This is the second post in a series featuring The North Face’s ‘Know Boundaries’ avalanche safety webisodes produced by Teton Gravity Research. See No. 1 HERE ».
By John Clary Davies
Since her debut in Matchstick Production’s 2004 release, Yearbook, Ingrid Backstrom has been automatic, winning the last five-straight Reader Polls at the Powder Video Awards, and Best Female Performance four times… But we’re not here today to talk about accolades. This is another safety meeting. And in that respect, Backstrom says she is never willing to compromise her safety in order to get shots on film.
“It’s not worth it to even tempt that fate,” she says. Powder.com recently spoke with Backstrom, a North Face athlete, to get her thoughts on backcountry protocol and safety.
Whenever we go on a trip we always have a guide, somebody that’s local that knows the history of the snowpack for the whole season and also knows the terrain that you’re going into.
Each trip we go on we do a beacon practice when we get there to make sure we’re all on the same page and to make sure we are all comfortable with each other.
I’ve been lucky. For MSP I’ve been going on trips with a lot of the same people, so you stay pretty comfortable with each other, which is huge.
First of all you, look at the avy report, and that will give you a red flag. If you’re somewhere where there’s no avy center, when you first fly out you’re looking for natural slides and how recent they are. If you see any naturals at all, you know you’re going to be dealing with some sort of avy danger.
If there’s any avalanche danger whatsoever, we pretty much only go to the tiniest stuff. The guys go build a jump or something that pretty much has no risk at all.
If it’s just surface stuff and manageable, we look to super mini golf lines, where if it slides, you can move out of the way. You just work your way up accordingly as days go by and your confidence of bonding with the snowpack increases.
You make sure there’s nothing below it, like one air into a wide open slope. You come in at a diagonal so if you cut something off you continue on in a diagonal line and get out of the way. You choose lines where you’re not going to end up in a hole or trench or end up in any sort of gully and there’s no tress bellow you. You’re really looking for clean, wide-open, easily exited lines.
We dig a pit on the same aspect and see what we can see. If it’s looking sketchy, at that point we just totally back off and look for the smallest stuff. We go to small stuff and send people one at a time and move up and make small increments.
I’ve never felt any undo pressure. Safety is the number one priority over getting shots. We’ve all been doing it for a long enough time. Once you have that experience it’s not worth it to even tempt that fate. Just go find small stuff.
Look for more Know Boundaries webisodes and candid safety meeting-style chats here on Powder.com.
(Ed’s note: This video discusses two different types of snowpack, but Powder.com readers may know there are actually three zones: martitime and contentinental, as referenced in the video, as well as intermountain. Bone up on the zonal nuances HERE ».)