Monday, January 23, 2012

High-Profile Ski Fatalities Provide Somber Reminder

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2012 at 3:15 PM

With the recent surge in Idaho's snow pack, many skiers and boarders are anxious to hit the slopes. However, a handful of tragic accidents have recently taken the lives of some of skiing's biggest talents.

Not that the passing of Jamie Pierre and Sarah Burke would have been any easier to accept had they died going huge or trying something never done before, but a somber lesson is still learned from their uncharacteristic mistakes on terrain they were more than qualified to ride.

Pierre died in November snowboarding in bounds at Snowbird, Utah, prior to the resort's opening. He, along with several other folks excited for the first few big storms of the season, had been hiking lines along the resort's South Chute near Mt. Baldy. According to several accounts, numerous other avalanches loosed that day in the area—representative of the dangerous conditions typical throughout the Wasatch Front early in the season. Pierre, like many others, perhaps assumed that skiing in bounds pre-season would be safe, and that there wasn't enough snow to present too much danger. In fact, the lack of snow drug Pierre through a turnstile of rocks and debris, and over a cliff to his death.

Burke's story is no better. She crashed on a half pipe training run in Park City, Utah, leaving her with severe brain damage. After years of pushing the limits of one of the most dangerous sports out there, and successfully lobbying to bring women's super pipe skiing to the Winter Olympics for 2014, Burke died in a Salt Lake City hospital from complications with a major brain artery on Jan. 19. Her passing was a numbers game more than a tactical error. Sailing off of a 22-foot coping to a vertical transition at full speed will result in injury from time to time. Burke simply landed wrong and, sadly, it cost her her life.

Tragically, both Pierre and Burke were at the top of their respective games. Their untimely passings provide a painful reminder of how the things we consider fun can turn on us in an instant.

Idaho's backcountry and parks/pipes have distinct dangers that can be magnified in a season like the one in which the snow comes late and heavy, and riders of all types are eager to make the most out of a postponed start. The avalanche danger will remain great until the initial base settles. Before you head out for a day of fun on the mountain, remember that even professionals are subject to the whims of fate. A tree branch, rock, new line, or a little too much speed off that booter can have fatal consequences no matter how good you are.

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