Thursday, March 8, 2012

Learning the Lesson of Vietnam

My father told me many stories about his involvement in the Vietnam War's "sane" opposition (as contrasted with all the hippie-types, would-be-revolutionaries, Ho Chi Minh sympathizers, etc.), but one of my favorite stories was his account of a press conference once it was all more or less over:
Reporter:  "President Ford, have we learned the lesson of Vietnam?"
President Ford: "Yes, we have."
Aside from the humor of a politician rather easily dodging a question he clearly doesn't want to answer, the exchange brings up the valuable point that everyone always learns a lesson from an incident (whether triggering an avalanche or losing 58,220 American lives).

The real question though is, just which lesson?

Looking back at his posts that I read at the time on four avalanches he triggered or in which he could have been entrained, I wonder what lesson he learned from all those close calls.  I also wonder whether other skiers will learn a lesson of pointless fatalism ("If it could happen to him..."), denial ("I can't believe it..."), or something more valuable.
Either way, RIP Rando Steve (and your partner too, who I just learned is an avy L2 grad of one of my western "penpals").  I enjoyed reading your blog over the years, and I wish I could have kept reading it for many more years to come.

Massive Wet Slide- April, 2009
"Yes, probably a bad decision to ski a south facing line where we would be held up in the line of fire I guess, considering the skies were much clearer than predicted….at least where we were."

Slab Avy on 4th Turn- April 11, 2011
"I've been trying to keep the reigns pulled-in in an effort of self preservation for when the snowpack finally consolidates, but yesterday, I got a little overzealous I guess and got into some pretty steep terrain with some wind-loaded snow not quite bonded well enough with the lower layers and a slab pulled out."
"i was a bit spooked on how much newish snow and how “upside-down” the snowpack appeared lower in the couloir and probably would have pulled the plug lower if i was on my own."

Slab Avy on 1st Turn- May 5, 2011
"Well, I think I need to have my head examined for not heeding my own advice to pull in the reigns this weekend due to a current questionable snowpack at the higher elevations here in the Tetons. Sometimes though, the lure to try and ski bigger, steeper and more exposed lines is just too great."
"sometimes people mis-judge things and conditions, which is what happened here. i thought it would be stable enough…but it wasn’t. simple as that, really."
"…upon seeing the path of the avalanche, most the places I thought would be islands of safely, most likely weren’t. not many places to hide when you have a slide that big."
"and i think that realizing we are mortal and often not able to survive avalanches, might keep us from pushing it in the future. then again…maybe not."

Remote Trigger- December 31, 2011
"One might think this is extremely stupid, but like I said prior, the slides today reaffirmed my thoughts relating to the safe skiing and skinning zones on the route, which we stuck to…sorta."
[in response to comment of "Glad you didn’t die":]
"thanks, but i think i was far from death. well…at least 150-200'."

1 comment:

  1. You've articulated some of my own questions. Andg Good writing, Jonathan. A distraction/ hook to start, then the bizness, light, restrained, concise.