Originally Posted by davluri
With a huge storm bearing down on the West, we will be skiing some deep, heavy snow for the first time this year.
How does the buddy system work, exactly? 2 persons, three or more? Guest explained the basic three person system on an earlier post, yet personal experience anecdotes could flesh out our practical knowledge.
Information on the roles of skiers in a buddy system group with respect to their relative ability would be important to know.
Currently reading the Avalanche Handbook. good read, particularly on selecting line with respect to conditions present.
Assuming you're serious about the question, here's my answer:
If safety is your primary concern and you're skiing OUT of bounds, you need at least three. If there are only two of you and one is seriously hurt and needs attention to maintain breathing, stop blood loss, or provide warmth, then there's nobody left to go get help. You have to have a third or you're, as they say, effed.
So let's assume you're backcountry and there are three (or more) of you. If the line you're about to ski is sketchy, I believe in having the MOST experienced beacon jockey go last. (The possible exception is that there's a specific line that MUST be followed exactly, but that brings up the question of whether you should be there AT ALL if it's that dicey). The first rider down takes the conservative line and hightails it to the safest spot in sight. The next guy might go a little more aggressive. The last guy makes whatever decision he thinks is appropriate given the experience of the others. But what you never, never do is put two or more people on the same exposed slope if there's any way to avoid it (and if there's no way to avoid THAT, then back up two or more steps and figure out how in the world you got into a situation where two or more of you are exposed at the same time
It's also REALLY important to know your group dynamics. "Goal-attainers" or type-A peak baggers have a very hard time backing off. It's really important that everyone in the group - even the least experienced - speak up if they feel nervous about a decision. The older you get, the more you realize that there are a lot of powder turns available in a person's normal lifetime. Being buried under a couple of tons of snow seems like a really bad way to cut down on that potential number of lifetime turns.
If you're skiing inbounds, I'm the wrong one to ask. I ski alone inbounds in blizzards all the time. I'm willing to suffer the consequences of my own decisions (my wife might not totally agree but she knows how I feel). That's why I carry a whistle all the time.