Whether you are running hard whitewater or ripping blower powder turns, kayaking and snowboarding have a lot in common. There is more to this than just what meets the eye. In my mind, one commonality involves the same decision-making skills for being in the backcountry as it does for exploring rivers. First, it requires patience, skill, knowledge and time. Second, we need to have an understanding of the complex moves or skills in order to physically ride or paddle the line in question. (obviously I am leaving out lots of details like avalanche conditions, human factors, gear, water levels, etc. …) Third, we need to weigh the consequence of our line or rapid choice and decide if we can manage it.
Then, are we willing to accept the consequences? What if I screw the pooch? Then what? Do I drown? Swim? Get sieved? Get beat down on rocks? Get avalanched? Hit trees? Go off a cliff? What will happen to me if I don’t make all the right moves?
As I am typing this, I just received a text message from a good friend of mine, telling me that a 22-year-old kayaker was tragically killed June 5th in the Middle Five section of the North Fork Payette River, Idaho. He was paddling the continuous class V whitewater when he flipped over and hit his head (wearing a full-face helmet) knocking himself out. Tragically, the crew of his friends were not able to get him out in time and he drowned. This river has had a deadly history and according to American Whitewater, this was the twelfth death since 1988.
The North Payette is the same river that most of my kayaking shots have come from. I have spent most of my spring in Idaho training on this exact river and this accident really brings me into a humble state of being. No matter how comfortable we get on a river or mountain we need to remember the consequences of making a mistake. It is very easy for us (humans) to underestimate risk. Rivers and mountains can get out of hand really quick, and big mountain lines and class V rapids are inherently dangerous. These types of accidents are what should remind us all how fragile we really are.
I am not trying to scare everyone out there that kayaking is some super dangerous sport… In fact, I think it’s safer than skiing or snowboarding in the backcountry. And it’s definitely safer than driving on my local freeway, where every night I turn on the news to hear about another automobile fatality. I am just trying to say that at any high level of extreme sports, there is risk involved and making good decisions is what keeps us alive for the long run.
Risk is what makes it fun right? Isn’t that the attraction of every high-end adrenaline seeker? When I first got into kayaking an old time kayaker 60 years of age told me a life long quote of his: “If you aren’t scared, you aren’t having fun.” Now of course there are different levels of being scared and maybe a more appropriate word to use would be “excited.” “If you’re not excited, you’re not having fun.” I can say that out of all the extreme sports I do, kayaking is by far the most scary and exciting.
This is what inspired me most about this video project: the close connection that whitewater kayaking and snowboarding in the backcountry have in common. I work for the Utah Avalanche Center and spend most of my time snowboarding in the mountains. Snow and avalanche science and decision making (human factors) are very intriguing to me and I love to study them. However, when spring has sprung and that snow starts to turn to water, that’s when I get stoked for kayak season and those same skills required for making decisions still apply.
I wanted to bring these two ideas together. Snow and water in all reality are one in the same — snow is just the frozen form of water. And every winter it snows and every spring it melts and its just another way for us to feel connected to the amazing world we live in. “Snow equals Water” is the theme and feel of this movie. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for watching.