Am I Missing Something Here?

06 Dec 12
mineral basin

I recently read a an article on in which the writer discusses outdoor brands and their efforts to educate consumers about the risks of riding in the backcountry. Fair enough. The subtitle of the article reads, “Backcountry gear sales continue to rise, but who’s educating consumers?”

In about half a nanosecond I thought to myself, “AIARE and course providers, right?”* That would be the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education and providers like the Colorado Mountain School in Boulder, CO, and Pro Guiding Service in North Bend, WA, and the American Avalanche Institute (AAI) in Jackson, WY. I understand the author was discussing, to a large degree, what the industry itself is doing towards avy safety, but nowhere in the piece does he mention AIARE, or any of the many great providers teaching awareness courses from New Hampshire to Anchorage.

(EDIT: A reader wrote in to explain the article is the final installment in a six-part series. In a previous post indeed mentions AIARE and some potential sources for avalanche education from people trained in the field. I think at the least the writer in the post I describe here should’ve linked to the previous one and warned readers about a false sense of security in “gadgetry.”)

The article also flirts with the potentially deadly seduction, namely, the sale of “gear” as a safety strategy for the backcountry. Adjacent the first paragraphs of the piece is a thumbnail featuring a shovel, probe, a balloon pack, and a few other things–stuff presumably there to keep one safer when in avalanche terrain.

My problem here is that nowhere in the piece does anyone suggest that good judgment is the single most important “thing” to take into the backcountry. There is a cursory mention of “training” (beacon parks), sure. The article, though, fails to highlight the foremost avy education group in the country, then displays images of balloon packs and beacons without explaining that those things might be of use only after you’ve made the wrong call…to me this is counterproductive if not downright dangerous. With fancier and fancier beacons on the market, and now balloon packs’ efficacy being widely overstated, it’s this kind of thinking that scrambles the average backcountry user’s understanding of “the problem”.

I do NOT mean to diminish the outdoor industry’s –like Backcountry Access (BCA), Black Diamond (BD), K2, or The North Face– efforts at education. Guys like BCA’s Bruce Edgerly have been instrumental in doing important research and improving safety across the board. BD and others have donated generously to local avalanche centers and helped in getting out the message. I’m sure the writer is also well meaning…

But…writing an article about avalanche safety, education, and consumers, without mentioning AIARE of linking to a list of course providers, is like telling your kid to be a skydiver without telling her parachutes exist. Huh?

Maybe I’m overreacting. OK, so the piece was specifically about industry efforts…maybe that’s a valid excuse. Why not a sidebar on where to get educated, then? Why not link to the previous article discussing AIARE? Why not talk to K2′s Mike Hattrup, a certified ski guide with the American Mountain Guide Association, about how to get consumers educated? At least the AIARE logo at the end with the URL?

Maybe it’s the lack of snow here in Boulder. Too much time on my hands. A growing bitterness in my heart at the worst early winter since 1952?!

But maybe not. Come on, dude, it’s online journalism, a link to the AIARE list of providers, and a couple others like Birkeland’s outfit or AAI would’ve taken you three minutes to suss out, and cost your editor not a dime. If it’s consumers we’re worried about, let’s tell them where to get the goods. In this case it’s not at a retailer, but with professionals who spend way, way too much time thinking about “the avalanche problem.”

OK, back to checking the weather and trolling the Web…heaven help us!

*I edited parts of this article after receiving some complaints of confusion regarding the relationship of AIARE and for-profit course providers. I initially included the American Avalanche Institute as two organizations that organize their own curricula for avalanche education. I intentionally wanted to highlight an organization in addition to AIARE, so as not to imply that AIARE are the only folks who’ve developed their own curriculum. AAI has indeed developed their own curriculum, as have many other providers over the years–problem was, the way I wrote the initial post made it sound like AAI and AIARE were the same type of organizations. They’re not; AAI is a for-profit provider with its own curriculum. Other providers don’t use the AAI curriculum. AIARE, on the other hand, is a non-profit and providers (like the Colorado Mountain School in Boulder, Pro Guiding Service in North Bend, and Crested Butte Mountain Guides in Crested Butte) teach courses based on the AIARE curriculum.


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