In this past week, there have been a number of deaths due to avalanches. In the Cascade Mountains (northeast of Seattle) four people were killed in two avalanches and in British Columbia, two individuals were killed in two days as a result of avalanches. On average, there are approximately 150 deaths reported each year by 17 countries who are members of the International Commission for Alpine Rescue (ICAR).
Because these deaths occurred in the backcountry, it is easy to pass judgement because these people lived on the edge and were engaging in an extreme sport with known risks. From what I read those killed had experience and were well-equipped. In that context, are these risk-takers, who are trained and equipped, any different than the racing car driver who has years of experience and is decked out in all the available equipment? Both are a risk. Both can result in death because of a slight error or miscalculation.
I am no different than others. Initially, I want to ask, “Why would anyone ski or snowmobile in the backcountry when it is so dangerous?” Then I want to add, “It’s just plain stupidity.” And then I remember: Each one of these people is someone’s loved one. They have family and friends who are left behind and who have a long road of sorrow before them.
I think it is important to use these deaths to promote awareness and to educate people on the dangers, especially if they don’t have experience or are properly equipped. Having said that, we need to remember that those left behind need our support, love and understanding of the path they will walk. They don’t need judgement about the risk their loved one took; they need our compassion.
On the flipside, the family and friends left behind may experience judgement and anger towards their loved one for taking such a risk. This is normal. If you are supporting someone who is feeling anger because a loved one died from engaging in a high-risk sport, don’t attempt to suppress their feelings. They need to work through it and to feel what they are feeling. Again, move from judgement of what they are feeling or how they are handling the situation to one of compassion and love.
These deaths are tragic and my heart goes out to the families and friends left behind. May their memories of their loved one bring them comfort, joy, and peace.