Fatal A-Basin slide reminds us of nature’s power
The first loop around on Pali, I felt I held my own pretty well. After all, two of my ski companions had summited Everest within the last year.
The rest of the crew looked chiseled from stone. Their raccoon-eyes told of hundreds of laps on Palivacinni, the muscular side of Arapahoe Basin.
We dropped knee after knee, lunge after lunge on Pali’s unforgiving bumps. No stops. Lots of whoops and laughter (from them). Lots of catching up (from me).
The people who ski Pali ski it almost every day. They form a bond. They climb Himalayan peaks in their free time.
They watch out for each other, and they always play it safe.
The Arapahoe Basin ski patrollers form a portion of this A-Basin cadre. Like eagles perched on a mountain aerie, A-Basin patrollers watch over their domain.
I’ve spent a bit of time kicking around in their patrol HQ, getting to know those men and women, skiing with them, trying to keep up.
For the A-Basin patrol (and for all the good patrollers in Colorado), studying snow science becomes an obsession.
Long hours logged at headquarters and in the field are spent conjecturing, analyzing, compiling information and comparing results.
Terrifying anecdotes provide reminders that nothing in snow science is absolute ” absolutely nothing.
The brutality of this truth was proven again on May 20, when David Conway, 53, a construction company owner from Boulder, was killed in an inbounds avalanche at Arapahoe Basin. The news was everywhere almost immediately, circulating by word of mouth as quickly as through media.
For everyone who skis, Conway’s death became a bitter reminder of the truth that everyone at A-Basin already knew: anything can happen in the outdoors.
True, it doesn’t happen inbounds very often. Patrollers everywhere do everything in their power to make inbound terrain as safe as possible. But it’s happened before.
According to a book called “The Snow Torrents Avalanche Book,” by Knox Williams and Betsy Armstrong, Pali slid in 1974 and killed a training ski patroller. Longtime Vail patrolman and former Loveland patrolman Dickie Pete called to remind us that, yes, in fact, this HAS happened before, and he was there to witness it.
It was patrollers who recovered the body the first time, and it was patrolmen who recovered the body this time.
Inbounds or out of bounds, it is patrollers who go out of their way to take care of people who discover the inevitable pains that come with going up against the mountains.
It remains to be seen whether Conway’s family sues to seek some recompense from Arapahoe Basin because of this tragedy.
But I encourage the family to keep the lawyers at bay. I encourage them not to sue.
The A-Basin slide was a simple, devastating reminder that we are sometimes weak in the face of the overwhelmingly complex power of the outdoors.
Instead, the people of ski country should unite and create a fund for the family. Mountain people hold self-reliance as one of our core values, but another core value is that we watch out for one another.
Tom Boyd is editor of the Vail Trail weekly newspaper in Vail. Send your opinion on the matter to him at email@example.com.
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