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Outside » Outside Features

Risk Vs. Reward: On accidents, avalanches and other perils

Risks of avalanches are more common than we think and possible signs appear on Mt. Bachelor.

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Last month, Canadian freeskier Sarah Burke crashed while training in a Park City, Utah, superpipe. The fall resulted in an arterial tear, a brain bleed, cardiac arrest, and, ultimately ,Burke's death at age 29. Burke was a leader in women's freeskiing and identified by many as one of the best in the sport. She was wearing a helmet and skiing within her abilities when she fell. It was an unexplainable accident. There are a lot of freak accidents in the mountains.

In 2007, Bend's own Tyler Eklund, then a 14-year-old grom, broke his C3 vertebra and was paralyzed from the neck down while taking a practice run at the USASA National's snowboard event. Eklund, who continues to be involved in snowboarding through events like the annual Dirksen Derby at Mt. Bachelor, was also wearing a helmet at the time of his accident and had been training for several months to participate in the event


The list of injured and dead skiers and snowboarders is long from the last few years. Burke and Eklund are simply two of the most recent, visible, and in many ways freakish. Other fatalities and injuries in the mountains, while still tragic, can at least be attributed to specific factors or decisions.

AVALANCHES ARE REAL

As of February 1, 2012, there have been nine avalanche-related fatalities in the Western United States alone this year. The slides, which occurred in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming resulted from weak base layers of snow, a condition that may continue to plague the region for much of the season, according to experts at the Utah Avalanche Center in Salt Lake City. Many of the people killed in avalanches this year had experience traveling in the backcountry in avalanche terrain and carried avalanche beacons and rescue gear with them.

Locally, skiers and snowboarders have reported signs of potential snow instability, including cracking and whomping on places as seemingly benign as Tumalo Mountain and Mt. Bachelor during heavy storm cycles. A recent dawn patrol to the Tumalo cirque showed three-to-four-inch cracks located 15 feet from the cornice line and propagating down the ridge. Even here, it can be dangerous.

Risk is an inherent element of the outdoors. It's everywhere. When we get out there and get after it, we court it. We offer it flowers, a glass of wine, a cozy spot by the fire. Then we begin to get used to it, maybe we neglect it at times. We don't pay it the attention it deserves, and we forget that it needs our attention more than it did when we were just starting out, when fear still tempered our actions. If we're lucky, if it's not a freak accident, we're given a wake-up call. We see the cracks in the snow, feel the iciness of the landing, and it leads us to reevaluate our plan of action. We gut-check, and though it may be disappointing, we make it home safe.

Being in the mountains isn't always about skiing big lines, hitting big jumps, taking big risks. In the weeks ahead, a host of area mountain events will provide entertainment, activity, competition, music and beer that should be capable of making even the most hardened mountain man happy to hang out and enjoy a few days of pure fun.

UPCOMING EVENTS

February 10-15, Mt. Bachelor is hosting the Deschutes Brewery for "Woody Week." Wood, the brewery's traveling beer barrel and taphouse will be located outside the Clearing Rock bar at the West Village Lodge with an on-snow lounge, music and specialty beers. Biscuits and Groovy, a band known for its funky sound, will be playing live at the event on Feb. 11 from 2-4 pm.

The USASA Central Oregon Series Slopestlye and Rail Jam kicks off this weekend at Mt. Bachelor with the slopestyle event on Feb. 11, and a Rail Jam on Feb. 12. All competitors must have a current USASA membership. For more information, visit www.usasa.org.

In less vertical pursuits, MBSEF is holding the Patagonia Pursuit skiathlon on Feb. 12 at the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center. The race, which is open to Junior, Senior and Masters classes ranging in age from 1 to 100, is comprised of a mass start, a classic Nordic ski leg, a triathlon-style transition and a skate-ski leg.

Finally, Hoodoo Ski Area is throwing its Winter Carnival on Saturday, Feb. 11. Featured events include a ski javelin throw, a Dummy Downhill, live music from the Blackstrap Bluegrass band, and a Torchlight Descent to end the day.

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