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COMMENTARY · 17th March 2010
Susie Rainsberry
It’s been several days now since the tragic avalanche at Turbo Hill. The latest reports are that two are deceased and three are still hospitalized. The media is also reporting that there were 200 snowmobilers at Turbo at the time of the slide. The avalanche is reported to have been up to 150 meters wide and 10 meters deep. That, my friends, is a BIG avalanche!

I’d like to put some perspective on this – a snowmobiler’s perspective. Apparently no one in the media is a snowmobiler or is concerned about taking the time to gather the facts – not just the bad, but the good as well. And there is good to be heard in this story. If you ask a snowmobiler – they’d be able to tell you what that is. But either the media isn’t asking, or has heard it and doesn’t feel that the facts are newsworthy.

However, I feel these facts are the MOST newsworthy topic of this entire tragedy.

Saturday afternoon, following the close of the events for the annual Big Iron Shootout, a large group of snowmobilers headed to Turbo Bowl to make a run at the hill. As the riders lined up at the bottom of the hill, the mass of spectators parked their sleds and prepared to enjoy the show. As one of the sleds turned out towards the top, the hillside gave way. Thundering down the mountain it came – taking sleds and riders with it. This powerful act of nature happens in a split second. There is no time to react.

The time to react is as soon as it stops. And react – with speed and knowledge – in the midst of chaos – is what those sledders did. There were no typical first responders to this catastrophe in the immediate moments following the avalanche. Only snowmobilers. Those same snowmobilers that the media is painting with a broad stroke as crazy, ignorant, thrill-seekers.

As a back country snowmobiler myself, I can tell you that ignorant is not a word that I would use to describe those survivors. I would call them heroes! And justly so. In the midst of what may have been the most terrifying minutes of their lives, they turned their avalanche beacons to search, they got out their probes and their shovels and they started rescue protocols IMMEDIATELY – likely while in a state of shock. They dug out those that were buried, they triaged the injured, they administered first aid, they built fires to keep them warm until the helicopters arrived. These people were heroic Without their quick and educated responses, many more people would have died.

I am angered that the media is so eager to report this story that they are being so disgraceful to the victims and survivors. These people need support and compassion. They do not need to be stereotyped and degraded in the media or by anyone else. Shame on you
Didn’t your mother teach you better manners than that?

I’m not done though – there is way more information about snowmobilers in respect to the Big Iron Shootout and Revelstoke that the media hasn’t covered yet. While they gleefully report that this is an unsanctioned (I’ll get to that in a moment) event drew 200 sledders (despite the grave warnings from the avalanche center), what they aren’t telling you is that there are likely double that number of snowmobilers who DIDN’T attend this year’s event – because of the conditions. Snowmobilers who DID heed the warnings.

As I was reading the snowmobiling forums and Facebook on Saturday evening, the same story continued to repeat itself – people concerned about friends who generally attend the BIS, those friends checking in and saying they didn’t go this year, or they were in the area but avoided Turbo Bowl because of the warnings and the conditions they were already aware of. You see, back country snowmobilers are often in the back country two or more days a week and already have first hand insight to the conditions.

Regarding the word being used in almost every story – unsanctioned. It is true that there is no sanctioning organization for this event. Not the town of Revelstoke nor the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club. However, just because it’s not sanctioned does not mean that it is illegal.

Snowmobilers often gather in large groups to ride with friends who are generally dispersed all over Canada and the United States. I personally rode with a group of 30 riders at an “unsanctioned” event in Wyoming. Oops! I also rode at another “unsanctioned” event, ummm, better make that two, here in Oregon. Rest assured, I am not a criminal nor are any of the snowmobilers that I know.

The internet keeps the snowmobiling community connected. There are 1,000s of unsanctioned events that simply start by someone saying, “hey – who wants to ride this weekend?” Next thing ya know, word spreads about how much fun everyone had and it snowballs from there (pun intended). They grow into these annual events…”same date next year?”

