MOTHER OF VICTIM SPEAKS TO AVALANCHE WORKSHOP
Cindy Berlack advocates for change at global conference in Innsbruck
INNSBRUCK, Austria (Oct. 12, 2018) - Avalanche forecasters, educators and scientists from around the world had a poignant reminder of the importance of snow safety in an address by Cindy Berlack, whose son and rising U.S. Ski Team star Ronnie Berlack was killed in an avalanche in 2015. Berlack closed out the weeklong International Snow Safety Workshop (ISSW) in Innsbruck, Austria with a four-point plea for reform, representing the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Snow Safety Foundation (BRASS).
ISSW is the largest conference of its kind, capturing virtually the entire snow safety industry. Berlack’s presentation was designed to raise awareness for action steps to be taken by ski resorts and the avalanche safety community to protect others based on learnings from the accident.
A detailed report on the January 5, 2015 accident that claimed the lives of Berlack and teammate Bryce Astle in Sölden, Austria will be released by BRASS this month. In addition, at the opening FIS Alpine Ski World Cup races in Sölden this month, officials from the community will put in place specific changes based on the findings from the accident report.
BRASS is a non-profit foundation formed by the families to lobby for improvements to avalanche safety and to advocate for greater penetration of avalanche education. Berlack spoke on Friday, October 12, the closing day of the Oct. 7-12 conference that attracted over 1,000 avalanche experts to Innsbruck.
Cindy Berlack Presentation
First of all, this has been a very informative week - although tough emotionally, being the MOM of an avalanche victim. I so appreciate your interest in this accident, and the compassion those I talked to have shown to me.
His charm, his huge strength, his U.S. Ski Team credentials could not protect our son, Ronnie (Berlack) from the avalanche. He, the amazing Bryce Astle from Alta, Utah, and their coaches were completely unaware of the dangers in Sölden, Austria, about 30 miles from here on January 5, 2015.
Out of this accident has come the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Snow Safety Foundation. It is forged out of grief and shaped by hope. Our resolve is as strong as the hardest of metals. We want the international safety system for avalanches to be improved. We believe the memory of Ronnie and Bryce can bring more safety others who are drawn to snow.
I am not a snow scientist. I am an emotionally-driven MOM. Your MOM could be standing here, if it had been you.
I keep on asking WHY in the dark on my sleepless nights. What safety measures were missing?
Make the avalanche control policy at each resort clear to visitors. Resorts need to visibly post their practices of where the snow has been controlled for avalanches and deemed safe, and where it is not. It has to be written at least in the local language and in English - on the slope, on trail maps, tickets, on the website, plastered everywhere.
Post a clear, internationally-consistent sign conveying urgent danger when the snow pack is unstable off the groomed trails. A flashing light, flag, symbol, explained on all the resort maps, the website, on tickets-- which lets even first time visitors know they should NOT to go off the groomed piste that day.
It was a Level 3 that day, and our boys did not see the ‘Freeride Checkpoint’ sign at Sölden because it was placed out of view to descending skiers. Even if they had seen it, a multi-lighted sign is difficult to understand. What is the aspect they are going to and at what altitude were they? Our young men certainly didn’t. The four athletes with Ronnie and Bryce narrowly escaped.
Adjust International Warning Scale. It was a Level 3 ‘considerable’ warning on that day. Being in the middle of the scale, it appeared to our boys’ coach that the danger was moderate. They allowed the athletes to go free riding, unaware the level was actually deadly. Adjust the Danger Levels 3-5 so visitors will take a Level 3 warning seriously. Also, the word ‘considerable,’ is not a strong clear message that the snow is very dangerous.
Set a level of avalanche education required by all leaders taking organized groups into off-piste areas. Every person responsible for others in a group (schools, ski teams, outing clubs, scouts, church groups, interest groups, paid travel groups) needs to have a standard level of avalanche education to keep their group safe. This should be adopted by each organization which leads people into off piste areas. WE feel ski racing groups are especially vulnerable to snow danger.
We have an educational snow safety video, based on the accident in Sölden, but re-enacted in Snowbird, Utah. I want to leave you with this video as a reminder of the accident and what we all need to do together to protect others.
Thank you for this opportunity.