Jasper
Marmot Basin

Knowing your boundaries

No matter what mountain you're tackling, it's always important to know your own limits, and, more importantly, the limits of the terrain.
Photo by Rick MacDonnell

RICK MACDONNELL

JASPER, ALTA. – If there's one thing the ski industry does, specifically the media, it's encourage people to hit that next level in terms of adventure touring. There aren't many publications out there that aim to get people off their couch and onto smooth, relaxed groomers. Often, the atmosphere online is high-octane, energetic, and it pushes the envelope.

This is all well and good until someone does something stupid and gets hurt. We're all guilty of peddling these adventures, so it's beneficial once in a while to take a step back and understand where it is we're skiing, what the dangers are, and whether we're prepared to tackle the terrain we're after.

After just over a year on skis, I recently tackled my first double black diamond run at Marmot Basin (Drop Zone into Terminator). While I couldn't have been happier for myself, I realized that I was still woefully unprepared for that type of terrain. I'm still on the lower end of the "advanced skier" spectrum, so I needed to keep myself in check to make sure I didn't get in a little over my head.

You duck a fence, you're on your own

I sat down with Mat Charest, assistant avalanche forecaster at Marmot Basin, to talk about some of the potential dangers that arise when a person moves from intermediate to advanced terrain. Not surprisingly, Charest told me that this is an issue at every ski hill across Western Canada.

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"Too many people go into areas they can't handle," Charest said. "Too many people aren't educated about the areas they're skiing. They watch ski films and don't take into account the hours, sometimes days, of prep work that went into hitting that line. There are rescuers on site for these guys, there's helicopter support staff ... at a ski resort, if you duck a fence, you're on your own."

Ducking fences has been a problem at any ski hill you can think of. As long as there have been boundaries imposed, there have been people who want to break through those boundaries. But people have to realize that if there's a fence, then something's wrong on the other side of that fence. Guys like Charest don't put these up arbitrarily, or because there might be dangers; they do it because as soon as you pass that line, you're potentially putting your life at risk.

Respecting your rescuers

Understanding avalanche dangers, trail closures, and out of bounds terrain

Marmot Peak, an in-bounds hike at the top of the Marmot's Knob Chair, offers some of the best terrain you're going to find, in-bounds or out.
Photo by Rick MacDonnell

"One thing people don't take into account is that they aren't just putting their own lives at stake. If you hurt yourself and someone has to go in after you, you're putting the lives of those rescuers at stake as well."

It's important to note that Marmot's "Enter at your own risk" signs changed to "Don't put our rescuers at risk." It's a consequence that people rarely think about, but it's the first thing that should cross someone's mind. You can put your body at risk all you want – that's your prerogative – but have some respect for the people who'll risk their own lives to save yours.

It's not that ducking fences is an epidemic that needs to be remedied, because it's not nearly that bad. But it never hurts to be aware. Even if you enter and exit these regions safely, you're still going to get penalized for doing so. You'll lose your day pass without a second thought, and your season pass will be suspended (two weeks for first offense) or revoked (second offense). You also run the risk of being charged for trespassing. 

"If you want to access more adventurous terrain, just find a ski patroller and ask him or her, 'Where should I go to ski X terrain?' That's all you have to do. There's amazing in-bounds terrain at any resort in Western Canada, you just have to know where to look. There's no need to duck ropes because, whatever you're looking for, we can likely find it for you in-bounds," said Charest.

Always follow the fences, people. Sometimes what was safe yesterday has become part of the avalanche start line today. And if there's a track on the other side of the ropes, it doesn't mean it's safe. And as soon as you make a track out of bounds, it allows others to think it's safe. Ski patrollers like Charest work their tails off to ensure your safety. At least respect that, even if you don't respect your own welfare.

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