I posted this over on the News Thread, after catching some static from Don Denver and others for ineptly criticizing the point of their deaths. It may/may not address some interesting comments over here, very different crowd:
"^^^^ It's possible I worded my response in such a way that it's been misinterpreted. I realize that the usual format for these threads is to express sorrow and laud the dead. I'm also sure that they both were doing what they loved, knew what they were doing, and nope, I know nothing about the circumstances. But what I was trying to get at was a rather different point that is not dependent on circumstances or how they felt about what they were doing:
Premise: I believe that motivation is more complicated than just "going for it." The culture we're all embedded in plays a big role, IMO. It shapes what we define as an acceptable risk, it rewards or punishes us for taking those risks, it literally helps us define ourselves - who we think we are and what we care about, and how others see us - in ways both direct and obvious and indirect and occult. So what we prefer to call "free will" is highly shaped, from the time we're born, by our culture.
So I think it's either naive or disingenuous in these days of media saturation, where we encourage people to make a living by sharing the minute details of their lives, to think that either of these guys just did what they did "for the love of it." Or that it's great they died doing something so important to them. Wouldn't it have been better if they hadn't died at all? And would they have died, would they even have been there, without a video crew and the financial support of various sponsors, and the pressure to find the gnarliest route, the most visually stunning backdrop? So in that sense, my point is not about whether the accident could have happened to anyone, or about the circumstances, or about how safety conscious they were. It's about the large social and financial structures behind why they were there, on that mountain at all. So it ain't just the ski sponsor narrative we'll be getting a lot of in days to come about two gifted young skiers who died doing what they loved most.
Do you think that Warren Miller would get very far with a website and films like he made in the 60's? Much of the commercial value of skiing, like so many other sports, has become how extreme it can be seen as in the eyes of the public. Who will then, in theory, go buy a product from the sponsors. Going down a chute at Valdez is a yawn. Won't cut it anymore. The runs have to be more distant, the tops harder to get to, the conditions less known because after all, what's coolest for the movie or video is to be somewhere no one's ever been before. Or to combine two sports in a novel way, like mountain climbing and then skiing, or skiing and parasailing. The advertising and film media make sure that the viewing public has an insatiable appetite for new stimuli, new sports, new vicarious thrills. And all of this, note, when snow conditions are becoming less predictable by past records, more variable day to day and week to week. Hey, let's all buy AT setups and go slip over the backside!
Of course, there are all kinds of thrills around of a more starkly realistic kind, like you may be feeling if your kids go to public school in Dallas right now, but we don't want to think too hard about that, let alone what's happening to all those non-skiers in Liberia. Let's vest our encouragement in two young guys to risk their lives on a mountainside far far away, or teens to spin upside down in a halfpipe. And when the odds come up wrong, let's make them the subject of even more media adoration.
Yep, think about freestyle too. Tricks that were technically difficult and risky even 5 years ago are now routine, expected of any serious competitor. That doesn't mean they've become less risky; in fact, you could make the case the same moves have greater likelihood of leading to trauma or death now because more kids are trying them, and spending more time practicing. Since all humans make mistakes, and these mistakes can be amplified by uncontrollable or unknowable environmental variables, there will be more Burkes, just like there'll be more Auclairs and Franssons. The real reason these tricks are routine, and now you've got to do an extra half revolution to get to the podium, is that the athletes are closer to the very edge of what equipment, training, and genes can accomplish. And rather than show concern for how hard they're being "encouraged" to get to that wall, or what happens when they hit, we applaud them with weary platitudes about "the limits of human performance."
So I honestly feel sad for these two apparently very good guys. But sorry, that doesn't mean I find that because they were buds with the video guys, or because they happily choose to do what led to their deaths, we're explaining the real problem - the numbers of these accidents and deaths in our sport. Any more than loving eulogies for McConkey somehow compensate for the fact he was taking a ridiculous risk for money, with a decent probability of catastrophic accident that didn't change with the number of times he pulled it off, and he left a family behind. I don't blame him, but I do blame the powers that kept encouraging him."