Local Hero: Mike Duffy

Too many backcountry snowmobilers get by on nothing but luck

MOST SNOWMOBILERS NEW to the backcountry get by on luck rather than education about how to operate more safely in avalanche zones. “When uneducated mountain snowmobilers tell me they’ve been riding in the backcountry for 20 years without an accident, I say, ‘Well, you’ve been lucky for 20 years,’” says Mike Duffy, the Eagle-based Certified American Avalanche Association course provider and instructor, and member of the Motorized Avalanche Professionals who has almost 30 years in avalanche education as founder of avalanche1.com.

“The most common denominator in the motorized avalanche accidents I’ve studied is not a single operator has taken an on-snow class from an experienced instructor.”

There’s still a lot Duffy doesn’t know, especially after 2019, one of the biggest avalanche cycles in 500 years, which accumulated 120 feet in spots and wiped out 100-year-old buildings. The backcountry skier, kayaker, dirt biker, snowmobiler, and father of one son.

“Never stop learning, especially when traversing on or under 30- degree slopes, and never let your guard down,” he says. “Safely navigating the backcountry on a motorized vehicle is a lifelong learning process. The more you know, the better decisions you can make. The knowledge we have now about avalanches compared to 15 years ago is much better.”

Studies reveal cellphones can adversely impact transceivers when used in the search mode. “Many inexperienced searchers wouldn’t know that,” says Duffy, who works with Backcountry Access. “Snow doesn’t provide the best feedback and can lead to a false sense of security. As we like to say in class, ‘Mother Nature always bats last.’

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