark hours, we received word on the radio that our friend had been picked up by search and rescue and was on his way to the hospital. With this wake-up call, the next day’s touring around the hut was very mellow.


That pendulum swung the other way the day after when members of our party wanted to go up and ski something a little more exposed and potentially rewarding. A safety plan was implemented and quickly abandoned when stoke levels ran too high. The collective IQs in the group exceeded a thousand, but that did not make us any less stupid.

Whether outside or in the boardroom, do not repeat our mistakes. Listen to your gut: That will tell you when you are about to ignore a hazard that you know you should not. Smart hazard analysis will not only save you money, but perhaps even your life.

T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, please contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, tj@rkv or visit

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