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Skiing or Boarding out of Bounds - What are the Risks?

Every year we hear of skiers who ski out of bounds (Past boundary markers, fence lines and ropes). And every year we hear how they are rescued by local search and rescue, often due to a cell call. They are found cold, wet, hungry and scared. Normally they are not injured.

These skiers and boarders did so by choice. They knowingly went out of bounds to try to find a better run of untouched powder. So what is the difference between a skier or boarder going out of bounds on a ski hill verse a skier or snowshoer in the backcountry? There is a big difference, the backcountry is not controlled, or patrolled. When people venture into the backcountry it is up to them to evaluate the risks, pick the routes and take the proper equipment.

On a designated ski hill things are different, you are on private property (open to the public), the landowners are legally responsible to make the recreational area safe for you to use as you paid to gain access. They have ski patrol, medical support, and dangerous areas are marked and roped off to keep you safe from harm such as skiing or boarding over a cliff. They have avalanche control on the areas you are skiing or boarding. What you should realize is the managers of the ski hills are not trying to keep you from the good runs or excellent snow conditions. They design and build ski runs to give you as much access to the mountain as possible, the better the runs and experience the more you are willing to come back.

So what are the risks?

You face a number of risks when you travel out of bounds

  1. Firstly you risk getting injured…perhaps seriously.

  2. Getting lost and disorientated – especially in the late afternoon and after dark.

  3. Unable to get back due to steep terrain, deep snow, or impassible creek beds.

  4. Hypothermia (lowering of the central core body temperature), when you are active you perspire and when you stop that cools and your damp clothing does not insulate as it would if it were dry. Also you may be low on energy reserves from lack of food. When you start to shiver that is the early warning signal…when you stop shivering your body is not capable of warming itself and your mental ability to think clearly is diminished. If it continues, it will lead to unconsciousness, and eventually death.

  5. No Cell phone coverage. Everyone thinks that their cell phone is available and help is just a call away. Think again! Firstly cell coverage can be obscured by obstacles and you may not get a signal. If you drop or lose your phone it will not be available. Even if you get a signal explaining where you are may be difficult especially if you do not have a mountain map on hand.

  6. Nobody knows where you are other than you, and who you may be with, know where you are; therefore, if you are overdue in returning finding you can be next to impossible.

  7. You are also putting others a risk when they have to search for you. The searchers even though well trained and equipped are still at risk of injury.

What if you ski out of bounds by accident?

So you have skied out of bounds by accident, either you missed a sign, it was covered in snow and simply did not see it.

Being prepared for this type of occurrence is the key to getting out safely.

  1. As soon as you are aware of being out of bounds stop. Look around see if you see any familiar landmarks. Pull out a trail map if you have one.

  2. If possible return the way you came in, this was a safe until now and if you follow your tracks back you will end up where you were.

  3. Take a note of the time of day and how much daylight you have left.

  4. If you know you can ski or board safety out of the out of bounds area do so, just be careful that you do not get farther in an area that you cannot get out of.

What if you are injured or nightfall is approaching?

If you get injured or nightfall is approaching and you have not been able to get yourself out you need to stop and say where you are and wait for rescue. If you travel at night in out of bounds areas your risk of injury increase dramatically. Dig yourself a snow trench or otherwise protect yourself from wind. Snow is an excellent in insulator as long as it is not making you wet and taking your heat away.

Because you were well prepared and equipped from reading my eBook (Trail Ready – how to pack and prepare for hiking emergencies) and my various blogs you have what you need to keep you warm and have the necessary signaling equipment to notify searchers when they arrive in your area.

Modified 10 Essentials list for skiers and boarders

Since skiers and boarders are not planning on travelling out of bounds, or perhaps even if they are, a modified 10 essentials list has been compiled to keep you warm and the means to signal for help without taking up a lot of extra space.

  1. Emergency sleeping bag - Light compact, to maintain body heat

  2. Whistle – Can be heard farther than the human voice

  3. Strobe light – Lasts longer than a flare and searchers can home in on light

  4. LED headlamp or flashlight – Essential after it gets dark

  5. Emergency Energy Bars – Needed to maintain body warmth.

  6. PLB – Personal locating beacon (EPIRB or Spot) – If you are injured with no cell signal this could save your life

  7. Emergency water pouches – small compact. Dehydration is a real threat in winter.

**These items can be carried in a small hip bag or light compact skiers backpack**

So the next time you feel the need to travel out of bounds to find that new exciting run, think again. You might not make it out next time.

But if you do, bring the modified skier/Snowboarder 10 essential items and stay alive to tell about it.

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