Being an Effective Partner
Updated: Oct 10, 2018
The snow is falling as Old Man Winter starts creeping his way back into town. The excitement is in the air! This is the time of year where the stoke starts to ignite and the fiery passion for powder begins to course through your mind, body and soul. It's also the time of year to start brushing up on our avalanche and winter backcountry travel skills and knowledge.
Recently Colorado just had the 17th annual Snow and Avalanche Workshop held in Breckenridge. It was great to attend and see many familiar faces and to hear from some great speakers about some great topics. History and info about CDOT'S avalanche mitigation programs, forecasting for wind slabs in Breck, global warming and seasonal forecasting, all very informative and interesting but there was one topic that really resonated with me. The last presentation of the day, "Where's your partner? A look at recent fatality trends and how we can be effectively solo when an avalanche happens even when traveling with a partner." by Mark Staples.
Mark Staples showed us many slides and graphs that really made me think. They did a study and had stated that something along the lines of around of 40% of avalanche fatalities occurred when the victims touring partner(s) were not effectively partners. Hearing stories of accidents that occurred that if the team would have been just minutes later then the outcome would be different. Now the guiding world is a little bit different but I couldn't help but rethink at the days that I am out there while not working and if I am/have been an effective partner while recreational touring. Then to be honest with myself I had to answer, no, not 100% all the time. There has been many occasions when we have been skiing with friends and partners through the low angle trees only to loose visual and voice contact, only to be waiting at the bottom thinking (hoping) that they will be right behind me. What if something where to go wrong? Would I be able to find them or get to them in time if in a dire situation? And can that be avoided by just staying within visual or voice command and by making sure that I am being an "effective" partner. The wheels started turning and I kept on thinking to myself of different scenarios in which I could find myself in similar situations. Running out a slope too far, being within visual but not voice and with no radio, not having bomber safe zones, poor communication, and the list can continue on.
Then I started to think of ways that I can help to mitigate these errors or lapses in judgment. Fortunately, our decisions are what will keep us alive and skiing another day out there. There are ways and things that we can do to help lessen the chances for human error and strengthen the likelihood of being an effective partner. So then I started to think of a tool that I could use to help me in these decisions. I am a huge proponent of acronyms. Anything that I can do to help me remember things then i'm all for it. So I came up with this..
T- is for TALK. Communication and teamwork go together like white and snow. In order to maintain the effectiveness of working together as a team or as partners you must be able to communicate. It is crucial to be within voice-command or radio contact. By losing this, your effectiveness to help and be a team member has drastically been decreased.
E- is for EYE-CONTACT. In order to maintain the effectiveness of working together as a team or as partners you must remain within eye-contact. Once you lose eye-contact you have again drastically reduced how effective you can be as a partner or team member. By constantly having "eyes-on" we are then able to respond to a situation much quicker and much more efficiently, constantly be aware, and communicate.
A - is for AWARENESS. Two heads are always better then one. By communicating and constantly having our eyes open then we are able to be much more aware of our surroundings and situations at hand. In doing so we are able to communicate together as a team and make better decisions. You must constantly be aware of all aspects and dynamics of your day.
M- is for MANAGEMENT. You always need to have a plan. Then a Plan B, C, and D and constantly manage against them with what you and your partners are seeing, being aware of, and communicating about. How you manage your team, your plan for the day, the terrain you travel through, and the decisions that you make are all crucial to constantly making better and safer decisions.
Now I know that this doesn't work for everybody and that some may disagree or have different thoughts on things but I did want to just share my thoughts with you all and even if it helps out one person than it was worth the time in typing this. The more that we can share and communicate and collaborate with our thoughts and what we are seeing out there then the better and safer our community will be as a whole.
Thanks for reading and cheers to a safe and snowy winter ahead!!