PHOTO: After rubbing one out in his happy safe lion suit, the happy safe lion finds his happy safe place. Photo by Trent Bona
This story originally published in the October 2014 issue of POWDER (43.2)
The Ski Media Industrial Complex is excited about the whole concept of heuristics lately, and for good reason. Modern analysis has revealed that most avalanche encounters are not the result of imprecise snowpack diagrams or poor pit analysis, but of the decision-making processes used by people blundering around in avalanche terrain. Or, as I like to call it, fun. And sometimes when you're having fun, you do stupid shit, especially if you have reason to believe that the shit in question is cool because a) other people have done it, b) it will look sick on the P.O.V. cam, or c) it will get you sponsored and/or laid. That's heuristics in a nutshell: the so-called human factors that lead to Bad Times.
Maybe some day Progression won't mean P.O.V. shots of switch spine-slashing over closeout cliffs, but rather paranoid stoners in penguin suits masturbating furtively in the trees, shredding very carefully on plastic rental bindings, and hissing like feral cats at cameras and social media directors.
Which leads us to Hubristics. The science of the effect of cameras, free goggles, sex, cocaine, and other Incentives on Heuristic Factors In Avalanche Terrain. In other words, the things you think about immediately before shrugging and saying (out loud or otherwise), "Fuck it."
Hubristic Catalysts include:
- Must Get The Shot
- I have no idea what's going on, but I am a really good skier and we're skiing, so I'll just keep blindly pushing forward.
- Look! A woman.
- We can't turn around because we're almost there.
- Hey, you're a local, right? Cool, I'll just follow you.
- This is scary but I don't want anyone to think I'm a puss.
- This avalanche equipment cost a thousand bucks, so I'm going to get my money's worth.
If Heuristics and Hubristics are the real cause of avalanche accidents, as opposed to a lack of education and backpacks without airbags, we should focus on specific behavior that will disrupt the chain reaction of blundering, the key concepts that nullify cognitive biases and bad choices.
The Anti-Hubristic Antagonists:
- Don't get the shot. In fact, don't bring a camera or even ski around them. It's OK, you will still experience the reality of the experience without recording it. In fact, the skiing will be much better, because you'll be For Real Skiing instead of pretend skiing for the camera. And, thanks to cognitive bias, your memory will soon become far better than what you would have recorded, especially when you're telling people about it later.
- Don't think about sex. Think about where you are and what you're doing: the smooth flanks of the mountain, the skyward thrusting peaks, your heavy breathing as you slide again and again into the powder...dammit. This one can be challenging, which is why I usually pull into the trees and masturbate discreetly on the skin up, pre-gaming for the run ahead as if it were a hot date.
- Don't trust anyone. Most of us aren't as smart as we think we are, plus we're probably distracted by thinking about masturbating discreetly in the trees.
- Use aids to overcome overconfidence in avalanche terrain. Ski on tricky over-sharpened skis with low-DIN bindings. Drink a lot of coffee and smoke high-potency marijuana so you're really jumpy and paranoid.
- Exploit the power of pre-visualization by imagining yourself getting pile-driven into a deadfall-filled creek bed in vivid detail, again and again.
- Dress like an idiot, wear a ballerina skirt and Barbie backpack, or a penguin suit. It would be really embarrassing if Something Happened while you were already making a fool of yourself, and since people fear embarrassment more than avalanches, your Heuristics should improve by leaps and bounds.
While our collective ability to rationalize sending it right down the gut will probably never diminish, the science of Hubristics might just keep a few more skiers out of the proverbial tree well. Maybe some day Progression won't mean P.O.V. shots of switch spine-slashing over closeout cliffs, but rather paranoid stoners in penguin suits masturbating furtively in the trees, shredding very carefully on plastic rental bindings, and hissing like feral cats at cameras and social media directors. Given the number of highly experienced backcountry skiers getting pulled down, it might not be worse than what we've been doing, and would at least be funnier than the current sanctimonious seriousness with which we take our cognitively biased backcountry blundering.