Please understand that I write the following from an intentionally neutral position regarding opinions on the following gear, skiing decisions, etc. Some of the words I use may seem loaded, but the point is to step back and ask what may be mostly stupid questions in an effort to ask at least a few questions (that have obviously been asked) from a clean-slate sort of way. This is not an attempt at trolling, and I ask (though obviously can't demand, it's a public thread) that while opinions/emotions may be strong on these issues (plenty of people here have lost loved ones and friends)-- that we at least try to discuss, without attacking one-another, in a respectful way.
I'm intrigued by the seemingly contradictory stance some take regarding safety, skiing solo, and off-piste (particularly actual BC).
On one hand, I see threads both here and on TGR, where most call riding/skiing in the BC without..
-Transceiver + Shovel + Probe
... next to lunacy (or negligent). The debate has even shifted to, i) whether everyone in the BC should have an Airbag, and ii) whether people should also be skiing in-bounds, off-piste, with basic avy gear (at least one some days).
And then we see regular posts about how tree wells are deadly, and common, and potentially impossible to avoid if you fall-- and mainly survivable with companion rescue.
I can't tell if the overall skiing population is becoming less risk averse and the industry paternalistic; or manufacturers/retailers realize that, given basic (skis, poles, boots) equipment saturation in the market, the best way to open whole new markets is to sell previously unowned, expensive safety equipment (from helmets on piste to avy gear, airbags, avalungs in the BC); or if this gear is really the breakthrough buying patterns suggest?
Is this because skiing (in modern times), per capita, is not really that risky of a sport to begin with?
I ask this thinking of rock/ice-climbing, for instance-- a sport in which the big "breakthrough" is free solo-climbing... aka Alex Honnold climbing shit like Half Dome's harder routes alone and without protection.... and winning awards, a Nat. Geo. cover article, and general accolades for the achievement. But climbing is also a sport with, even when protection is used, the risks seem more inherent (specially ice-climbing)...
Or you hear about people trying to sack huge peaks without oxygen, or...
And then, I see those threads here (and TGR) where people talk about their love for skiing in the BC alone. Often the same folks who would send a rejoinder about mistakes being made (post-avalanche death report; or skiing at all in a specific spot post-avy death report), or about the "idiots" skiing off piste and in the BC without beepers, shovels, and probes.
Likewise, the most basic of avy rescue (not prevention) lines is that your companions must save you-- RECCO, calling professional rescue, going and getting help all result in death of your buried/hurt/tree-welled friend.
But if you're alone, none of the basic avy gear is much help. You'd have to be lucky for a stranger to see you in some off piste, in bounds areas (or even luckier, for a stranger to see you in the BC) getting into trouble. In that case, your beeper is (like RECCO) great for digging up the body, your shovel is fine for building a BC jump (OK, also testing snow), and your probe is useful as a spit for roasting the animals you'll need to survive on if you get lost in the wilds without equipment. (Yes, this is hyperbole.)
So, is solo skiing off-piste or in the BC foolish?
Is it acceptable to ski in potential avy/tree-well terrain without a beeper and other basic survival gear?
Is using an Airbag (for avy terrain) and/or Avalung (for tree-wells) but not basic avy gear (beacon, shovel, probe) a truly stupid setup-- if you're riding alone anyway?
Are we simply moving away from the perspective that skiing in the BC/high-risk areas is an extreme sort of sport, and that because it's so accessible to the masses the response to the "f$ck it, I live for the thrill of the danger" line has gone from being "gnarly, that dude might get killed doing what he loves, but he's wild and that's his choice," to "how irresponsible, I shall berate this man in a forum!"
Is body armor next (I see a lot of it worn by on-piste skiers here in the alps, and in the big outdoor shops in skiing sections, growing by the week)? How many deaths/serious injuries are caused by non-skull-based impacts in the BC/Off piste that could be ameliorated with better padding/protection?
Is the off-piste/BC skiing population (I realize the two are not the same) shifting, so that it now reflects a more general skiing population that doesn't accept such risks?
Is the major change that search and rescue, and mountain patrol, are now more willing to go out into the wilds to find/save someone who gets himself in trouble? I do have the (potentially false) impression that "at your own risk" has shifted to "don't go unless you're comfortable to go, but we'll still try to save you if the conditions don't make it totally idiotic for us to follow your tracks"-- that it's shifted from "outside those lines, and as far as we're concerned, we can't even see you," to "we don't want to be liable for you if you go out there, but we'll do our best."
Has anyone analyzed (formally) the $$$ spent on avy gear, the percentage of deaths associated with avy gear use and non-use, the percentage of deaths skiing solo, the man-hours of BC vs the risk of avy/treewell/collision death? Could Airbags replace probes as the primary avy terrain gear choice (if the so-called stats on their floatability hold, I could see as rational the argument that FIRST you buy an airbag-- and then you consider a beacon as a second-level choice [basically the reverse of how the industry looks at the two pieces of equipment today])?
And then this: If we're at the point where a FULL avy/treewell prep setup (airbag, avalung, beacon, shovel, probe at minimum) costs $2,500-- and people are willing to spend that to reduce the risk of death (whatever that is) in the BC by however much such gear reduces the risk of death (would love to see that statistic)-- should the industry be considering more radical solutions that cost in that same price range but are more expensive on their own?
If it must be said, I'll say it explicitly: I'm not against the use of any (or all) of the safety gear in question, nor skiing alone, nor any combination of gear (or lack) and skiing in a group (or alone). That's not the point of this thread. The point of this thread is to step back and consider a sport that, at least in some ways, seems to be changing in mentality, available equipment, accessibility, and population. And in the course of such changes, the relationship between mountain operations, manufactures/retailers, marketing, and skiers seems to be shifting.