I’ve been a regular writer about the dangers of avalanches and the need for people to take care. I’ve also regularly updated readers on safety equipment such as the avalung, Avalanche Airbag or the Snowpulse system that are designed to improve your chances of surviving an avalanche. But I still think, and keep saying, that the best bit of avalanche safety equipment in the world is the lump of grey matter in between your ears. I’m not saying you can’t take any risks at all. A lot of the enjoyment we get from being outdoors comes from taking some calculated risks. But if you can avoid an avalanche then you don’t need to worry about surviving it.
So I was a bit dismayed to see this new advert from Ford showing Spanish skier Aymar Navarro racing away from an avalanche that he had triggered. Like many avalanche videos, it makes for amazing viewing. But if you want the real story, and an even more amazing escape, then click through to the video that comes afterwards (to avoid the spoiler watch them in the order I’ve just posted them).
The video shows Aymar triggering the avalanche and then outrunning it. That would be nice, if it were true. Unfortunately he was actually buried up to his neck in snow and probably only remained with his head above it because he triggered an airbag system. Check this one out.
As you can see, he is in so deep he probably wouldn’t have managed to get himself out, though it seems he was otherwise unharmed.
The advertisement has caused a huge outcry. The Financial Times newspaper ran a big story complaining that it glamorises risk and implies that strong skiers can escape using their own speed and power. That may be true sometimes, but not always.
The newspaper quoted mountain guide and safety expert Nigel Shepherd, who said it was inexcusable and “sad for anyone who has lost a friend or relative in an avalanche who might see this.”
The second avalanche video was also used as an advertisement by Avalanche Airbag Systems (ABS) to show how their product can save lives. Yet this also created controversy. Powder Magazine wrote an editorial titled “calling bullsh!t” for promoting a “false sense of security”. The hard-hitting editorial said:
Avalanches are not glamorous. Getting caught in one does not make you cool. Most often, it just makes you cold and dead and then shatters the lives of all the people around you.
It concludes by arguing that what the industry needs to be doing is sending out a unified message on skiing safety that doesn’t confuse people with the belief that equipment alone will keep them safe. I couldn’t agree more. Use the safety device that nature put between your ears before relying on anything technological that may or may not work when you need it.