|High-marking Photo courtesy of sierratradingpost.com|
Want to see an avalanche? Caused by skiers, snowboarders or snow machines involved in the sport of "high marking", an avalanche can be deadly.
Just as most people love the outdoors, snow machine operators especially love pristine expanses of beautiful snow in the wilds. If it happens to be on the side of a steep mountain slope, regardless how deep and unstable it may be, it attracts attention and almost demands a challenge.. It is intoxicating entertainment "revving up" a snowmobile to mount that challenge, in spite of it’s hidden dangers.
The snowmobile sport called "High Marking", the challenging of steep snowy slopes, has become a sport that repeatedly causes avalanches and fatalities.
Sadly, avalanche season is just starting, yet another three individuals operating snowmobiles in British Columbia, Canada have been killed by an avalanche. The snowmobile operators were playing in avalanche country near Golden, B.C. on Feb. 18th, 2011, and became fatalities in an avalanche caused by their playful activities. A fourth individual survived and was hospitalized.
* At Incoming BYTES our hearts go out to the families of these sports enthusiasts in this time of tragedy. With their loss, it is unlikely these families will ever see snowmobiling in the same light again.
In any tragic event, "hind sight" is always perfect, but in retrospect, this tragedy could have been avoided. The fact of the matter is, FAR MORE ATTENTION needs to be drawn to this dangerous activity and the problem of recurring fatalities it causes in the snowmobile community. Snowmobile owners, snowmobile associations and clubs, the dealers selling these powerful machines, and insurance companies, MUST become involved in publicizing the danger involved in "high-marking", educating themselves and all individuals that ride trails in areas subject to avalanche.
If snow happens to be on the side of a steep mountain slope, regardless how deep and unstable it may be, it attracts attention. It is fun to charge straight up the slope, pull a "U-turn", and come down. The steeper it is, the more exciting it is. The adrenalin rush kicks in. Hopefully, the machine does not roll over, flip backwards, become stuck, or stall out. The highest "mark" on the hill wins.
Is the snowmobiling public inadequately trained to the dangers involved in challenging steep mountain-sides out in the back country, or do they simply not care, throwing caution to the wind? That is a good question.
Extreme sports participants usually recognize there are limits, and inherently dangerous conditions involved in their sports. Do they always keep them in mind? Perhaps not.
The sad fact is, participants are most likely simply driven by the human urge for excitement, that rush of adrenalin and the challenge of "high marking" -- to a point where the risk involved is secondary.
Fatalities occur in avalanches every year.Why is "high-marking so dangerous? It is simple. Heavy accumulations of snow on a slope are unstable at any time. Why? Snow is subject to gravity. Just like anything else, snow slides or rolls downhill because of gravity.
When snow accumulates, it begins to crystallize under it's own weight. It develops a crust on top, and sometimes packs, but inevitably crystallizes beneath the crust becoming "sugar snow" which has little structural strength, and when disturbed, it is completely unstable. It can and will flow downhill much like water when disturbed.
High-powered snow machines racing up heavily-laden snowy slopes inevitably break the snow crust, particularly if turning a sharp U-turn. The cutting action of the machine's skis and tracks, the weight of the operator and the weight of the machine itself breaks the crust on the snow pack and the displaced snow naturally begins to roll down hill. Deep accumulations of snow, depending upon conditions, can immediately collapse and develop into a high-speed, deadly avalanche.
What is the ultimate solution to this problem?
Legislation, banning the practice, is neither practical or enforceable. Daredevils and adrenalin will continue the sport unobserved with legislation or not, therefore it is probably a better idea to publicize the danger widely, educate the snowmobiling public as much as possible, and encourage the sport be practiced only in avalanche-free areas under controlled snow conditions.
Snowmobile associations and clubs should encourage responsible riding. Snowmobile dealers should advertise the dangers involved in this practice in their showrooms.
Common sense and education may not be able to stop the sport of "high marking", but it might help reduce the statistics of unnecessary fatalities.
Snowmobile "high marking" can and will cause an avalanche when you least expect it. If you are high-marking a slope, your life is in danger. Be smart and live to ride another day.