January 15, 2015 Features & Images » Feature Story

Backcountry safety for the next generation 

Helping to keep skiing's fastest growing user group safe

click to flip through (11) BY VINCE SHULEY - Backcountry safety for the next generation: Helping to keep skiing's fastest growing user group safe
  • By Vince Shuley
  • Backcountry safety for the next generation: Helping to keep skiing's fastest growing user group safe

Dave Mossop remembers exactly why he got into the business of making films. In November,1997, four of his high school friends perished in an avalanche near Fortress Mountain west of Calgary. The victims, three male and one female, were all between the age of 16 and 18.

"It completely changed all our lives in our high school grade," recalls Mossop. "As a result a lot of us are still really strong friends to this day including the three of us that founded the Sherpas."

While such a tragedy would normally lead to an aversion to the unpredictable and often unstable slopes of the Rockies, for Mossop and his friends Eric Crosland and Malcolm Sangster (the other two founding members of the Rocky Mountain Sherpas, now Sherpas Cinema), it was a driving force for them to get out deeper and further into the mountains than ever before. Diving into all the avalanche education that was available to them and spending as many days as they could at Rogers Pass — considered the pinnacle of Canadian ski touring as well as one of the most dangerous avalanche regions in the country — the trio gained their Canadian Avalanche Association's Operations Level 1 certification, the first qualification required for ski guides and avalanche technicians.

"As well as learning more about the backcountry and skiing more, we wanted to figure out a way to educate people about backcountry safety so the same (tragedy) wouldn't happen to others."

The knowledge the three friends gained feeds into every aspect of their snow films, but it was in 2008 when they released The Fine Line: A 16mm Avalanche Education Film that they set the benchmark of backcountry safety for their future work.

"You'd see dozens of ski and snowboard films show guys in avalanches then just cut to the next scene," says Mossop.

"I don't think the filmmakers intentionally wanted to glorify avalanches, but that was sort of the side effect of showing them like that. We wanted to show that that guy had no intention at all of being in the avalanche and if they could do it again, they wouldn't want to. Truly getting through to somebody who is at risk of going into the backcountry and getting into a situation, that's our challenge as filmmakers. Avalanche education is one of the hardest things to transmit. It's easy to transmit to people who already know (about the subject), but for people who are on the edge and don't understand that world yet, to have the language that speaks to them and to have the motivation well up inside that person to go and get educated, that's a beautiful challenge to a filmmaker."

Skier JP Auclair worked with the Sherpas on many film projects and was considered a part of its collective family, but an avalanche in Chile in September, 2014 killed Auclair and fellow athlete Andreas Fransson.

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