“What Scares Me The Most in the Mountains”

Miles Clark | | AvalancheAvalancheFeatured ArticleFeatured Article
Skiing the very exposed Midi Ridge in Chamonix, France. photo: nattfod

While skinning along a long ridge yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about risk in the mountains.  We’ve already had so many tragedies this winter and I was brainstorming on how to expose the dangers of the mountains in a more humanistic light.

At dinner tonight in the Hakuba Powder Lodge, I asked the pertinent question to all my experienced mountain friends:  “What scares you the most in the mountains?”

Their answers were all very interesting and very relevant.  Surprisingly, nobody said avalanches.  In general, it seems that my friends are most afraid of situations that they have no control over.  Lack of control is a very scary thing…

Exposure.  photo:  ross hewitt
Exposure. photo: ross hewitt

“What Scares You the Most in the Mountains?”

Matthias:  “Being exposed to something I have no control over, like a huge cornice collapse or a serác fall.  Ending up in a situation, by myself, that I can’t get out of on my own.  Uneducated people who drop in above me when I’m in an exposed position.  Something bad happening to someone in my group because of a decision I made.  Sluff in tight couloirs.”

Charlie:  “Blind rollovers and just the general sense of not knowing what is below me.”

Zach:  “Unnecessary exposure.  Being underneath something really big that you can’t control.  Or when skiing up to a ledge/cornice when you don’t know how close you can get to it.”

Txema:  “People skiing/riding above me when I’m in an exposed position.

Eika:  “When you’ve been waiting a longtime and you’re super stoked and a big storm dumps a huge amount of snow.  In this situation, it’s easier to make bad decisions as you’re so fired up and been waiting so long.”

Nick:  “Visibility.  I know I can keep myself safe for the most part when I can see where I’m going.  When the visibility goes away quickly, you don’t know where you are, and you can end up in a dangerous place you normally would avoid.  Not being able to see in the mountains and not knowing where I am scares me”

Patrick:  “Me or someone in my group getting hurt in the backcountry.”

Ryan:  “Peeing on yourself when you’ve really gotta go and it’s really windy out.”


Kashimyari, Japan. photo: snowbrains.com
Kashimyari, Japan. photo: snowbrains.com

What are you most afraid of in the mountains?  Lets get a list going and help put some of these ideas into our heads before we head out into the backcountry.

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7 thoughts on ““What Scares Me The Most in the Mountains”

  1. I have to second the comments about visibility. If you ride a lot in places like Alaska or the Andes, lack of visibility is probably the biggest game changer out there – even more than avy danger. The closest I’ve ever come to meeting my maker while skiing was on Volcan Villarrica in Chile on a sick powder day. We were halfway down the mountain when the visibility closed out, and it was impossible to tell snow from sky. Powder shredding turned into survival skiing, and I ended up skiing blind over a cliff band and got extremely lucky to come out of the situation with all of my limbs and noggin intact…..

  2. I actually feel quite comfortable once I’m on the snow with my skis on. It’s the driving that get’s me spooked. We ski Rogers Pass Pass, Revelstoke, Kicking Horse and the BC backcountry regularly, and the road conditions in the winter are by far the most risky part of our trips.

  3. I’m not a back-country skier, but for those of us skiing Resorts, it’s the ‘ice’ we fear the most.
    Ice makes cowards of us all.

    You’ll be flying down something manageable, then turn down a shady tributary to find nothing
    but trouble! This is when the snow-plow position will save your ass.

    Out of control skiers/boarders can also be troublesome.

    And frankly, people like me who drink/smoke and ski backwards a lot .. sorry.


  4. Ever since going to Chamonix, I would definitely say crevasses. Riding in exposed terrain is one thing when you have control and can use fear to help you stay alive, but when a professional guide died one of the big pow days off the Midi, that blew my mind. Somebody who rides this terrain every day, every year falling victim to a weak snow bridge while his group of clients watched. Absolutely horrible. And it happens all the time there. Seracs too!

    1. as far as lightning storms- only afraid of them when I am in exposed terrain – not where I can be sheltered and watch the show

  5. Lol@Ryan.. you dirty kiwi 😛
    I agree with most that it`s the un-controllable thats the most frightening.. I think its the same across most extreme sports like climbing/diving etc.. You can do everything possible to be safe..and then suddenly there is a quake/someone else skies where they shouldn’t/ weather changes suddenly.. and then the perfect day and situation can turn deadly in a blink of the eye and there is NOTHING you can do…well, short of giving up the sport and not put yourself in that situation

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