A note from Andy Dappen: Bruce Bendickson sent Mike Rolfs and me a link to a New York Times story. It’s about risk and creeps and I’ve been wondering all day why he sent this to both of us. I mean, I understand why Mike got it. He sticks his neck out ‘skiing’ places with no snow and, of course, he’s a creep — he skis more than me.
But why me? Now that I’ve broken it once, I don’t have a neck to stick out. And ‘creep’… no way. I mean just look at the respectful way I treated Mr. Rolfs in the paragraph above.
Anyway, while I carry on wondering, let me get you going on this interesting story by Carl Richards in the January 7, 2015 issue of the paper. Eventually, the story veers into the boredom of financial information, so feel free to bail at that point. What’s interesting is the avalanche situation and how most of us who backcountry ski or who visit snow country to bag peaks, do let the risk-quotient creep. One good result leads those of us who still have necks to stick them out just a wee bit more.
So far this season (2015), we’ve had relatively little snow but in those areas that have collected skiable stashes there have been some twitchy conditions to worry about. That makes the risk more apparent than normal. Still, powder junkies will be powder junkies and, hazard or no, they’ll start flirting with this white-skirted mistress until….
Watching ‘Risk Creep’
by Carl Richards
The day after Christmas, a skier was caught in an avalanche near my home in Park City, Utah. Part of a foursome, the skier slid with the snow for about 500 feet before ending up buried to his neck. Luckily, his party found him, dug him out, and discovered he hadn’t been injured.
The group knew the area well. Based on the conditions and their experience, they had planned to avoid the steeper, more dangerous section of the slope. Then, things changed.
After skiing another section of the slope four times, they slowly moved into more dangerous terrain. Skiing so close to potential danger without any issues gave them a false sense of security. I’ve been in this position before, too.
You tell yourself a story. Everything has been fine so far. Things must be safe. These long periods of safety sow the seeds of future failure as risk creeps in incrementally. It’s so subtle we rarely notice it.
Afterward, the skier who got caught said, “I made a number of mistakes and ignored some obvious red flags that all should have been clear signs to back off. I’m just glad all ended well enough, and I had a great group of partners to dig me out.”
It’s fascinating how often we look back on mistakes and see all the obvious warning signs. They’re so obvious we openly admit how dumb we were to miss them. The cause seems to be associated with something I’ll call risk creep.
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This story was originally published on 1/9/15 by WenatcheeOutdoors.org staff.