Josh Feinberg knows that decision making in the backcountry can be life-and-death. That’s why he’s made it his job to give others the tools needed to make sound judgments. On February 1, 2006, three skiers’ lives changed forever in one group decision. They were Mammoth Mountain ski patrollers skiing in the Eastern Sierra backcountry on a day off from work. The sky was blue. The wind was light. They intended to summit and ski Mount Walt, an 11,580-foot peak in the Blacksmith Creek drainage, near Bridgeport, California.

“No doubt, we saw wind loading—we knew that was the spot we gotta watch out for,” Josh Feinberg said. “We figured we could handle it. We can go through the trees; we can go one at a time. We can do it reasonably safely.”

The group assessed the conditions and the terrain near the top of a glade. They were highly experienced backcountry skiers with extensive training in avalanche control work. To gain the ridge, they had to cross a shallow wind-loaded gulley above a whitebark pine glade.

They decided to continue.

“It was an error in judgment for sure,” Feinberg said.


Read the full story online at REI Co-op Journal.

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