Mother Nature’s always the boss
Sunday’s weather couldn’t have been more beautiful, and it couldn’t have been a better day to be on the hill.After a few runs at Aspen Highlands – during which we actually found untracked powder – a small group of us decided it was the ideal day to venture out into the backcountry. That afternoon, we headed up Little Annie Road by snowmobile, enjoying the balmy weather; our only concern at that point was whether my dog could keep up.We skied a few glorious runs in Little Annie Basin, hardly able to believe how good the conditions were after an extended period with no new snowfall. We still carried avy gear, and stuck to the trees on the far skier’s right side of the basin, both for safety reasons and because we figured the snow would be better there.At the top of our run, at Top of the World, we stopped for a snack and to contemplate the incredible snow-covered peaks surrounding us. Gazing across the Castle Creek Valley at Highland Ridge, we talked about how the avalanche danger had been downgraded lately, and how it would soon be time to ski some of the steeper backcountry pitches that had been considerably dangerous up until now.We tried to count the fingers in Five Fingers Bowl, which I later estimated to be about four miles away as the crow flies, and babbled excitedly about getting to ski there sometime. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon.About the same time, a massive avalanche in Five Fingers ran nearly 4,000 vertical feet and swept a man to his death. The man was part of a group taking an avalanche education class led by an experienced local guide with a reputable local guide service.We didn’t see or hear a thing, or have any indication that anything was wrong across the valley.It just goes to show that you can never, ever let down your guard in the backcountry. And even though conditions are improving, and even if you’re with people who have decades of experience, it doesn’t matter. Mother Nature’s still the boss.
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