Tragedy struck yesterday afternoon when professional skier Jamie Pierre passed away in an Avalanche in the South Chute in Gad Valley, Utah. The slide swept him off a cliff of jagged rocks, and he died of trauma, as he was not completely buried. The Utah Avalanche Center reported that the soft slab was roughly 16 inches deep and ran 200 feet wide. With a fresh foot of snow, conditions were ripe for a slide due to the gusty winds. The mountain was not open for skiing for another week, so avalanche control had not yet been conducted. Pierre was a legendary skier, making appearances in Warren Miller films, Level 1 Productions, and Matchstick Productions, as well as holding the record for the highest cliff jump – an incredible 255 foot drop.
His passing is a grim reminder that what we do is dangerous. I’m not just speaking of jumping off cliffs in back country, but really any sport. By walking onto that football field, pushing that extra bit harder in training, or stepping into the pool, we are taking a risk. And this risk is revered by some and overlooked by others. On the day of Pierre’s death alone, there were 12 human-triggered avalanches in reported in Utah alone. And yet skiers with no experience or avalanche training brave the elements. Just like even though a kid suffers a bad concussion, a coach sends them back out on the field before the week is through.
As coaches and consultants, our number one priority should always be the safety of the athlete. If you are questioning whether or not you crossed the line between pushing athletes to their limits, and overtraining, you probably have already crossed it. Even though deaths do occur in sport, even the idea of injuring an athlete because the right precautions were not taken to keep them safe is absolutely unacceptable.
Let it be so that Jamie Pierre’s death was not in vain – let us remember that every day we engage in risky business and that safety is of the highest importance, and that every day we get to play our sport and do what we love is a gift.