Backcountry access signA recent article about sidecountry access from ski resorts titled, “Sidecountry Ski Deaths Spur Safety Debate” focuses on the fact that deaths and rescues of skiers and riders in the out of bounds, but readily accessed terrain at many ski resorts called “sidecountry”, are increasing. It’s interesting that this article focuses on the fact that these incidents are increasing but on the “why”. I know this has been hashed through before, but I do think that this phenomenon is related to the rampant promotion of big mountain skiing and riding as well as the fact that equipment advances have made the “steep and deep” terrain that is accessible through many backcountry access gates more readily rideable. These factors, along with the push by resorts to open terrain the past decade that has never been open to the public before are all contributing, in my opinion, to the increase in accidents and deaths.

‘d like to pose the question, should resorts that offer sidecountry access be addressing these safety concerns more directly in their marketing efforts, or are the on-hill educational and signage that they are providing enough? As a skier I do think that most resorts I’ve seen do a rather admirable job of signing and trying to educate their customers on the risks of accessing the sidecountry from their boundaries. That noted, it could be said that some of these resorts’ marketing departments are doing an equally good job of selling that sidecountry access to their customers, many of whom should not venture anywhere near to the sidecountry due to their lack of appropriate knowledge, equipment and/or both. Are we walking a dangerous line between the freedom to experience what the backcountry has to offer us (with a little lift assist), and giving perhaps to easy access to potentially deadly terrain which we are in some ways encouraging them to experience? I don’t think so, but what do you think?

Photo credit: Flickr user dvs