By Tom Boyd
Avalanche video shows Brigham moments before death in East Vail Chutes
February 20, 2008 —
A video of Jesse Brigham's fateful trip into the East Vail Chutes was taped by his riding partner, Justin Lozier, and has been posted on the Denver Post website at denverpost.com.
The accompanying article, by Jason Blevins, describes events which, presumably, are edited out of the Post's version of the video. It also repeatedly refers to Lozier as an avalanche expert. Although I have a great amount of respect for Blevins and the work he's done for the Post through the years, I must disagree with his description of Lozier as an avalanche expert. As my father, who has been backcountry skiing in Colorado since 1957, often says: "All the true avalanche experts are dead."
Harsh, but true. While most of us were lapping up fresh powder in-bounds, the trio of Lozier, Brigham, and Jim Muguerza headed out of ski area boundaries to take on the East Vail Chutes. Ominously, the video opens with a shot of Brigham riding out toward the lip of a large, overhanging cornice before Lozier calls out to him to stop. Brigham seems to have little comprehension of the danger he faces by riding the Chutes, especially on that day, in that place, in those conditions.
Lozier then instigates a kind of avalanche shear test by hopping up and down on a portion of the ridge which appears, in the video, to have the smallest amount of wind load. Lozier's voice-over mentions that the area they are heading into is known as "Charlie's Death Chute," and he recommends that everyone in the group stay within the narrow corridor beneath where he had performed his cursory avalanche test.
Sadly, with all the many great routes available that day - most of which were in-bounds - Lozier's group chose one which had tragic results.
Armed with beacons, shovels, and probes, I've skied a fair bit of backcountry myself through the years, some of which has looked and felt like it could slide anytime. My heart has raced as I've looked, after each turn, toward my escape route should a slab come loose behind me. What I've learned from those experiences is that it's not my place to judge what others try and do in the backcountry. But I've also learned that there are no black-and-white answers out there, no bullet-proof avalanche tests, no chutes that can't slide at any time, and no experts. There are, however, plenty of safe routes out there for non-experts to enjoy, without putting their lives so decidedly on the line.
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