Both Ron Mollerud and Tom Dickson sent me the following piece of writing by American sledder, Susie Rainsberry, of Creswell, Ore. This is a passionate defence of snowmobiling in general and a keen-edged critique of media coverage of the Boulder Mountain avalanche. As a professional journalist I make no comment one way or the other and pass this along for your consideration.
It’s been several days now since the tragic avalanche at Turbo Hill. The latest reports are that two are deceased and three are still hospitalized. The media is also reporting that there were 200 snowmobilers at Turbo at the time of the slide. The avalanche is reported to have been up to 150 meters wide and 10 meters deep. That, my friends, is a big avalanche!
I’d like to put some perspective on this – a snowmobiler’s perspective. Apparently no one in the media is a snowmobiler or is concerned about taking the time to gather the facts – not just the bad, but the good as well. And there is good to be heard in this story. If you ask a snowmobiler – they’d be able to tell you what that is. But either the media isn’t asking, or has heard it and doesn’t feel that the facts are newsworthy.
However, I feel these facts are the most newsworthy topic of this entire tragedy.
Saturday afternoon, following the close of the events for the annual Big Iron Shootout, a large group of snowmobilers headed to Turbo Bowl to make a run at the hill. As the riders lined up at the bottom of the hill, the mass of spectators parked their sleds and prepared to enjoy the show. As one of the sleds turned out towards the top, the hillside gave way. Thundering down the mountain it came – taking sleds and riders with it. This powerful act of nature happens in a split second. There is no time to react.
The time to react is as soon as it stops. And react – with speed and knowledge – in the midst of chaos – is what those sledders did. There were no typical first responders to this catastrophe in the immediate moments following the avalanche. Only snowmobilers. Those same snowmobilers that the media is painting with a broad stroke as crazy, ignorant, thrillseekers.
As a back country snowmobiler myself, I can tell you that ignorant is not a word that I would use to describe those survivors. I would call them heroes! And justly so. In the midst of what may have been the most terrifying minutes of their lives, they turned their avalanche beacons to search, they got out their probes and their shovels and they started rescue protocols immediately – likely while in a state of shock. They dug out those that were buried, they triaged the injured, they administered first aid, they built fires to keep them warm until the helicopters arrived. These people were heroic!! Without their quick and educated responses, many more people would have died.
I am angered that the media is so eager to report this story that they are being so disgraceful to the victims and survivors. These people need support and compassion. They do not need to be stereotyped and degraded in the media or by anyone else. Shame on you!! Didn’t your mother teach you better manners than that?
I’m not done though – there is way more information about snowmobilers in respect to the Big Iron Shootout and Revelstoke that the media hasn’t covered yet. While they gleefully report that this is an unsanctioned (I’ll get to that in a moment) event drew 200 sledders (despite the grave warnings from the Avalanche Center), what they aren’t telling you is that there are likely double that number of snowmobilers who DIDN’T attend this year’s event – because of the conditions. Snowmobilers who DID heed the warnings.
As I was reading the snowmobiling forums and Facebook on Saturday evening, the same story continued to repeat itself – people concerned about friends who generally attend the BIS, those friends checking in and saying they didn’t go this year, or they were in the area but avoided Turbo Bowl because of the warnings and the conditions they were already aware of. You see, back country snowmobilers are often in the back country two or more days a week and already have first hand insight to the conditions.
Regarding the word being used in almost every story – unsanctioned. It is true that there is no sanctioning organization for this event. Not the town of Revelstoke nor the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club. However, just because it’s not sanctioned does not mean that it is illegal.
Snowmobilers often gather in large groups to ride with friends who are generally dispersed all over Canada and the United States. I personally rode with a group of 30 riders at an “unsanctioned” event in Wyoming. Oops! I also rode at another “unsanctioned” event, ummm, better make that two, here in Oregon. Rest assured, I am not a criminal nor are any of the snowmobilers that I know.
The Internet keeps the snowmobiling community connected. There are thousands of unsanctioned events that simply start by someone saying, “hey – who wants to ride this weekend?” Next thing ya know, word spreads about how much fun everyone had and it snowballs from there (pun intended). They grow into these annual events…”same date next year?”
So, here’s what happens next – the date is set. Motel rooms are reserved. Trucks and sleds are fueled. Vacation time is requested. Then individuals, families and social groups all head into a remote mountain town. They buy. They buy. They buy a lot!! They spend money – because they can.
It is with great sadness that I have to dispel the myth that mountain snowmobilers are a bunch of rednecks. All you really need to do is add up the costs to outfit an individual – much less an entire family – with a sled and the proper safety gear. Since this article is really targeted at those individuals who are not mountain sledders, I will point out that everything – got that?… everything, on your person and on your sled is part and parcel of your survival gear. From your gloves, to your coat, to the sunglasses in your backpack.
Trying to save a dime in buying a coat is really not advised, when that coat may be the onlything protecting you from the elements if you have to stay overnight. With all that said, here’s a run down of estimated costs of the primary accessories needed to sled in the backcountry.
• Sled $6,000-$14,000 USD
• Clothes (including base, mid and outer layers – top & bottom) $800-$1,200 USD
• Boots/gloves/helmet $245-$800 USD
• Backpack (non-avy) $60-$120 USD
• Backpack (avy) $1,000-$1,200 USD
• Body armor (tek vest, knee pads, etc) $60-$300 USD
• Beacon, probe, shovel $250-$400 USD
This doesn’t include a lot of items, such as matches, radios, compass, fire starter, flashlight, and the list goes on, and the costs add up. It would be greatly appreciated if the media would stop perpetuating the myths that sledders are ignorant, beer-swilling, couch potatoes. Because it’s simply not true.
The fact is that mountain sledders do not fit a stereotypical mold. They come from all areas of the business world… from CEOs to millworkers. They have families and they are single.
They are old and they are young. They are world-class athletes and they are physically handicapped. They survive corporate down-sizing, cancer, divorces, etc. just like everyone else.
The thing that binds us together is our great love for the backcountry in the winter. We are modern-day adventurers. We want to get out there – in the mountains. We want to explore and play and wonder at the beauty. We love the snow! When it covers the trees, when it flies up in our faces, when it gives us a playground of vast proportions. That is when we are in heaven. That is when our souls glow.
We are not anything that the media will have tried to make us out to be in the last couple of days. We are so much more. It’s truly a pity that the media isn’t interested in shining any light on the truth.
The truth is the Turbo Bowl avy survivors are heroes. We in the snowmobiling communities – far and wide – are praying for the full recovery of those injured, in body and in spirit. And finally, with great compassion and sympathy we extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of those who perished.
I wrote this and I am Susie Rainsberry, Oregon resident, backcountry snowmobiler. I provide free and complete liberty for others to share and disperse this message. The time has come to stop the slandering of good individuals just because they ride snowmobiles.