If you’ve ever taken a Level I avalanche course, you’ve learned a thing or two from Jill and Doug. Since 1986, when the pair first opened the Alaska Mountain Safety Center in Anchorage, they’ve taught thousands of backcountry travelers the difference between hard data (terrain, snowpack, weather) and assumptions (“There are tracks on this slope: It’s definitely safe.”). Their avalanche guidebook, Snow Sense, first published in 1984 and still in print, is widely considered the text on backcountry education. It’s excerpted routinely, and there’s even a blog dedicated to the tome-written in Japanese.

“Jill and Doug identified how we make decisions and mistakes in the backcountry,” says Dale Atkins, a forecaster at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. “They came up with better ways to evaluate conditions. Their work was cutting-edge in the ’80s, and it still is today.”

Jill and Doug have excavated more than 50 bodies from Alaska’s snowy catacombs, and the work has taken its toll. “Even if I avoid imprinting a victim’s face to memory,” Jill writes in her 2005 book, Snowstruck, “my mind is crowded with images.” Still, the pair believes that, with well-trained eyes and decision-making chops, people can ski what they want-and live.


“I see the same accident over and over again,” says Jill. “That’s great. It means we can teach people how not to get caught in an avalanche.”


Says Jill: “If you learn to admire snow for what it does, looking for clues-like settling slopes, layers, wind effect-is not a burden.”


Says Doug: “An avalanche doesn’t care if it’s your best day of the season, or if the sun’s out, or if the face is untracked. You need to read between the lines.”

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