So, here’s what happens next – the date is set. Motel rooms are reserved. Trucks and sleds are fueled. Vacation time is requested. Then individuals, families and social groups all head into a remote mountain town. They buy. They buy. They buy a lot!! They spend money – because they can.

It is with great sadness that I have to dispel the myth that mountain snowmobilers are a bunch of rednecks. All you really need to do is add up the costs to outfit an individual – much less an entire family – with a sled and the proper safety gear. Since this article is really targeted at those individuals who are not mountain sledders, I will point out that everything – got that?…EVERYTHING, on your person and on your sled is part and parcel of your survival gear. From your gloves, to your coat, to the sunglasses in your backpack. Trying to save a dime in buying a coat is really not advised, when that coat may be the only thing protecting you from the elements if you have to stay overnight. With all that said, here’s a run down of estimated costs of the primary accessories needed to sled in the back country.

• Sled $6,000-$14,000 USD
• Clothes (including base, mid and outer layers – top & bottom) $800-$1,200 USD
• Boots/gloves/helmet $245-$800 USD
• Backpack (non-avy) $60-$120 USD
• Backpack (avy) $1,000-$1,200 USD
• Body armor (tek vest, knee pads, etc) $60-$300 USD
• Beacon, probe, shovel $250-$400 USD

This doesn’t include a lot of items, such as matches, radios, compass, fire starter, flashlight, and the list goes on, and the costs add up. It would be GREATLY appreciated if the media would STOP perpetuating the myths that sledders are ignorant, beer-swilling, couch-potatoes. Because it’s simply not true.

The fact is that mountain sledders do not fit a stereotypical mold. They come from all areas of the business world…from CEOs to millworkers. They have families and they are single. They are old and they are young. They are world-class athletes and they are physically handicapped. They survive corporate down-sizing, cancer, divorces, etc….just like everyone else.

The thing that binds us together is our great love for the back country in the winter. We are modern day adventurers. We want to get out there – in the mountains. We want to explore and play and wonder at the beauty. We love the snow! When it covers the trees, when it flies up in our faces, when it gives us a playground of vast proportions. That is when we are in heaven. That is when our souls glow.

We are not anything that the media will have tried to make us out to be in the last couple of days. We are so much more. It’s truly a pity that the media isn’t interested in shining any light on the truth.

The truth is - the Turbo Bowl avy survivors are HEROS. We in the snowmobiling communities – far and wide – are praying for the full recovery of those injured, in body and in spirit. And finally, with great compassion and sympathy we extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of those who perished.

I wrote this and I am Susie Rainsberry, Oregon resident, back-country snowmobiler. I provide free and complete liberty for others to share and disperse this message. The time has come to stop the slandering of good individuals just because they ride snowmobiles.
So true...
Comment by Richelle on 23rd March 2010
It is heartwarming to see a newspaper pick up this article and print another side of the story. As a mother and a fellow backcountry sledder, I was deeply saddened to see the tragedy in Revelstoke become a slanted, one-sided media frenzy and I truly congratulate your paper for representing our feelings.

Every time I travel into the glorious backcountry mountains, I am well aware of the risks and have spent time and money accepting and avoiding these risks. I can't stress enough what sledding REALLY is about: camraderie, friendship, family, fitness, challenges, memories, and appreciating this amazing planet we live on. Its not a bunch of rednecks parked under a big hill trying to have the biggest climb and the biggest wreck!

What happened at the Big Iron Shootout was NOT AT ALL representative of what sledders do on a regular basis. I liken the event to a 4x4 truck owner going to watch a Monster Truck event... its just a show and not at all like the real thing. And the truth is, people get killed and injured at Monster Truck shows too, but it doesn't mean that owning a 4x4 is inherently dangerous.

