A personal perspective on the avalanche
Dear Editor: With just over a week since the tragic avalanche on Highlands Ridge, I have some strong feelings to convey to this mountain community that many of us have called home for quite some time. Aspen is so much more than the amazing recreational and cultural opportunities that abound in and around this ol’ mining and skiing town. I’ve always said that we’ve really only got two fundamental components in our lives … those being our good health and our shared compassion with close friends. This last week has been, for me, a dramatic confirmation of why Aspen is such a special place – the people who live here and care for one another! In a communal sense Aspen has no real boundaries, as true friendship extends far beyond our mountainous skyline to the hearts and souls of friends everywhere. I admit to being blessed with relative good health, and in this short letter I’d like to acknowledge the pride I’ve grown to cherish in the sharing respect and authentic care that many of you out there have expressed.I’d like to express my sincere gratitude for the professional and volunteer emergency services that often are taken for granted by the nature of their accepted roles. When the chips are down, there’s no better feeling than making eye contact with these friends who are spot-on there for ya! Acceptance of risk is an inherent trademark that all mountain athletes share; yet these words are magnified to such a heightened level when the consequences of that risk reveal their stealth potential. I’d like to raise a glass to toast all of you who seek adventure for the sake of adventure, stacking the odds in your favor yet still keenly aware of the lurking danger. To transcend fear into confidence and live life to the fullest is to really live!As a professional mountain guide I have a unique view of my participation with decision-making in technical terrain, especially in midwinter. In addition to the somewhat objective data collected from snowpack assessment, the “human factors” kick in with a complexity that can result in serious consequences even when the decisions were justified. As with any incident in the mountains, I try to learn from the circumstances and observations made and avoid second-guessing with the benefit of hindsight. There are always lessons to learn from both successful and unsuccessful trips into the mountains. I am very sad from the tragic outcome on Sunday, March 6. I know this community is very sad, as well. From this sadness comes strength, and integrity, and ultimately an acceptance of the fragile balance we flirt with. As adventure fuels the drive for more of it, we’re addicted to the core and proud to admit it!Lastly for now I want to thank the local media, both print and radio, for the patience and associated respect in those first few days after the avalanche. This has been a difficult time with a need to conduct a thorough investigation of the event, utilizing all the available resources, before releasing an initial statement to the community. Numerous conversations with members of the Aspen and Highlands ski patrols, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s office, Mountain Rescue Aspen, the Aspen Skiing Company, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the U.S. Forest Service, and the American Mountain Guides Association have aided in the process. At a time when it may have been “easier” to walk the back alleys and hide from the public’s eye, I can honestly say that this community has what few mountain towns can boast … Aspen has soul!Dick JacksonAspen
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