The past few days have been epic, i mean the snow here is all time and it shows no sign of stopping. Ive had some of the best days on snow in New Zealand this winter and its only a few weeks in, The backcountry is looking great and plans are being formed to go explore on the split board and have some adventures. This is going to be an epic winter.
This then got me thinking about the age old question, what is it about venturing into the backcountry that is so inspiring and inviting for some people, especially when there are so many risks to factor in. I had also just read an old article about the deaths of JP, Andreas Fransson and Liz Daley who were tragically taken from us this past winter. Many pioneering skiers and snowboarders have lost their lives in the mountains, but the death of JP truly shook the ski world, he was a person who seemed so talented, so inspirational and maybe he didnt know it but was the reason for so many peoples desire to get onto snow. He mastered his trade and performed at the highest level in all parts of his life, he wasn't just a skier....he was so much more.
Its so easy to get deep and depressing about this subject, its not pretty. But i have learnt that taking a light hearted and more celebratory approach can be affective. Ive had a similar loss. One of my Closest and best friends lost his life in an avalanche in Scotland in January 2013. Tom Chesters was more then a friend to me, he was the reason i fell in love with the mountains,with the backcountry and at a time when i was pretty lost he was a rock who pushed me every single day. He taught me everything about staying safe in the mountains. A man posessed with natural banter, quick witt and a warm heart he will never be replaced, but even now....two years after his death i still miss him like crazy but his spirit definitely lives on.
They say time is a healer.....its not, they also say that there is comfort knowing someone died doing what they loved......for me thats not much comfort and for a long time i despised the mountains, i hated they had robbed the world of him, and the others who were caught in the same avalanche. It hit me very hard, and everyone else that knew the group. All those good memories come flooding back and it sucks, because thats what they are now...memories.
I have only recently found the love again. I found the love through new people i have met and knowing that Tom would be pissed if i just gave up, I can see his face and the amount of abuse he would dish out to me (probably including some Liverpool FC slating for good measure) We do lose the people we love, and its hard to not get down or upset, but its the memory of them that keeps the fire burning inside us, that keeps us going......and even from the mountain that Tom, along with JP, Andreas, Liz, Mckonkey, Combs, Kelly and the rest are stood on right now, they still inspire us and affect our lives..
I might not be able to see Tom anymore or talk to him or drink copious amounts of Duvel on our legendary nights, but when I'm out on my board or stood on a ridge getting beaten by 90km freezing cold winds i know that he's somewhere, laughing his ass off at me. By carrying on what he taught me its a celebration and a tribute to him and everyone else.
So back to my original question. I think that while there are a lot of risks, they are calculated. Most backcountry skiers or snowboarders are deep thinkers, they are meticulous with planning and the best ones will know when the feeling isn't right. But its that feeling deep inside, that fear, that is the drug. Its when you feel most alive, when your right on the edge....its when you learn the most about yourself and grow as a person.
Its these short moments that can teach us so much more then a lifetime being sat at an office desk, were he to live, to laugh and to have a fucking good time.
" There is no way to explain the edge because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over"
Hunter S Thompson
Please check out the following BBC film that was made about Tom and his group on that day. Its a little heavy as it involves the families, but its a good documentary and has a technical approach to avalanches. Below is a trailer, but you can download the movie too.