Dec 2012, p. 110: Hansen, Matt, "Nature's Feedback: Why are so many of the best skiers dying?"In the introduction to this issue of Powder, editor John Stifter writes that for the past year the magazine's editors had been grappling with how to address the spate of fatal accidents involving top skiers in recent years. They assigned Matt Hansen to research and write a special report on the subject. In the months since that assignment was made, many more skier deaths were reported. The article includes a list of "high-profile losses" in recent years:The author acknowledges that the list omits "dozens of hometown heroes" such as Wray Landon (Jackson Hole, WY), Allison Kreutzen (Squaw Valley, CA), Duncan MacKenzie (Whistler, B.C.), Johnny Brenan (Stevens Pass, WA), and Will Schooler (Nelson, B.C.).
Date Skiers Location 2001 Hans Saari Chamonix, France 2002 Reid Sanders, Aaron Martin Mt St Elias, Alaska 2005 Carl Skoog Cerro Mercedario, Argentina 2005 Alec Stall Mt Mansfield, Vermont 2006 Doug Coombs La Grave, France 2007 Neal Valiton Tignes, France 2008 Billy Poole Wasatch Mountains, Utah 2008 John Nicoletta Alyeska, Alaska 2009 Shane McConkey Dolomite Mountains, Italy 2010 C.R. Johnson Squaw Valley, California 2010 Jack Hannan Mt Currie, B.C. 2010 Arne Backstrom Cordillera Blanca, Peru 2010 Fredrik Ericsson K2, Pakistan 2011 Ryan Hawks Kirkwood, California 2011 Kip Garre Eastern Sierra, California 2011 Jamie Pierre Snowbird, Utah 2012 Sarah Burke Park City, Utah 2012 Jim Jack, Chris Rudolph Stevens Pass, Washington 2012 Steve Romeo, Chris Onufer Grand Teton N.P., Wyoming 2012 Rob Liberman Haines, Alaska 2012 Nick Zoricic Grindelwald, Switzerland 2012 Remy Lecluse, Gregory Costa Manaslu, Nepal
In the past 10 to 15 years, new lightweight alpine touring equipment has made it much easier for skiers to get into the backcountry. Websites have emerged to provide instant information about weather and snow conditions on challenging routes. Wider skis have made it easier to ski deep-snow features that would have been avoided a decade ago. Tricks developed in terrain parks have been transferred to big-mountain settings. Resorts, ski brands, and media outlets actively promote "the cool factor of skiing beyond the ropes." The author writes, "It all adds up to make the last 10 to 15 years one of the most transformative eras in skiing history" while noting that "it seems that if you're not out there killing it every day, you risk being left behind."
As the list of skier deaths has grown, "Every fall, magazines like this one roll out yet another tribute to another dead skier--the editors trying to balance paying respect to a hero and a friend while celebrating the search for deep powder, big air, and the next phenomenal athlete willing to go bigger, faster, farther than the last guy." The author notes, "People started to wonder when skiing had evolved from being a fun activity, where the day's thrills, spills, and excitement would be recounted later over beers, to a sport where any little mistake would cost you the ultimate price."
Gradually, a few skiers and journalists have started to question the trajectory of current trends. Robb Gaffney, a doctor and former ski film director, argues that skiing is undergoing "a continual cultural shift that has raised the level [of risk-taking] for all skiers, which thereby puts the sports's influencers even farther out on the edge." This has led to what he calls "nature's feedback," a rash of fatal accidents. Gaffney has launched a campaign called Sportgevity, which aims to instill in younger skiers the notion that a successful ski career does not end in tragedy. By developing patience and smarts, skiers can continue to enjoy the sport into old age. Gaffney doesn't expect today's top-level athletes to step back, but he hopes to reach the next generation "who have grown up in an environment that glorifies the deaths of their heroes."
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