Let’s not forget we are mortal. Often, we take it for granted.
I am assuming, since you are reading this post that you, the reader, like to spend your precious time in the outdoors. Mountain athletes will all agree that their life is enriched by their sports of choice. But, when we choose to participate in sports that flirt with the raw power of the natural environment we are inherently taking risks, putting our mortality on the line. This risk is part of what makes sports like skiing, climbing, mountain biking, and white water kayaking, fun, and deeply rewarding. Therefore, it is essential that before we put ourselves out there at the mercy of Mother Nature we fully understand the consequences.
This past weekend I was backcountry skiing in Tuckerman Ravine on Mt Washington in New Hampshire. Tucks, as it is widely referred to, has long been a proving ground for East Coast skiers looking to test their skills on the steep (50 degree+), uncontrolled, natural terrain. A typical weekend during the short spring season will draw hundreds of people into the ravine and a rather rowdy scene develops. Spectators cheer for fast, aggressive skiing and wipeouts are equally applauded. This energy makes skiing Tucks what it is but it can also push people to do things that may be beyond their limits.
On Saturday afternoon, I witnessed the worst fall I have ever seen. He fell skiing a very steep section called The Chute. The man fell at least 500 vertical feet and was evacuated by helicopter. It was a brutal reminder that skiing Tucks is no joke. After the accident I witnessed at least 3 other brutal falls taken by skiers and riders that were out of control. Thankfully, no one else was injured.
I hate to say this, because I love pushing my own limits in the mountains, but I can’t help feeling that the atmosphere in the ravine breeds a certain reckless mentality. Backcountry skiing is dangerous enough when done with extreme caution. It becomes incredibly dangerous when human factors complicate our decision making.
Please don’t be scared away from skiing Tuckerman Ravine. It is beautiful and deserves its place as an East Coast proving ground; it is as close to big mountain skiing as it gets out here. But as mountain athletes we need to be aware of the risks we are taking and always be looking for ways to mitigate them. A successful day in the mountains is defined by survival, not summits obtained, or cliffs hucked. These are sports that can kill you. Oddly, that is part of why we love them.
Just a little something to meditate on.