And yet, the media has managed to turn the event into a circus, running footage of wrecks and climbs that are only attempted by 10% of the sledding community. Further, biased accounts have started emerging from the woodwork as Mike Wiegele a heli-ski tour operator appears from the woodwork to condemn sledders in general. Where was Global Media's balanced coverage when they let Mike Wiegele take them on an all expenses paid tour of heli-skiing that basically amounted to a great amount of advertising for Mike? I find it funny that they failed to look into an accident in the Mike's past that had 12 skiers outracing an avalanche; 7 of whom didn't make it... but sledders are wreckless???

And again these past two weeks the backcountry claims more lives of 2 skiers and a snowmobiler. Are we to dishonor their memory by claiming they were wreckless as well?

I believe our sledding community did a wonderful job of making what could have been a global catastrophe into a happy ending. While there needs to be harsher regulations for big gatherings like the big iron shootout, I honestly believe that all the legislation in the world cannot eliminate the risks inherent in our activities.

Broad moves and sweeping laws by government will only be detrimental to the sledding communities who rely on income from snowmobile and skiing tourism and make an already costly sport even more cost prohibitive.

When the media is ready to follow the real story, I hope that this article will be a springboard for the voice of sledders everywhere...
Thanks Terrace!!
Comment by Gillene on 19th March 2010
Wow....thanks for posting this is in your paper!! I submitted this same article to the Prince George Citizen but I guess they didn't find it "newsworthy" enough. Instead, the next day I found a cartoon posted that further poured salt into the wounds of the sledding community. I have been to Terrace on a few occasions and have found it be a warm, friendly place. Thank you for coming to the defense of the sledders from all over B.C., and other parts too. B.C. more than ever needs to defend ourselves as the "snowmobile mecca" of the world.....
Comment by terry unrau on 19th March 2010
thanks merv for publishing this story, i am glad i sent it to you. my thoughts go out to all the families how have lost loved ones in avalanches through out the world. Only taining and knowledge can help to prevent these tragidies. Ride safe!!!
The truth
Comment by Karen Dedosenco on 18th March 2010
The truth is that approximately 200 snowmobilers ignored extreme warnings for avalanche danger and ventured into their beloved back country - with drastic consequences. Hopefully more snowmobilers will heed the warnings next time thus avoiding becoming a statistic and giving the sport a bad name.

My sympathy to the victim's families.
Thank you
Comment by backseatrider on 18th March 2010
Thank you, I too am a sledding nut and what I enjoy most about the sport is that you are completely disconnected while out enjoying the great outdoors. I was not aware of all the negativity in the press until I got back to civilization on Saturday night. I wondered why no news organization promoted the fact that 200 sledders were caught but only 2 fatalities, thank you to all the heroes who kept their heads in a stressful situation and used their education.
risks too great
Comment by bill Braam on 18th March 2010
There were 'unprecedented avalanche warnings' posted in our area and likely province wide just before the avalanche, what does that mean? I know but perhaps some persons need to have that explained to them. On the other hand, I have seen enough of the backcountry snowmobilers in our area participating in snow related rescues to know that if I were ever in trouble they are the people that would go way beyond 'above and beyond' to rescue me. They have the exceptional talents and determination it takes to get really challenging tasks done, thanks guys. Your there when we need you.
Owner, 2Cool AirVents
Comment by Tammy on 18th March 2010
It's about time a true representation of the sport of snowmobiling is presented in the press. Thanks to the Terrace Daily for printing this article! and thanks to Susie for writing it! You have captured the feelings of the snomobile community, and we are grateful!

:) Tammy
Way to go
Comment by Pam on 18th March 2010
Thank you for posting Susie's article and with some really awesome pictures.

The world needs to know about the heroic actions of the sledders that were there and how because of them, more lives were not lost. Search and Rescue is very valuable, but in an avalanche you have to depend on your partner, your buddys, and complete strangers to save your life.

The people there are all heros and they saved so many. My heart goes out to the families of the two men that lost their lives, but it would have been worse without the prepared heroic efforts of everyone there.

This is who snowmobilers are.
Comment by Susie Rainsberry on 18th March 2010
Thank you for providing space for this commentary!! It is greatly appreciated.