And There Is No Such Thing As Being A Little Bit Dead.

Back country warnings are there for a reason. Credit: Harriet Wallis
Back country warnings are there for a reason.
Credit: Harriet Wallis

Yesterday we rode the chairlift with a bozo. Okay. Maybe he wasn’t a bozo. Maybe he was just clueless. All the way up he yapped about his skiing prowess. And near the top he phoned home to give his wife his location. “She worries about me,” he said.

She should worry. He planned to duck under the boundary rope and make some turns in the deep, unspoiled powder beyond.

“Take your avy gear,” we said.

“Don’t need it. It’s in the car. I’m just doing side country,” he said.

Somehow he missed hearing that there is no such thing as side country.

The term “side country” hit the scene a few years ago, and it was quickly squelched by the ski industry’s leading avalanche experts, snow science experts, the U.S. Forest Service, ski area risk managers, mountain patrollers and others. It was likely a marketing brainchild used to promote the newest boots and powder-specific skis and boards.

The term had obvious appeal to intermediate and advanced skiers and riders. They could buy the latest gear and try their skills beyond the rope line thinking it would be okay. They could be a little bit naughty.

But the ski industry took a stance saying you’re either within a resort or else you’re in the unmonitored, ruthless back country. You’re either in bounds or you’re out of bounds. There’s nothing in between. There is no such thing as side country. There is no such thing as “kinda” out of bounds.

“We all must focus on educating skiers and snowboarders that backcountry terrain accessed from a ski lift has the same risks as any other back country or out-of-bounds area,” says the National Ski Area Association.

Later in the day I caught the TV news. A skier died after being caught in an avalanche. The avalanche occurred in the very out of bounds area where a guy— with too much macho and too little knowledge—went to ski. There’s no such thing as side country.

There’s no such thing as being a little bit dead.




  1. Your article was great! We really don’t understand how dangerous things can really be. Advice like yours should be heeded. Sad, but your article should open some eyes. Thanks!

  2. Kathy Miner says:

    Thanks for keeping us updated. I had never heard of Side Country, but I know of many skiers and boarders who think that an avalanche will not happen to them if they “just dip their toe into the deep end of the pool.”

  3. Another great story!! Thanks for the information.

  4. With the advances of ski/boards being manufactured for backcountry and open and easy access from lifts this has been an ongoing problem. I’ve never heard it called “side country” but that’s a perfect description, I’m just going on the other side of the boundary.

    It is too bad with all the options of free education and outreach teaching is done, never mind the huge signs and warnings that have become standard at boundaries, there will be those who still believe it will never happen to them.

    If they want to be stupid and kill themselves, well that’s up to them. BUT I do object to them putting rescue teams in jeopardy to go and get them.

    Stepping off my soap box now. Thanks for a great article.

  5. Cansnowplow says:

    Seeking powder out of bounds is similar to craving nicotine, “it won’t happen to me” if I smoke or if I take a side trip. We lovers call it “Cold Smoke” for a good reason. Smoke blinds us from the reality of death. How do you drive the point home to Joe Six-Pack? Maybe every ski area boundary exit gate should have airport type self serve machine kiosks of mandating purchasing an instant accident term insurance policy. In the ski industry, only money equates to well reasoning. The coverage should also reimburse personnel recovery expenses. The light bulb might then come on.

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