When it comes to skiing, "extreme" is in. "Extreme" skis, "extreme" wear, "extreme" imitation, and unfortunately, extreme misconceptions. Several recent movies have glorified the incredible stunts of a handful of very competent skiers with nerves of steel. Whether a direct result or not, the fact is that there are suddenly more skiers tackling out-of-bounds terrain, and more skiers getting into situations that are over their heads.
To educate these extreme skiers to ski "smart" when they ski steep terrain, some ski safety professionals in the Sierra Nevada are fighting fire with fire: asking famous extreme skiers to talk about the dangers involved. On January 17, the Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley professional ski patrols, in conjunction with Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, presented an evening of education and entertainment featuring the world's best extreme skier, Scot Schmidt, and well-known ski photographer Larry Prosor.
Over 300 skiers from Tahoe City and Truckee, many of them in their teens and early twenties, showed up for the event, called "Ski Steep-NDeep Smart." Recruiting Schmidt and Prosor allowed the organizers to discuss skiing "on the edge" with many skiers who aren't reached by traditional avalanche education courses.
"When we talk to some of these folks about taking an avalanche course, they say, 'What? A classroom? No way!"' said Larry Heywood, patrol director at Alpine Meadows. "So we knew we needed to talk to them in a more informal setting."
Organizers held the gathering at the Plaza Bar at Squaw Valley. Thanks to Plaza Bar owner Tom O'Neil, alcohol wasn't served during the evening, so that young skiers could attend. Some attendees to the free event received door prizes of lift tickets or avalanche equipment.
Reaching out to extreme skiers with advice from a famous extreme skier was the idea of Alpine Meadows patroller Bill Williamson. Following the avalanche death last season of a young extreme skier in a popular out-of-bounds chutes area near Alpine Meadows, Williamson and Heywood had been searching for ways to reach those younger skiers who feel "invincible" on the slopes.
In addition to talks by Schmidt, Heywood, and Squaw Valley patrol director Mark Mueller, the program featured a slide presentation by Prosor and a viewing of the film Avalanche Awareness: A Question of Balance. Over 200 copies of Brad Meiklejohn's paper on "Safe Skiing" were also passed out.
Asked if he would recommend holding similar events in other areas, Heywood replied, "Absolutely. These skiers are out there and they want to know. You've just got to get the right draw."
For more information, contact Bill Williamson or Larry Heywood at Alpine Meadows at 916.583.4232.