Goal Orientation, Safety, and Decision Making
The last few days in the Pacific Northwest yielded tons of fresh pleuffy flowder (an accidental spoonerism from this weekend for fluffy powder) on top of an icy layer from the past weeks, resulting in a high avalanche danger weekend. So naturally, all touring plans went out the window and we solidly decided that it would be a strictly inbounds weekend. Or so I assumed. On Sunday, after a really fun run skiing down International at Alpental for our first time and making our way back down via Snake Dance, Weston and I took Chair 2 back up for another go at the powder. We arrived again at the point where the runs diverged after International and were debating between going down Snake Dance again or taking Elevator Gate.
Elevator Gate takes you into the Alpental backcountry, but we noticed a lot of people going down it sans pack. My instincts while assessing the situation told me:
- Don't go without gear. It's the backcountry even though it hugs the resort.
- Don't go at all. Avalanche danger for the region at the moment is high.
- Don't go at all. You can't visually evaluate any of the terrain you might be skiing from where you're currently standing.
But then I started reasoning with myself with the following arguments:
- Lots of people are going down that area without packs on.
- It's right next to the resort, it can't be that bad.
- I'll be fine, I'm not going solo.
- I can check this off my bucket list.
So we dropped in through Elevator Gate.
The first little bit felt fine, but then we dropped down a steep slope where the trees became a little denser. I could see areas where the fresh powder had been sluffing off as well as larger chunks that had rolled downhill and started thinking to myself "that's not good." Then I had to start navigating through the tighter trees in steep, chunky powder and I started getting more and more nervous. All I could think was "this was stupid and dangerous, we need to get out of this terrain."
Thankfully, Weston immediately recognized my discomfort and gently coaxed me down through the area and we made it back to the chair lifts unscathed.
I wanted to write about this experience, not because it was a crazy thing I did over the weekend or that I was really in any immediate sort of danger. But I needed to write a reminder to myself that goal orientation is a strong drive and it leads to poor choices and their consequences. Recognizing when to not pursue a goal is an incredibly important skill to have, and being able to stick to your instinct on it will prove to be invaluable to staying safe. It's also important to be able to assertive when making decisions and not used the canned response of "anything is fine with me."
I hope this experience is something that I will reflect on whenever I have to make choices that will potentially hold me back an extra day, or week, or month, or even years from achieving a gaol but will also keep me safe in the process. And I hope by sharing this, it will reinforce a safety-first mindset for someone else out there as well.