Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

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Bean
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby Bean » Tue Dec 25, 2012 6:55 pm

speth wrote:I'm not trying to stir the pot, one because I'm not a skier, and two because I'm not really a Monday morning quarterback, but what is the consensus on airbags for backcountry skiing?

My impression is that they give a false sense of security and they open up terrain for people who aren't sure of themselves, but maybe I'm looking at it from a "novice skier" perspective? Do they actually work, or is it really a last-ditch-effort piece of equipment? The girl from the story is obviously not a beginner, but she has one... Should this be a standard piece of safety equipment in avalanche terrain?

All of the above. They work, but they also encourage some people to go places they shouldn't. I imagine within a decade they'll be almost as standard as beacon/shovel/probe (probably at least as common as avalungs are now). The "trick" is to not make riskier line selections because of the airbag.

I don't have one yet, but will get one soon-ish. I hear rumors on the internets of a possible game-changer coming from Arc'teryx and/or Black Diamond.
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby RoanMtnMan » Tue Dec 25, 2012 7:05 pm

I am pretty sure that there isn't a better American source than http://www.wildsnow.com/backcountry-skiing-search/?cx=partner-pub-8093284038752434%3Ayxtlw7-4zut&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=airbag&sa=Search+WildSnow to get info on the airbags. Lou has coordinated more independent research than anyone on the subject. Still a work in progress though. I personally believe that it is a net positive for survival.
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby jdorje » Tue Dec 25, 2012 11:15 pm

speth wrote:My impression is that they give a false sense of security and they open up terrain for people who aren't sure of themselves


How is that different from any other piece of safety equipment?
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby Doug Shaw » Tue Dec 25, 2012 11:26 pm

EatinHardtack wrote:I've heard from snow scientists and avalanche experts that like them for their intended purpose. Are they a full proof rescue device, no, but they are meant to be used along with other rescue devices to increase survival (beacon, probe, shovel, avalung, education).


There is one important distinction between the airbag technology and other "standard fare" rescue "technology" (education excluded for the purpose of this discussion). Airbags are intended to keep you from getting buried - which I am pretty sure is statistically more important in surviving an avalanche than even successful deployment of all of the other gear combined.

None of the other common avy rescue technologies (beacon, probe, shovel, avalung) do anything to keep you from being buried, they simply increase your survival likelihood once you are buried. In this regard they can increase the odds of having your ass saved once your ass already needs saving. The airbag technology promises to keep your ass from needing saving, which is one reason it has gotten so much attention. In Europe, airbag technology has been in use for a good bit longer than in the US and I believe that the statistics on the airbag's effects on avalanche injury and mortality have been very promising.

Of course the airbag will inspire some people to go to more dangerous areas by creating or adding to the illusion or perception of safety - and in this regard it is really no different than any other avalanche rescue technology - or, to be honest, rescue technology of any sort.

As a non-skier, I admit to being a fan of this simplistic advice: if you wouldn't ski it without avy gear, don't ski it with avy gear.
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby RoanMtnMan » Wed Dec 26, 2012 12:26 am

Doug Shaw wrote:As a non-skier, I admit to being a fan of this simplistic advice: if you wouldn't ski it without avy gear, don't ski it with avy gear.


Words to live by, but the gear is a good "worst case backup", since we all make bad decisions in unpredictable environments from time to time. But generally, your thought should be a mantra Mr Shaw.
Last edited by RoanMtnMan on Wed Dec 26, 2012 1:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby pills2619 » Wed Dec 26, 2012 1:11 am

4 people were caught in that avalanche and the only one who survived was able to deploy her BCA airbag... Do airbags in a car make you drive faster??? Yeah they do but we still have less deaths(percentage) in automobiles than before. To me I'm probably not always gonna live by a simple cautious mantra so when one day I make a mistake, be it overconfidence be is tiredness be it something unpredictable, and find myself in an avalanche I hope I have this piece of equipment on me. You don't always have to be a novice to be imperfect in the back country, the 3 people that died at Tunnel Creek were cautious enough to have lived as long as they did. They were not always 100% sure, they obviously had times when they scared themselves and many of them were scared on that day. Almost every single person out there made a mistake its what humans do, not because of an airbag on your back but because its what you want to do at the time and pretty much nothing is going to stop you. At that point anything that is making you safer is only making you safer.... So be safe out there cause I think Santa just dropped off another foot of powder and I can't think of a better way to honor John, Jim and Chris than by ripping up the slopes like its the last day I'll ever get to ski...
They forget that some crisis is necessary to hone skill. "Near misses," those brief encounters with the reality of mortality, are great learning tools if properly approached. -Denali Climbers Guidebook
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby pvnisher » Wed Dec 26, 2012 4:59 am

Good discussion about airbags, similar to the discussion about SPOT and other beacons (or cell phones for that matter), and how you might be willing to do things because you perceive a safety net.
I don't drive any differently with a seatbelt or airbag. But I do climb different terrain when I have a rope!

