Money Doesn’t Buy Skills
By Ben Wannamaker
Do you know the type of consumer who opts to drop their black Amex credit card with the unlimited limit on the counter, ask for the newest, most talked about, most technologically enhanced and professionally endorsed setup in the shop – never considering the price or how it corresponds to their level of proficiency – and walks out having never looked you, the all-knowing salesperson, with a setup that any self-motivated shred-bum would very nearly murder a sibling for.
“People need to realize that practice and theory will advance their skills, not so much the equipment,” says TMC Freeriderz Assistant Manager, Rob Dagg. “Learning some skills slowly is good. Coaching is expensive, but it can really help. Expensive ski gear isn’t as important, so it can wait for when you become more advanced.”
But who are these customers? These folks who underrate nature, preferring status to sensibility and shortcuts to pride in the process? And how have they so thoroughly convinced themselves that a few seasonal purchases will get them that line they’ve scoped extensively during premiere season, part-ending trick they’ve always wanted or ice-shattering talking point for some – soullessly feisty – one night siesta?
“Getting the equipment is only the first step in being prepared for the backcountry,” says Whistler Blackcomb Ski Patroller and paramedic Wayne Flann. “Companion rescue is the next step: learn how to do it and practice until you are proficient at it. The equipment (itself) has seen lots of innovative changes, but in the end its knowledge, time – and how you use that knowledge. Situational awareness is the key to staying safe, and that only comes with good training and time spent doing it.”
Needless to say, those brash plastic dropping customers can be over-zealous dangers to themselves and to others. They follow packs of locals into the backcountry with a false sense of confidence bought with the brand new transceiver that they never bothered to familiarize themselves with – along side an equally delusional friend without one at all – rendering their own, quite obviously, useless.
“Going into the backcountry requires you to understand the risks associated with the activity and managing the risks to be safe.” Flann continues. “In my career, most people I have dug out of the snow or rescued from an avalanche incident have had their Level 1 Avalanche course. Some knowledge can make you over confident, experience comes with the amount of time you spend trying to be safe. “
When adverse avalanche conditions are at hand, local writer, publisher and backcountry enthusiast Mikey Nixon keeps his eyes on the forecast and volunteers potentially life-saving advice to the types whom his sixth sense tells him are where they shouldn’t be, in conditions that they aren’t entirely aware of.
“Sometimes people don’t realize the difference between inbounds and out of bounds, especially in the terrain around the resort – and sometimes they just don’t care. I used to get all pissy on the boot pack with people who weren’t properly prepared to head into the backcountry,” Nixon says. “But it got me nowhere. Fair enough – nobody likes being told what to do. Now I just let people know that there have been fatalities in the past – on the slope they just crossed – and most people are surprisingly receptive. In the words of my Grandma “you can’t approach ignorance with a sledgehammer.”
But Whistler prides itself on its reputation as an envelope-pushing arena. It’s what drew a lot of us here in the first place. And consequently – especially in the wake of tragedy – inexperienced apples can spoil the whole bunch. When freak forces strike in the backcountry and experienced skiers and riders are the victims of strange fractures or unpredictable forces: tragedy isn’t what it gets called:
“What were they doing out there anyway? It’s reckless. They’re all crazy”
When in fact they were meticulously calculated. So dedicated were many of this town’s fallen few that they may have even worked as professional ski patrollers – every day saving the very hides of the same helpless ‘shortcut’ skiers who mislabel ‘fantasy’ for ‘proficiency’ and discredit the experienced among them by painting the whole batch insane.
“As long as you fully understand the risks you’re taking and you’ve taken steps to mitigate those risks, you’ve got every right to head out in the uncontrolled side of the rope line.” Nixon says. “But if you’re traipsing about without a clue what you’re doing, you’re not just putting yourself at risk, but everyone else who’s in the same area as you.”