The other night I spent about an hour and a half on the phone with a gal who I have known for almost two years but only ever spoke to her via Facebook messenger. We have been communicating often over the last two years about our frustrations, and our goals for the snowmobiling community concerning avalanche safety. I am quite sure we could have talked on the phone for several hours about this topic, and I have no doubt we will spend many more hours doing just that.
One thing that she brought up was my blog Ripple Effect She has always said that this particular blog resonated with her and helped motivate her to do much of what she is doing now.
Those words are like music to my soul.
She has been a huge advocate for safety in the back country and her work so far has no doubt made change and saved lives.
As a result of this conversation I went back and read this blog. It broke my heart into a million pieces. I remember the pain so much I can still feel it. I don’t wish that sort of pain on anyone.
I was so angry. I still am to an extent but in a much healthier way.
When I looked at the pictures of where Nick was, the first thing I thought was fuck you, Nick. How dare you go to a place like that, how dare you choose to ride in an area that does not match your skill level on a sled, or your knowledge of Avalanche terrain. How dare you make all of these decisions without considering the ripple effect and the life that you would create for me by doing this.
This was just one excerpt of that blog, and it clearly describes the anger I had. I tried to stay away from “blaming” any one, but it was impossible given the circumstances. I blamed Nick just as much as the others. Again, I have since worked through this, but I still do not deny that their decisions they made that day, including Nick’s decisions; directly resulted in his death.
None of them went out there with the plan to come back with one less living body.
I said to the gal on the phone that had I been able to tell myself that they were as prepared as they could be, and there was nothing they could have done to prevent the outcome of that day; I would have possibly healed that anger much faster.
But I couldn’t.
I knew the lack of knowledge, lack of skill, and lack of preparation Nick had, and to be riding in the area he was riding in that day was a completely reckless move on his part. I knew he had no business being there and a part of me felt he knew that too; but went there anyway.
Here is what I can say now, almost two years later from writing this blog;
I am still hurt, I still miss Nick ( I always always will), and I still want nothing more than for people to come home safely from the backcountry.
My life has changed drastically since I wrote “Ripple Effect,” but the one thing that hasn’t changed is that hole in my heart that will never be filled again. I haven’t lost my desire to advocate for safety in the backcountry, and although frustrating at times, I still believe in my reasons to do so.
My reasons are simply this; I don’t want another family to experience what my family and I had to undergo because Nick made mistakes.
Everyone has their passions and weekend hobbies, and everyone wants to come home at the end of the day, but the hard truth is, sometimes we need to check our ego at the door and remember that Mother Nature doesn’t give two shits that it’s your weekend and she does not discriminate. If you are playing in avalanche terrain, there is a possibility you might one day experience being caught in one.
Just as I have always asked, and always will; how prepared are you? How is your training? What would you rate your skill level at? How adequate is your equipment and when was the last time you did a function check? How would you rate your buddies? Do you think you could rescue one of your friends if they are buried?
Could they rescue you?
This is not about pointing fingers or placing blame. This is about sharing the stories and having the conversations. I do believe as we continue to do that; we will continue to see change.
If you are going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a mountain sled, PLEASE spend the money for everything else that will keep you riding that mountain sled for years and years to come. Nick barely got two seasons on his new sled, and his funeral cost $15,000. His death has cost my family upwards of $40,000 or more in the last nine months because without Nick’s income I am unable to maintain the life we had. Do you want to do this to your family?
As we speak the man I love, the father of my baby boy and the father of two beautiful young girls is out in the mountains hunting with his brother. Having experienced what I experienced it is impossible for me not to think worst case scenario everytime he walks out that door. I look at my phone every five minutes (at least) to see if I have received a message from him yet, knowing that where he is, has no cell phone service. I pace, I wonder, I worry, and I try so badly not to think about the possibility of history repeating itself.
Is it absurd for me to think this way; absolutely not because such is life, and if we all thought more about the worst case scenario, maybe just maybe people would take safety more seriously.
Think about that.
As we approach the season, I ask you to really ponder the questions I listed above. Who would you be leaving behind if you didn’t come home? If you were to find yourself dying under a bed of snow, would you have regrets or can you justify your death because you died doing what you loved?
Which by the way, does not help the family recover.
It’s been over two and a half years since Nick died and I still get anxiety going into the winter season. I think I always will, and all I can do is pray that when I turn the news on in the evenings, I don’t see the words, “avalanche fatality.”
Be safe out there everyone and remember; you can never be “too” prepared for worst case scenario. I want you to have fun but I also want you to come home.
Be the guy that may get blacklisted from the group for being a fun suck. Be the guy that the reckless riders don’t want to ride with because you may stop them from doing something stupid.
You can always find someone else to ride with.
Be that guy because if you are that guy, you will either avoid an avalanche altogether or you may be the guy that one day saves someone’s life if something happens, despite your great efforts to prevent it.
From what I learned, you can’t always avoid an avalanche no matter how educated you are and no matter how good you are at reading the signs. Your risk is a lot lower but not zero. So with that said, if you can’t completely avoid it, do your best to be prepared.
Those you love will forever be grateful if you do and those who have died will not have died in vain.
Nick didn’t do any of this on purpose and neither did his friends. No one does, and I do not doubt for a minute that those who have died would want nothing more than for people to learn from their deaths.
Be that guy.
Happy riding everyone.