Photos: Christian Pondella
In today’s fast-paced world of information sharing, dangers can often be overlooked in the race to show off and spit out information first. When it comes to backcountry skiing and riding, this type of oversight could be deadly.
Through social media there are more pictures posted and stories told of the giant peaks and fresh pow that skiers and snowboarders are slaying in the world of out-of-bounds adventure. These tales are intoxicating and inviting, and make the backcountry experience seem common, which can lull people into a more relaxed mindset when considering the sport.
“Social media gives people a false sense of security,” said professional extreme sport photographer, Christian Pondella. “A lot of people going out aren’t very savvy. You still have to have a sense of what’s going on around you.”
To help compile that data regarding one’s surroundings, the local Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center decided to create an Ambassador Program —to use well-known faces to promote avy awareness using the Center and its website as a legitimate resource for constant dialogue of what’s going on in the huge expanse of backcountry terrain in the Eastern Sierra.
The Center’s website not only provides avalanche forecasts, it also has an active blog where people can responsibly discuss the conditions they are seeing out in the field. These reports can add additional safety to your day in the backcountry. You just have to know they’re there, which is where the Ambassadors come in.
“I’ve been using the ESAC website for years and love the community that posts on it,” added pro-snowboarder and one of ESAC’s new Ambassadors, Gabe Taylor. “I’d like to see more people using the site, reading about what others are seeing out there, posting about what they’re seeing and keeping the dialogue open between backcountry enthusiasts.”
“ESAC was looking to create a more public face,” explained the Center’s Vice President Nate Greenberg. “We wanted more outlets to raise awareness of our program.” So they followed up on Pondella’s idea of choosing several well-known faces to represent ESAC.
“I just wanted a free t-shirt that said ‘Ambassador’,” Pondella added, jokingly, of not only sharing his idea but also agreeing to be one of the first Ambassadors.
“Even though we’re a different type, we decided we could use ambassadors to promote our brand,” Greenberg said. “We also want to better understand the people who are using the backcountry.”
In addition to Pondella and Taylor, ESAC has also brought local pro skier Chris Benchetler and pro snowboarder Kimmy Fasani onboard as Ambassadors. These four will use their clout in the industry to promote ESAC and help their followers understand the importance of avalanche awareness and knowing what they are getting into when headed out to the backcountry.
“The program is new so we’re still figuring out the best way to use our channels to promote ESAC, but to start with, I plan to use my social media network to tag the Center [and lead people to the Center’s site] and raise awareness that way,” said Benchetler.
“The program is a work in progress and it may grow in size or scope,” Greenberg said. For one, ESAC will be looking for an Ambassador from the snowmobile industry, another large component of the backcountry user population.
Not only does the type of dialogue that ESAC hopes to continue to create and promote provide information on terrain, it can also provide a forum to discuss mistakes people have made while out in the backcountry. Talking about the mistakes may help someone else avoid the same.
“We’re all guilty of making mistakes,” Pondella said. “A lot of times you don’t even know you’re making them [until afterward].”
The group agreed that just because you pulled it off, doesn’t mean you did it right.
And just because you have a lot of experience in the backcountry doesn’t mean ESAC can’t be a useful resource for you as well.
“The more you go out, the more risk you put yourself in and the higher the odds that something could happen,” Pondella said.
“You always have to realize there’s a lot more you don’t know than you do,” Greenberg added. “Don’t get over-confident.”
“You never know what is going to happen out there,” Benchetler said. Both he and Pondella recommended smaller groups of trusted friends when backcountry skiing or riding.
“It’s like rock climbing, where you have to trust the people who are belaying you while you are 100 feet off the ground,” Benchetler said.
And one of the most important skills to have mastered when headed out to the backcountry is use of a transceiver.
“If something happens, you have to be able to deal with it,” Pondella said. “Practice using your transceiver [Mammoth Mountain has several spots where you can do this]. And always communicate with your group when you are out there. People need to know what’s going on.”
Learn more about ESAC and dial in your transceiver knowledge at ESAC’s Annual Season Kickoff Event on Jan. 5. Visit www.esavalanche.org for more information.
For as much joy and beauty as those great peaks can offer, they can also bring heartache and loss in a split second; something everyone who goes out to play in the big backyard of the Eastern Sierra should remember every single day.
Thoughts for a speedy recovery are with ESAC Ambassador Kimmy Fasani who was recovering from a bad fall.