I have never been caught in an avalanche, but have seen 2 avalanches (ok, one was an icefall). They are enormous, massive, terrifying things. I can't imagine being caught in one. Airbag or not, there's a good chance it's going to seriously eff you up.
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby pills2619 » Wed Dec 26, 2012 10:34 am

Yeah you might not drive any differently now but compared to the infancy of automobiles everyone drives faster and with less regard for danger than you would in say a model T. I'm generalizing as is needed when talking about safety but I do remember something about this from a psych class. It basically theorizes that if fear was a good way to keep people safe replacing your airbag with a foot long spike pointed at your chest you would arguably reduce the number of fatalities and create a safer road system because everyone is scared out of their mind. I'm not really going anywhere with this just provoking some thoughts, I haven't had any coffee yet... but that sounds similar to trying to keep people scared so they won't ski certain lines. If I remember correctly we would all end up becoming used to the spike and forgetting about the extreme danger of it, hence the continued fatalities without the use of sensible safety features.
They forget that some crisis is necessary to hone skill. "Near misses," those brief encounters with the reality of mortality, are great learning tools if properly approached. -Denali Climbers Guidebook
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby Doug Shaw » Wed Dec 26, 2012 11:58 am

pills2619 wrote:I'm generalizing as is needed when talking about safety but I do remember something about this from a psych class. It basically theorizes that if fear was a good way to keep people safe replacing your airbag with a foot long spike pointed at your chest you would arguably reduce the number of fatalities and create a safer road system because everyone is scared out of their mind.


It's called "risk homeostasis", and the general principle is that people are always willing to accept the same amount of perceived risk - but the amount of objective risk may increase as people become accustomed or desensitized to the situation. While not universally-accepted as a psychological truth, it is studied by some of those people researching why experienced and educated people carrying all the right gear still get caught and killed in avalanches at a rate similar to or higher than everybody else. Shouldn't their knowledge and experience serve to keep them out of those situations?

I've managed to bungle my way down a few ungroomed blue runs in my life, but that's about the pinnacle of my skiing career. If you take me out to ski off of Capitol, I will politely inform you of your right to f*** off; my perceived level of risk would be off the chart.

Put me on skis for a decade, skiing increasingly aggressive lines over that time, gaining ever more experience and knowledge, and bring me back to ski Capitol and it may seem doable to me at that point. The objective risk won't have changed - if you fall or the situation goes pear-shaped it will be catastrophic. But continued experience and learning may have adjusted my perception of the risk so that I believe - rightly or wrongly - that it is something I can manage.

Capitol-skiing Doug may perceive the same amount of risk on Capitol that blue-run-bungling Doug does on an ungroomed run at Loveland. But in one of them an experienced and knowledgeable person is really out on the ragged edge where the slightest mistake can cost him his life.
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby RoanMtnMan » Wed Dec 26, 2012 1:18 pm

Doug Shaw wrote:Capitol-skiing Doug may perceive the same amount of risk on Capitol that blue-run-bungling Doug does on an ungroomed run at Loveland. But in one of them an experienced and knowledgeable person is really out on the ragged edge where the slightest mistake can cost him his life.


Good discussion and one that should be read by all. People do have different risk tolerances and risk mitigation only goes so far, but should be aggressively pursued. However in the end all the gear and training that gets one to the comfort level of doing something risky, doesn't actually reduce the risks, it just aids the mistake clean up. The most important thing to remember is that accepting the risks before you start is the real crux of a trip. A rope, a beacon, an airbag, or blah blah, are just tools to give you a slightly better chance of living if a mistake happens, and it will eventually. Unfortunately, desires continue to outpace technology and understanding as has always been the case with humanity. As a very well known mountain guide once said, with a french accent, "the best thing you can carry is your head."

Things that go in my winter pack:

Beacon, probe, shovel.
First aid kit and training to use it.
Spot.
Emergency bivy, extra clothes, gloves, socks, goggles, food, stove, and fire starting kit.
2 headlamps and extra batteries.
Cell phone.

What do these all have in common? You only need them when you make a mistake.

In my opinion, it is lighter and safer to use things like weather forecasts, avalanche forecasts, observations, terrain selection, fear rationale, and restraint. All more difficult to master than pulling a cord on a $500 backpack. But they are free and much more effective. The worst case scenario with them is that your friends scold you for backing off. The worst case with the aforementioned, they don't work when you are already in the meat of a bad situation.
Always follow the 7 P's. Proper Planning & Preparation, Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.

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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby griddles » Wed Dec 26, 2012 4:11 pm

Doug Shaw wrote:
It's called "risk homeostasis", and the general principle is that people are always willing to accept the same amount of perceived risk - but the amount of objective risk may increase as people become accustomed or desensitized to the situation. While not universally-accepted as a psychological truth, it is studied by some of those people researching why experienced and educated people carrying all the right gear still get caught and killed in avalanches at a rate similar to or higher than everybody else. Shouldn't their knowledge and experience serve to keep them out of those situations?



I think you are looking for risk compensation; "people tend to adjust their behavior in response to perceived level of risk, behaving less cautiously where they feel more protected and more cautiously where they feel a higher level of risk" from the great and powerful http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_compensation.
This is the reason I do not have a ski helmet. I do not need something to ease my mind into thinking that I am safer than i really am. A good article about ski helmets from the bbc http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16715883.
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Re: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Postby Bean » Wed Dec 26, 2012 4:33 pm

griddles wrote:I think you are looking for risk compensation; "people tend to adjust their behavior in response to perceived level of risk, behaving less cautiously where they feel more protected and more cautiously where they feel a higher level of risk" from the great and powerful http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_compensation.
This is the reason I do not have a ski helmet. I do not need something to ease my mind into thinking that I am safer than i really am. A good article about ski helmets from the bbc http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-16715883.


I'd almost certainly be dead if I didn't have a helmet on a certain occasion (and I wasn't being super rad gnar dude because of my helmet), and Natasha Richardson would almost certainly still be alive had she been wearing one.

Another famous anti-helmet zealot posted test numbers showing that hitting a post with a helmet at a certain speed would result in a concussion and argued their lack of value from that - ignoring the part where the same impact without a helmet would result in certain death.
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