A perhaps appropriate analogy just came to my mind.

When I was in college, one of the best courses that I took was regional geology. After a spring semester of background study & prep, each summer a group of about 15 students, a TA, & a professor would go to a region to study it's geology for about three weeks--the PNW, Colorado, etc. In my case it was Newfoundland.

One day, about halfway through the trip, the prof dropped us off at the trailhead, giving us rudimentary directions: "Follow the (not-so-well-if-marked-at-all) trail to the top, I'll see you back here at __ p.m." We all had hiked before, though our experience level varied, and had done at least one group day-hike already that trip.

Two of us got ahead of the main group, and at one point, I decided to try a short-cut to the plateau. The two of us agreed to meet at a certain spot that we could see. I started to climb and soon was ascending a steep scree slope covered with relatively unstable boulders. When I got to the base of the chute that I had planned to climb, I soon realized that it much sketchier than it had appeared from below. Think of a steep chute in the Presidentials or wherever, but instead of nice snow filling it, large, angular rocks that shifted and tumbled with each step.

I skirted along the base of a cliff, still walking on unstable scree to the base of another chute & it was no better, so I decided to bail. Movement was slow, I knew that I'd never catch up to the rest of the group, so I decided to head back to the trailhead. After carefully descending the unstable slope, I then bushwhacked through some of the densest growth yet encountered, unable to see the ground beneath me or more than a foot or two ahead. Eventually, face, arms, & legs looking like they'd encountered a herd of rabid stray cats, I reached the trail and returned to wait for the others.

After several hours, the prof. showed up. He was somewhat alarmed to see just me. I relayed my adventure, and I could tell that he was upset--with me & with himself--& concerned about the rest of the group. Eventually they arrived, but past the agreed upon time. They'd had adventures of their own, and it turned out that in addition to encountering difficult terrain, some were not prepared for the difficulty of the hike nor the cold wind atop the plateau. It all ended without incident, but it easily could have turned out differently. We did not do another group hike that trip without the professor.

If something catastrophic had happened--let's say I'd tried to ascend the chute, fallen, & hit my head, or rock turned over and crushed my leg while on the scree slope--yes, I would certainly bear some responsibility, but the college would have very likely held the professor accountable, too. Even though were were all technically adults, ultimately, he was responsible for our safety & well-being. I know that the professor certainly felt that way.

The picture painted by Nate Vinton of the Sölden avalanche--and I'm aware that I'm making some assumptions based on his article--has similarities: the kids were about the same age; they had minimal oversight & guidance at the time of the incident; and the responsibilities of the college & professor are comparable to that of the U.S. Ski Team & its coaches.

If it hadn't been a USST trip, or that of another organized group, such as a college or academy team, then I would be strongly inclined to agree with Skip.

--Matt K.

On Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 12:06 PM, Brad McCusker <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Interesting little debate here between Skip and Matt.  On the one hand, I agree 100% with Skip.  However, as someone who has sent their kid off to strange lands to ski race train, I've trusted that the coaches and handlers are advising them of many things, including dangers.  And if the coaches and handlers aren't providing appropriate regional advice, then I agree with Matt.

But I am sure this is not their first trip to Europe, nor their first off piste skiing in Europe.  At their level, I am certain they've spent a lot of time in Europe and I would find it hard to believe skiing off piste and its dangers would be new to them.  Hopefully Nate Vinton wasn't implying they got *wrong* advice.

I also agree it's a heartbreaking tragedy.  I've been at a few USCSA races since this happened.   Lots of kids with the "RIP RB and BA" and similar notes on their helmets (including my daughter's).  Every time I'd see one, I'd get choked up knowing that many of those USCSA kids had raced with and against Ronnie and Bryce in their USSA/FIS days - but those two had made it to that next level (where many of them wanted to get to) and now they are gone in an instant.  I can't imagine the anguish and pain the families are experiencing.


On Sat, Jan 10, 2015 at 10:47 PM, Matthew Kulas wrote:

 You'll be surprised, Skip, to hear that I disagree with you, if they were not made aware of the risk of skiing off-piste in Europe. I think either their coaches and/or the senior USST staff failed them. 

Yes, exactly, the Euros know about the off-piste risks, but kids who've grown up skiing--much of the time training/racing--I'd be pretty surprised if they did. And especially because they can/could ski just about anything phenomenally well, are teenagers (or a year past), and are in a foreign environment for perhaps the first time, they are especially susceptible to the risks. 

And yes, I think it's the responsibility of the U.S. Ski Team, who would be their employer, but at this level, they're paying $10ks to be on the Team, to make sure they understand that risk. 

Finally, it's not a damned shame about these kids, it's a heartbreaking tragedy. I cannot fathom the loss that the families of Ronnie Berlack & Bryce Astle are suffering.

--Matt K.

On Sat, Jan 10, 2015 at 10:08 PM, Skip King < [log in to unmask]> wrote:
The Euros know about the off-piste       risks, and accept them. You die off-piste in France, for example,       and the collective response is " tant pis ."

One might ask what it is about the American psyche that 1) demands       that others explain to us why what we're thinking about doing       isn't a good idea  before we even do it, and 2) gives us license       to blame others if our own actions produce a bad result.

Damned shame about these kids. But one ventures into avalanche       terrain at one's own risk. And if you're an elite-level skier who       doesn't recognize possible avalanche terrain when you see it, it       ain't because your coaches failed you.

On 1/10/2015 9:51 PM, Michael Taub wrote:
yeah, my thoughts exactly.  The avi danger was considerable at the       time.  Someone really dropped the ball.  Really sad, they were       great kids.
On Jan 10, 2015, at 9:19 PM, Matthew Kulas < [log in to unmask]>             wrote:

Nate               Vinton, a ski writer that I have a lot of respect for,               seems to imply that the skiers were not properly made               aware of the dangers of skiing off-piste in Europe. If               that is indeed true, it is a damning indictment of the               U.S. Ski Team staff and/or organization. It would mean               gross negligence on the part of the coaches present and/or               the staff who developed the European training program for               development skiers, and would demand serious               repercussions, not the least of which should include job               terminations.

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