What Can We Learn From The Inbounds Avalanche At Taos?

The scene from the slide at Taos Ski Valley. Photo: Morgan Timms/ Taos News

A few days ago in Taos, New Mexico, an inbounds slide took the life of two skiers who were buried and subsequently dug out when a large avalanche occurred on the popular K3 Chute off Kachina Peak. Even with an immediate response by Taos Ski Valley patrol the skiers were still trapped for 22 minutes, which is no small feat considering the slide was so deep in some areas that probes were unable to reach the bottom of the debris.

The loss is devastating and not enough can be said to console the families of the victims. Instances like this remind us just how dangerous the sport of skiing in general is, and more specifically should serve as a reminder to the inherent risks of skiing on the resort. The full details of this incident are yet to emerge, but let’s be clear: in no way are we suggesting the skiers, ski patrol, or mountain staff could have done anything to avoid this. But, a tragic accident like this comes with many lessons: one of them being a stark reminder of the dangers of inbounds skiing. So, we put together a small list of tips to help mitigate risk and prepare yourself for the worst when stepping off the groomed runs of the resort.

Always Wear An Avalanche Beacon Inbounds

There is a laundry list of excuses not to, but they are about as valid as your reasoning for not wanting to wake up early for a backcountry mission on a Sunday morning, or go out for a beer on Friday night. Sure, it’s a slight inconvenience, but the payoff could be huge—they can be used in the event of an inbound slide, a cornice failure, a tree-well mishap, or falling into an unexpected hole on the mountain. Worst case scenario, you peel your jacket off at the bar next to that cute guy/girl you’ve had your eyes on, they see you have a beacon on, and the conversation is sparked. Safety is sexy, folks.

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Hell, Bring Your Full Avy Kit!

If you have the gear, why not bring it? Riding with a small pack with a beacon, shovel, and probe could make a rescue a whole lot easier and save a life. Plus, you can throw a beer or two in there and be the coolest guy in your crew on the last chairlift ride of the day.

Pay Attention—Inbounds Skiing And Riding Is Gnarly

If you’re are avid backcountry skier, often times the knife that is our decision making and awareness can be dulled when spending time inbounds. As you hear bombs going off all morning, you are subconsciously lulled into assuming every slope is stable, and there are no reasons to worry.

While ski patrol crews all over the world do an amazing job of mitigating the dangers of skiing and riding in terrain that you likely would never touch if it was in the backcountry, there are still dangers. Not every terrain trap and pocket of snow can be controlled with 100% confidence. Mother nature has her own way of operating, and no matter where you are, respect it.

Choose Your Crew Wisely

No differently than in the backcountry, choose your crew that you ride with on the mountain based on skill level, trust, and experience. If it is a storm day and you want to hammer out some laps, ride with those who know the mountain well and are on the same schedule. Don’t try to push your less experienced friends into terrain they aren’t comfortable with, and then get upset because you are stuck waiting for them all day. You’re not doing yourself, or your friends any favours.

There is a time and place to ride with people you don’t usually ride with, but when you’re pushing it, ditch your friends on the groomed runs—if they are mad at you about that, they have a thing or two to learn about the mountains.

Slow Is Smooth, Smooth Is Fast

When you are prepared, practiced, and surrounded by the right people, decision making comes easily and riding pow doesn’t need to be a mad dash. Everyone knows the saying “no friends on a pow day” is effectively dead.

Get the knowledge, find your crew, and keep your head on a swivel—anything can happen out there, especially If you are pushing it to the limit. While Taos Ski Valley is committed to doing a “diligent and exhaustive review” to the cause of the slide, you too should look at how you treat the ski resort you spend most of your time at—and remember to not let your guard down.