English 25

A Fortunate Avalanche

When he was about 10 years old, Doug Driskell narrow escaped1 an avalanche. He and some friends were waiting for a tram to carry them down a mountain at a ski resort, and they started goofing around. Then Driskell stepped down into a bowl-shaped area. All of a sudden, the whole bowl took off. He ran, and jumped2 out. There was a huge rumble later when the avalanche hit the valley. It was the closest call he ever had, and it inspired him to dedicate his life to saving others.3

An avalanche occurs when one entire area or slab of snow slides off of another layer underneath it. The layers form as wind and weather lay down layers of snow, and some will be wetter or more icier4 than others. When a slab starts to slide, anything on top is carried along, and the avalanche picks up whatever lies in its path as it roars down a slope, including rocks5, trees, and people. Driskell demonstrates this by
stacking books about the history and geography of Colorado6 with salt sprinkled between them. The salt makes each book or layer unstable; adding weight can cause one book in the pile to slide off. The same thing happens when people travel across an area of unstable snow— his or her7 weight can trigger a slide. These days, however, avalanches don’t often overtake skiers at resorts because the ski patrol ensure the slopes are safe.

In 2002, a year in which there were an uncommonly high number of avalanches,8 Driskell was finally named the Snow Safety Coordinator for Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol in Colorado. He says that Colorado has the most avalanche accidents in the country, this keeping him9 very busy. Within five seconds of taking off, an avalanche can move at 80 miles an hour, so people rarely have10 time to jump or run out of harm’s way.

People going out into the backcountry, defined as an area containing a population of less than twenty per square mile11, often wear a special instrument called an avalanche transceiver that sends out a radio signal. The signal tells the patrol where to dig if someone is buried under the snow. Once the patrol identifies the area where a person might of been12, they push a long pole into the snow. When it hits an object, they start digging with the shovels they always carry.

Furthermore, all of the ski patrol members are trained in first aid so they can begin to treat injuries immediately13. An Australian shepherd, a Labrador retriever, and a German shepherd are important members of the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol team. The dogs must undergo extensive training. First, they learn to find their master, then someone else who is known to them14, then a stranger.

Driskell loves his work and his colleagues – both human and canine: “You’re working with a bunch of great people, and you are responsible for saving people’s lives. Nothing gives me a better feeling.” [15]