Immunity and Disclosure

Closing Weekend 2021

A lesson I learned in Private Equity was:

Concession for concession

If I’m going to give something away then I should get something in return.

Because the public sector has different incentives than the private sector, it is possible for corporations to gain valuable concessions in exchange for not much in return.

Name an industry with corporate immunity for losses associated with their product.

The first one that usually comes to mind is guns. Here’s a link to a summary of the law – The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms.

In Colorado we have the Ski Safety Act (link to the law) that grants immunity to ski operators from the inherent risks of skiing. This act provides a huge incentive for resort operators to expand their Colorado operations. Colorado skiing is better because of this act, and I like to ski.

Backcountry Skiing

If you die in an avalanche in Colorado then the CAIC will do their very best to find out as much as possible about your death. They will publish their findings so the community can learn from the price you paid.

It’s a valuable public service, done on a limited budget ($1.6 million of public money in 2020). The accident reports give us a chance to make individual learning, collective. The reports also enable the public to make informed decisions about how they participate in backcountry skiing.

We have the accident investigation infrastructure, outside the resorts, and it doesn’t cost much. The $1.6 million of public money buys much more than accident investigation.

Investments in Public Safety

When I arrived in Boulder, the junction of North Broadway and Highway 36 was governed by a single stop sign. A cyclist turning left (on to to Hwy 36) needed to cross high speed traffic.

This intersection was the scene of fatal accidents and, eventually, the stop sign was replaced by a traffic light.

Before the light was put in, only the locals knew it was a dangerous location. The highway traffic comes around a corner and would catch unsuspecting cyclists while they tried to clip back into their pedals. I worked at a training camp where an out-of-state participant was killed at this intersection, when he turned back early from a group ride.

Colorado counties have the information they need to make informed investments in their road safety infrastructure.

With our in-bounds terrain, the counties and the public are largely skiing blind.

As a community, we’ve made a choice to accept the inherent risks of skiing.

I support this choice.

By taking personal responsibility for the risks of skiing, we save the ski operators tens of millions of dollars. A large multiple of the value of these savings is enjoyed by the owners of the resorts. The cost of better information would be a tiny fraction of gain in capital value

Improved disclosure, while preserving corporate immunity, would provide a positive incentive for the ski operators to improve their “dangerous intersections.”

Colorado can handle the truth

Here’s a link to the ski safety code – It is common sense stuff. The code fails to nudge skiers away from death and permanent injury.

From reading about fatal accidents, I learned some things I’ve passed to my kids:

  1. Trees kill
  2. Look where you want to go
  3. Hit things with your legs
  4. We don’t know why the rope is there
  5. Bar down

With better information, we can improve Colorado for those who follow us.

Let’s iterate towards better.

What I Carry in the Backcountry

Three pounds that could make a difference

With the changing of the seasons, I like to remind myself what I’ve been carting around.

My “overnight” bag

  • Huge, thick trash bag
  • Shell overmitts
  • Two-person emergency bag
  • Three different ways to start a fire – I’ve used my stove to light a fire during an unexpected night out. My stove was the difference between a wet, miserable night and an interesting adventure.
  • Lifestraw
  • Length of cord

Add enough clothes/layers to keep me, and my son, alive in the emergency bag for the night. This usually isn’t more than a back up shell, ultralight down pants, spare jacket and some booties.

My first aid kit:

  • General, backcountry first aid kit – scissors and moleskin are a great way to make new friends…
  • Hot packs for hands and feet – essential for doing anything with kids, always carry in my pocket when I ski
  • Tourniquet with my belt as back up – insurance against having someone bleed out in front of me. I also carry in my car and under my bike saddle.
  • Field dressing and elastic bandage
  • Water purification tablets (back up to the LifeStraw)
  • Pulse oximeter (batteries separate as they corrode if left in the unit)
  • Selection of meds including antihistamine & high dose aspirins – I carry albuterol at the top of my pack

I don’t carry an epipen in Colorado but do carry one when I’m near the ocean. I have a jellyfish allergy that sent me to hospital a few years back.

When I’m on snow, add a high-quality metal shovel.

Knife matched to what I’m going to be doing and the local wildlife. I have a SOG Seal Pup mounted upside down on my left backpack strap, the sheath lets me carry a multitool.

Gloves on, hands out of pockets => family policy as long as my kids can remember. I like leather sailing gloves on rock and mixed terrain.

When I’ll be out of cellphone range add InReach satellite communicator – always tracking me with 10-minute pings when I’m alone. Carried in the top pocket of my pack & backed up with a lanyard and quickdraw.

The InReach is an easy way to send messages home, regardless of location. I took a course from a heart-attack survivor who called in an evac on his unit. Small price to pay for the comfort it gives my family.

