I just received a press release from HBO sports announcing that an episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel slated to air on Tuesday, April 17, will "explore the death-defying world of backcountry skiing." A few things come to mind. This has certainly been a terrible, tragic season for backcountry skiers, what with the Stevens Pass accident, the loss of Steve Romeo, Chris Onufer, Jamie Pierre, and too many others. It's a season we could pull a lot of lessons out of, but I won't try to do that here. And the frequency of accidents this year has predictably thrust our sport into the public eye.
One thing missing from the conversation, however, at least the parts of the conversation that make it into major news outlets like this HBO episode and Brian Williams's Rock Center special sensationally titled "The Death Zone," is the definition of backcountry skiing itself. Nothing in that short press release indicated that Gumbel's show will do anything but perpetuate the myth that backcountry skiing is all about cliff hucking and extreme risk taking. I call myself a backcountry skier and I do none of those things. My outings usually consist of skinning up what I deem to be, through observation and education and experience, safe ascent routes and then descending lower-angle slopes away from avalanche-prone zones. I'm out there for the relatively safe thrill of gliding over snow in uncrowded natural places. I'm there for the fitness, the scenery, and the fellowship of good friends. Call me a wuss—I want to return home to kiss my wife and kids—but I'm still a backcountry skier. And I would guess that the vast majority of "backcountry skiers" are more like me.
As a member of the media industry, I can understand the appeal of crafting traffic-drawing headlines, but let's hope Gumbel's broadcast showcases the kind of backcountry skiing most folks do. Not likely, considering this is the guy who famously trashed Winter Olympic athletes in 2006 when he said "try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like the GOP convention." We'll see. Does anyone have an HBO subscription and an open spot on the couch for me?
Air-time info from press release:
Now in its 18th season, REAL SPORTS WITH BRYANT GUMBEL presents more enterprising features and reporting when its 181st edition, available in HDTV, debuts TUESDAY, APRIL 17 (10:00 p.m. ET/PT & 9:00 p.m. CT), exclusively on HBO.
Other HBO playdates: April 17 (2:10 a.m.), 20 (1:30 p.m., 8:00 p.m.), 22 (9:45 a.m.), 26 (5:00 p.m., 12:30 a.m.), 28 (11:00 a.m.) and 30 (9:30 a.m., 6:30 p.m.)
HBO2 playdates: April 18 (9:30 p.m., 4:15 a.m.), 24 (10:55 a.m., midnight) and 27 (8:00 a.m.), and May 1 (7:00 p.m., 2:30 a.m.), 4 (7:55 a.m., 3:30 p.m.), 6 (noon) and 12 (9:00 a.m.)
HBO On Demand availability: April 23-May 14