Know Boundaries #3

Sage Cattabriga-Alosa talks backcountry safety alongside third webisode in series

(Ed’s note: This is the third post in a series featuring The North Face’s ‘Know Boundaries’ avalanche safety webisodes produced by Teton Gravity Research. See No. 2, with related interview with Ingrid Backstrom, HERE ", and No. 1, with Griffin Post, HERE ".)

By John Clary Davies

Before every winter, Teton Gravity Research hosts a snow safety workshop for its athletes, cinematographers and production team. The clinic offers the crew an opportunity to refresh avalanche safety and rescue skills and practice simulated burials with those they'll be working with in the mountains. "Every year we start fresh," says Sage Cattabriga-Alosa. "It's nice to have an opportunity to have more realistic training."

When he first started filming in Alaska, at 21, Cattabriga-Alosa said he relied heavily on his guides. Now, he says he plays a larger part in the decision making process. "The guide's role is to help us make a good decision, not to tell us what we can and can't do," he says. "It's something that over the years has become more and more important, and something that I've become more proficient with, with experience." In a recent interview with, Sage expands on these and other topics:

You're looking for lines that have the least amount of exposure. If an avalanche happens on the face, are you above a cliff? Or is there a huge cornice above you on the line? How many of those stack up? If it's just a slope with a nice run-out and you got good stable snow, you're minimizing your risk.

When filming we're looking for those scary looking lines, so that comes down to testing what are the hazards and the safe ways to negotiate those lines. How you initiate the slough management, how you make yourself least exposed to avalanches, or knowing the places that you could sneak through. The most important thing is having those spots where you are going to go if something goes wrong.

I even started doing this—slough mapping, I call it—where I take my photo into Photoshop and take a fuzzy brush and make it white and trace the slough paths.

It's definitely something that you’ve got to really be aware of—of the signs of when you need to back off. And often it's hard, because there's something really sweet you want to do. I think that's one of the things that experience is good for—you're stoked to challenge yourself and try for something and hope today's the day, but if it's not, being sensitive to your intuition, as well as signs that you see. That goes with having a good crew. You want to be with people in the mountains that have similar thoughts in that way. If you start seeing signs, you talk about it and make a group decision, rather than just turning a blind eye.

You're stoked and hungry for it but sensitive to the details and being flexible to change your plan. OK, maybe going up high today isn't a good call. Maybe there's a way we can still do something out here, but let's reevaluate. And I think over time we all realize that we are rewarded when you make those calls. Either something good comes out of it that you didn't expect, or you hear stories that confirm that your decision was right.

You're out there to get shots, but really you're trying to make sure you're all safe doing it. I think that's something that the more I've been in this whole world, the more it kind of reaffirms that concept.

Being able to back off is a really powerful skill to have. So it kind of feels good when you do make that call and commit to it with your whole crew.