Zipped, exterior pockets – I like to wear mountain bike shorts, year round, as the pockets are great for quick access to my phone, which I use for navigation and photos.

This is the gear for when I don’t expect to stay out.

Backcountry Travel

Christmas Moose, not taking chances this year.

Lots of articles about the pandemic nudging newbies into the backcountry. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a handful of thoughts that should be front and center of your mind.

Here’s a weird stat – attending an avalanche safety course is correlated with avalanche fatalities. In Colorado, we even had a course get swept.

I have a theory – it may be because the techniques taught don’t work very well.

Avoidance is the only safe strategy for avalanche terrain – at my last avy class, we carefully dug four pits on the same slope. Each pit gave a different snapshot of the slope. None agreed – hands down the best lesson of the course.

Don’t trust a pit.

Do know your slope angle. Caltopo.Com is a great research tool => check “slope angle shading” as a “Map Overlay”.

The lake in the middle of this shot was the site of a fatal avalanche. Two guys dug a pit to see if conditions were OK. The slope went and one skier was killed when the debris broke the ice on top of the lake and he went in.

Even if you are not on a slope, you can get killed from above. I was reminded of that because I read every single accident report on the CAIC’s website.

Such a great site – it’s a shame we don’t see the lives saved and accidents avoided. The CAIC team do very good work.

Some of these reports are tough reading. Snowmobilers doing everything right last season near Vail. Two fathers killed while their wives/babies were waiting in a backcountry hut near Aspen. I read the reports and bear witness to the survivors.

A Better Place To Learn

One of the best developments of the last few years is resorts opening their terrain to uphill skiing. Lots of positive impact from this:

  • You can travel light and choose your effort => typically, with a backcountry setup and avy gear, the slope chooses your effort.
  • You benefit from the resort’s avy control and grooming.
  • There’s usually a parking lot below you and other skiers around you.
  • You can follow your uphill effort with a couple hours of lift-assisted turns – making turns after a long climb is a different type of fitness. It reminds me of running off the bike.

The last point is fundamental. It will take forever to learn your turns in the backcountry. There isn’t enough opportunity to make turns.

If you want to become proficient then 100 days on snow, split 50/50 between alpine/uphill, focus on tress/steeps/bumps on the resort. Two seasons of that protocol, with a year-round strength program, and you’ll be decent. Four seasons and you could be skiing like an instructor.

Maybe you don’t want to be a great skier. It does take a lot of time!

What follows will help you enjoy yourself and avoid unforced errors.


In the backcountry, if you get wet and lose your ability to move then you will find yourself in a survival situation.

My family thinks I’m an absolute nut about shelter from the wind and not getting damp. That’s because they’ve never found themselves in an unplanned survival situation!

Shovel, puffy in a dry bag, sil-tarp, headlamp, spare batteries => don’t die because you left a few pounds at home.

I once had to start a fire on top of my stove to keep myself from freezing. I was trying to ski from Silverthorne to Winter Park and found myself at the bottom of a snowy valley. Day light was running short and I came to a river swollen with spring run off. Running the risk of getting soaked, solo, seemed stupid so I went to Plan B. The ability to hunker down, light a fire and sleep turned a potential survival situation into a moderately entertaining adventure. I retraced my steps in the morning.

Don’t want to carry safety gear? Easy, skin at the resort.

Buy a middle of the road, lightweight touring setup then ski it at the resort. This was the best decision I made at the start of my backcountry career. My setup didn’t do anything “just right” but it let me figure things out.

Many resorts will allow you to practice in lower-stakes, but realistic, backcountry conditions by skinning up through the trees before the lifts start spinning.

Microspikes – I use them year-round on steep dirt and snow.

Navigation & Communication

iPhone, Garmin watch, inReach communicator, Earthmate app, OpenSnow app, OpenSummit app, CAIC app, googling trip reports, downloading photos/tracks in advance. All useful.

A skill that might save you a night out, or worse…

  • using GPS, find yourself on a map
  • figure out where you’d like to go
  • lay down a waypoint
  • navigate to the waypoint

Learn it before you need it because…

On a changing slope, in the trees, when the clouds roll in… it can be impossible to get your bearings and, if you’re like me, then you can burn a lot of energy resisting the reality that you’re lost!

The circle in the middle was my track before I stopped, relaxed, had something to eat/drink, got my Navi-gear out and decided to self-rescue (from a route I’d done a half dozen times before). I thought I was following another skier until I realized it was my own track! Humbling.

In Vail, we lost a well loved ski instructor because he decided to ski home via the side-country. A navigation app OR a shovel OR a set of skins probably would have saved his life.

He got lost, got cold, sat down and died => an easily avoidable tragedy.

It can happen to any of us.