Social Media Is Causing More... Avalanche Deaths?

While those of us who stick to intermediate slopes might not see it much, everyone knows expert downhill skiers tend to be a highly competitive bunch, as befits a culture dominated by young men and women much given to beer and bravado. Now the rise of social media is raising the competitive stakes by allowing skiers to broadcast their exploits on the slopes – and the search for ever more impressive settings is resulting in an increase in the number of deaths due avalanches in remote “backcountry” areas, according to the Denver Post.

In the 2015-2016 ski season, 30 people died in avalanches in the U.S., up from 11 in the 2014-2015 season, according to data from Although it’s impossible to say whether competition fueled by social media played a role in this increase, anecdotal evidence suggests that more skiers are trekking further out to find pristine mountainsides, without necessarily learning about avalanche safety measures, in part out of a desire to impress friends with videos posted online.

Jerry Isaak, a college professor and American Mountain Guides Association ski guide interviewed by the Denver Post, confirmed: “Technology and social media have fundamentally changed the nature of solitude and remoteness. Now our peers and online communities may travel everywhere with us on our smartphones. They are an ever-present audience generating pressure on our decisions in ways that were not possible in a predigital era. For many young people this is the only reality they have ever known.”

On the other hand, social media can play a role in spreading awareness of the risks inherent in skiing on untested backcountry slopes, as well as the ways that skiers can check to see if conditions are ripe for an avalanche. That includes digging “test pits” to see how stable subsurface snow and the underlying soil, as well as observing the angle of slopes, selecting routes, and watching weather patterns.

Experts are also asking big brands involved in outdoor sports, like Red Bull, to include avalanche safety messages in their social media content alongside videos of extreme skiing feats.
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