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Why Humility is So Important In Backcountry Skiing

Elizabeth Lamphere and her daughter, Maddie. Photo courtesy of the IAN Fund on Facebook. 

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that avalanches are terrifying. They are one of the purest demonstrations of Mother Nature’s immense, uncontrollable power—and unfortunately, more and more often, they are claiming the lives of people that we love. For the average person, news of a deadly avalanche might congest your newsfeed, but passes on in a few days. For the loved ones of the victims, however, this is never the case, the memory of the life lost will always remain.  

RELATED: 8 Things I Learned From Being in an Avalanche

On April 20, 2013, Ian Lamphere passed away in an avalanche near Loveland Pass, Colorado. The slide claimed five lives, and was the deadliest in the state in over 50 years. Ian was an experienced backcountry skier and guide, and well entrenched in the ski industry. Left behind after the tragic avalanche were Lamphere's wife, Elizabeth, and daughter, Maddie. In the wake of his death, Elizabeth founded the IAN Fund—the International Avalanche Nest-Egg—to bring awareness to the issue, and to help ease the heartache that comes with losing a loved one to the mountains.

BE HUMBLE. RESPECT THE MOUNTAIN. 

Ski to live another day. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gael Varoquaux. 

As a young person, it’s easy to feel like you can do anything. You’re invincible. Your body is at its prime, and bounces back from just about everything that you put it through. “I’m not sure at what point we start developing a sense of humility,” Lamphere says. That sense of humility, she says, is often what will save your life in the backcountry. Elizabeth has some sage advice for backcountry skiing:

#1) Be humble when you’re in the mountains.

#2) Don’t for two milliseconds think that your equipmentor your partneris going to save you.

Lamphere says that proper equipment and an avalanche course should be the absolute bare minimum if you’re going to head into the backcountry. “It’s not about a course,” she says. “It’s about living and experiencing… it’s about being there. The knowledge of the power of nature can’t be covered in a three or a four day course. It can only be covered with experience.

In a media-saturated, “Look at me!” society, it is so important to listen to your gut and to be able to say, “Hey, this isn’t going to work today.” When you head into the backcountry, do so with a sense of humility. Have back-up plans. Become comfortable with failure, and let that fuel your desire to return. As much as you’d like to, you don’t have to get to that peak. You don’t have to take that picture. As we so often hear from industry role model Jeremy Jones, “Ski to live another day.” 

THE EVENT

This Sunday in Jackson, WY. Graphic courtesy of the IAN Fund.

Lamphere’s story has resonated with people across the industry, including the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation. This weekend, the two are partnering for an event in Jackson, Wyoming, called “Picnic in the Park.” While the hope is that the event will raise funds, behind it all is a push to create a positive change in the relationship between backcountry skiers and the mountains that they love. “We’re here, we want to help, and hopefully we can bring some light to the reality of the post-disaster trauma that people experience,” Lamphere tells TGR.

The event will take place from 4-7 p.m. at 165 E. Broadway in downtown Jackson. It will feature live music, food, and games for kids, and is free to attend—though donations to both foundations are appreciated. Donations can be made at the event or online. If you’re not in the Jackson Hole area, there are still ways to help out. “If you can’t donate with funds, donate with time. Let people know that this exists,” Lamphere says.

Lamphere’s message is not one of bitterness, nor of fear-mongering. It’s not to tell you to not go out and enjoy all of the wonders that backcountry skiing has to offer: her message is, instead, about raising awareness and creating a community that recognizes this reality and is respectful of power of the mountains.

Event Details: "Picnic in the Park" — 4-7 p.m., Sunday, July 17th, 2016. 165 E. Broadway, Jackson, Wyoming.

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