Neither heroes nor gods

Winter brings with it an array of inconveniences.

Cold weather, dead car batteries, chilly waits at the bus stop, pollution buildup caused by temperature inversions and random Prozac shortages caused by snowed-in delivery trucks can make living in "Happy Valley," perhaps, a bit less happy.
Nobody is impervious to the cold sting of winter, not even the government. This year’s heavy snowfall has taken its toll on snow removal budgets in cities along the Wasatch front and the back muscles of those cities’ residents alike.

Henry Rollins, the author, actor, self-styled philosopher and best-known of the three former front men for the notorious punk-rock band, Black Flag, once called winter "the season of heroes and gods." I think I know what he meant.

It’s simple, once you make the decision to carry on as normal, despite weather conditions, you become a member of a fairly exclusive club.

Of course, those who choose to opt out of winter activities have their own club, as well. It’s a world of cozy, indoor fires in which inhabitants sport hyper-fuzzy, brightly colored sweaters, fluffy church-styled hair, lip gloss and the deluded grin of an acid casualty.

The rooms are filled with dim, fuzzed-out light that gives all inhabitants the overly-dilated, dewy-eyed look as they sip hot cocoa or wassail – whatever that is – and think of God knows what … summer, probably. And that’s OK, I guess; that has just never been my particular cup of wassail.

To me it is surprising to note that there are some who live their entire lives north of the 35th parallel and never learn to embrace the cold, snowy half of the year.

It’s surprising because what that means is having to spend all of one’s days eking out some cynical semblance of survival for about half the year.

Combine that solid six months of life-hating with the average number of minutes spent hating life on any given warm-weather day, like for instance, summer traffic jams, and the scales tip in favor of the "life sucks" category, more often than not. It’s no wonder Mental Health America reports high rates of depression in Utah.

In winter, those who choose to live as normal, in spite of temperature drops and inclement weather, can have the world all to themselves. And winter sports are the domain of only those who are willing to brave the conditions and the increased risks, a definite minority (albeit a growing one).
But there are some who may be taking the whole heroes-and-gods thing, perhaps, a bit too literally. They are the ones who end up as statistics.

On the day after Christmas of 2003, a group of 14 snowboarders were recreating near Aspen Grove in the runout of one of the largest avalanche paths in Utah, during one of the most intense snowstorms in several years.

The group triggered a massive slide measuring 11.4 acres by 35-feet-deep, according to the Utah County Sheriff’s Department. Three young snowboarders were buried by tons of snow the consistency of wet cement. Their bodies were not recovered until the following spring.

According to UVU Physical Education and Recreation Program Risk Manager and instructor of the Avalanche Awareness class, Garth Tino, "It was the largest slide anybody can remember seeing south of Alaska." According to Tino, even the most basic avalanche education could have prevented these deaths.

Avalanches are the most common cause of death by natural hazard, accounting for 64 percent in Utah. The National Weather Service reports that in 2007, there were seven avalanche fatalities in Utah. That’s the highest single-year total on record dating back to 1958.

These days nearly twice as many snowmobilers are killed in avalanches than any other recreational group. Snowmobiles can not only go any place a skier can go, but they can cover 100 times the amount of terrain in a day as a skier; so if any instabilities exist, snowmobilers are likely to find them, according to Utah Avalanche Center reports.

The point is this, don’t curse the weather, change the way you view it and live on in spite of it. But if you do decide to live well year-round don’t get too carried away with the whole hero or god complex. Instead educate yourself about the risks and know how to avoid them. Take a class, travel in groups, carry the proper safety and rescue equipment and know how to use it.

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