Mt. Baker is one of the most prominent ski areas in Washington, but also one of the most dangerous. Many skiers will try new challenges this winter, like skiing a black diamond or skiing a bowl. However, one first that many skiers will do that is far more deadly is backcountry skiing.
At Mt. Baker an average of four people die each year from backcountry skiing. The main reason people go backcountry skiing is to have a new challenge, but few understand how different and challenging skiing out of bounds is. In addition, many skiers do not realize how much gear is necessary to go backcountry skiing safely.
Mt. Baker requires skiers to have the following: Avalanche transceiver and demonstrated ability to use it, a partner, a shovel, knowledge of the terrain and your ability, avalanche knowledge, and knowledge of local avalanche conditions.
The most overlooked requirement is knowledge of one's ability.
Mt. Baker’s manager Duncan Howat made requirements for backcountry skiing in 1999 after the death of a skier and snowboarder who went into the backcountry without any specialized equipment, Mr. Howat implemented a backcountry safety program.
“We decided there were too many idiots, and we had to start educating people,” Mr. Howat said. He was later asked how he felt about banning backcountry skiing. “The land belongs to everybody. That’s the way it should be, but the second you’re five feet beyond the rope line, you can die. So if you want to go out there and destroy yourself, have at it,” he said.
Backcountry Skiing is something a person should try at their own risk. “We’re not making decisions for people, and we’re not determining whether it’s safe,” Business Manager Gwyn Baker said. “We are giving them the information to make their own choices about the level of risk they’re willing to assume.
However, what is most important for skiing backcountry is being smart, not pushing yourself beyond your limits, and always taking your gear with you. “We have one of the best-educated backcountry-user communities around," Baker said. “People are enforcing the backcountry policy themselves. Listen to them if you're going skiing in the backcountry.”