Yesterday, the tribe of people who live in mountain communities around the world lost three more of their elite members.
Two inspiring skiers and one amazing snowboarder. Two influential men who helped shape the industry and one humble young women who was setting new highs for female athletes.
Two men and one women who pushed the limits too far. Yesterday, according to reports from ESPN and every action sports news site dedicated to promoting the stoke, Capt. Alvaro Herrera of the Carabineros police force in Cochrane, Chile, confirmed the deaths of Andreas Fransson of Sweden and J.P. Auclair of Canada.
The two men were swept away by an avalanche while climbing Monte San Lorenzo, a 12,159-foot, pyramid-shaped peak that sits on the border of Chile and Argentina–known better as Patagonia.
Fransson was 31 and Auclair was 37.
Liz Daly, a 29-year-old snowboarder from Tacoma was caught in another avalanche in Cerro Vespignani, also in Patagonia. Liz was on the mountain with a large group of climbers when the avalanche struck, taking around 14 people with it. A rescue mission was immediately launched and her body was recovered soon after.
All three were extremely talented winter athletes. All three were very strategic and calculated risk takers. They all knew a great deal about avalanches and logged hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in steep backcountry terrain in some of the most remote alpine locations on Earth.
They all knew the consequences, and they all selected to push on.
My condolences to the family and friends of J.P., Andreas, and Liz. Although I never got the chance to meet them, I imagine their passion for life in the mountains, like so many others, radiated brilliantly.
So now what…
The ski community morns once more. Everyone stops for a minute during their morning routine to reflect on the possible danger of their upcoming winter pursuits and how serious avalanches are. They pause for a second to think, “Man that just sucks.” Or “We have to keep living the dream in their honor.” Or “At least they died doing what they loved.” And then the wheel keeps turning. The trailers keep playing and the stoke begins to bubble up again as the hilltops turn white across the country.
But what if we took a minute, an afternoon, hell even a week or two, and talked a little more about limits. And really talked about them. Not just the passing–“For sure, this year I’m going to practice with my beacon more.” Or “This year we’re not even going to look at that line until it really fills in.”
Let’s talk about setting them, pushing them and then incessantly poking at them until they collapse.
Let’s talk about why this is so sad, yet not surprising in any respect, and honestly pretty damn frustrating given the numbers of skiers that have died in recent years doing the same thing and the conversations we keep having about avalanche education and pushing the limits of human experience in the mountains.
Let’s talk about how my Tahoe community–specifically Olympic Valley–has memorialized nine skiers in the last four years.
Let’s talk about what Powder Editor–Matt Hansen wrote in his outstanding four-part December 2013 series–Nature’s Feedback: Why are so many of the best skiers dying?
Every fall, magazines like this one roll out yet another tribute to another dead skier—the editors trying to balance paying respect to a hero and a friend while celebrating the search for deep powder, big air and the next phenomenal athlete willing to go bigger, faster, farther than the last guy.
Let’s talk about embracing SportGevity.
Let’s talk about the Backcountry Code.
Let’s sit down with our crew, our kids, our partners, and our fellow tribesmen (and women) before we drop in this season and ask–“is it worth it?”
Justin Broglio is former President of the Sierra Avalanche Center. He is a father, a husband, a backcountry skier and sometimes a sledneck. He has never been caught in an avalanche and plans to keep it that way.