Skier shares why he goes to the backcountry despite threats of avalanche

Published: Friday, Feb. 24 2012 11:02 p.m. MST

Mason Diedrich says he's willing to assume the risks inherent in backcountry adventure.

KSL

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There are warning signs. Avalanche Danger. Avalanche Area.

Some of the signs have skulls and crossbones. They challenge all who pass to think and think again, advancing at their own risk.

Yet regardless of those signs and media accounts of the death and injuries caused by four avalanches just this week alone, backcountry skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers continue to put themselves in harm's way, undaunted by the potential for hazard.

Some ask why they do it. Mason Diedrich, a 35-year-old, seven-year backcountry diehard, shrugs his shoulders. Like many backcountry adventurers, he assumes the risks are inherent and bad outcomes are usually bad luck.

"I know that there are days where I may feel good, I may feel safe — and it can still happen," Diedrich said, eyeing a home office full of skis and ski skins. His airbag flotation pack and helmet are standard gear, just in case.

In an average ski season, Diedrich backcountry skis 20 to 25 times, he said.

"If you go even a few days after a storm in the backcountry, you can still find protected snow — stuff that's been in the trees that hasn't been skied — and it's nice," Diedrich said.

He said the rewards far outweigh the risks.

"To me it's more about the experience — just like going out hiking in the summer — it's being out in nature, it's being part of the Wasatch Mountains or wherever you happen to be skiing."

While ski experts acknowledge feelings of invulnerability or the need to challenge authority might drive a number of backcountry adventurers — Diedrich said that's not him. He's not a daredevil.

Diedrich went through "Level 1" avalanche training. He carries a beacon, skis out-of-bounds in groups and follows strictly the strategy of skiing down a hill one at a time.

"You try to minimize the risk as much as possible," he said.

Diedrich said the threat of injury or death leads to cautious decision-making.

"Maybe just one decision can make that much of a difference in terms of what slope angle you're skiing on, what aspect you're skiing on, how you ski it and having a plan —those little things add up," Diedrich said.

Utah Avalanche Center director Bruce Tremper said though avalanche danger had diminished slightly on Friday, conditions remained a "very, very complex" situation. Even those with "Level 1" and "Level 2" certifications should avoid slopes of 30 degrees or greater, he said.

Email: aadams@ksl.com

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