CLAIM TO FAME: In 2003, alpine guide Abby Watkins and her husband Rich Marshall were skiing on Rogers Pass, British Columbia, when a 1,100-yard-wide avalanche swallowed a group of 14 high school students and their three chaperones, who were ascending the Balu Pass Trail.
Within 40 minutes, Watkins and Marshall had dug out five skiers and launched a rescue effort that would eventually save five more of the 17 victims. Though Watkins is a world-class mountaineer, the experience changed her: "Witnessing something like that leaves you with a physical understanding of the consequences of an avalanche. It's more real than anything you can learn in a textbook."
The 2003 rescue inspired Watkins to bring critical backcountry information into the public domain. As of this winter, any skier or climber can go to the Mountain Conditions Report (acmg.ca/mcr) and read snowpack and weather observations from members of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and the heroine herself. "As guides," she says, "we know what's going on because we exchange info on conditions all the time that should be made available to the public."
DON'T IGNORE THE OBVIOUS: "Often, guides will be fully aware of a particular hazard that a recreational group will step right into."
PRACTICE IN REAL TIME: "Just searching around in your backyard for a beacon isn't enough. You have to actually bury things deep, and practice probing as well as searching. Digging a deep hole in dense debris is really, really hard."
BE THERE: "Are you present? Do you know every layer that's between you and the ground? Situational awareness-that's what we call it in the avalanche and guiding industry."