Pro Tip: Separate Your Goal From Your Objective
In the backcountry, we have many objectives that may come into play on any given day. Perhaps it is to ski a particular line on your bucket list, enjoy time with friends, or test out some new boards. I would like to suggest that, while you can have numerous objectives, there can only be one goal. If faced with a choice, the goal is the one thing you will give everything else up in order to attain. Objectives must always be assessed with the goal in mind.
So what is your goal, which is to say, what is the thing that is most precious to you when traveling in the winter mountain environment? I would like to suggest it should be “safety.” To define that further, into something actionable, I think this means not being involved in an avalanche that is large enough to injure or kill you, as well as avoiding unnecessary injury. A long time Himalayan climber once said that for him, “Getting to the top is optional—getting back down isn’t.”
Of course, everyone will say safety is their goal, but, in my experience, I have seen many unconsciously drift to a point where an objective is treated as though it were actually the goal. Maintaining focus on your goal is tricky: It requires vigilance and communication to manage.
Here are a few of my tips to help keep your eye on the prize:
- Say out loud in the morning with whomever you will be traveling with that day, “I do not want us to be involved in an avalanche that is large enough to injure or kill us, and we should also avoid unnecessary injury.” Ensure there is agreement. Do not let this just be implicit and unsaid—words are powerful, and this should be spoken out loud.
- Then discuss within the context of the day (i.e. current avalanche problems, weather, group abilities etc.) whether or not your current objectives align with your goal. If you do not feel they do, then adjust them to a level needed to meet your stated goal.
- At any decision point, and definitely before engaging any avalanche terrain, question out loud whether what you are about to do will meet the requirements of your goal. Is there new information to be considered since your first discussion (has the weather changed, have you had some unexpected whumpfs or snowpack test results, is anybody fatigued or otherwise compromised?).
- Once your journey is completed, congratulate yourself on successfully attaining your goal. Then, if you are keen on it, discuss what you felt were the decisions that helped you keep your eye on the prize.
Scott Davis has been a ski patroller, highway avalanche forecaster, professional mountain guide, ACMG/CAA instructor/examiner, and ACMG president. He will always, however, define himself as a skier who likes to climb. He’s not on the socials, so the best way to contact him is a chance encounter on Rogers Pass.