Last Friday, legendary snowboarder Brian Iguchi and veteran backcountry instructor Nathaniel Murphy were on hand at Showcase in Vancouver to extol the importance of avalanche awareness and equipment fundamentals as part of Volcom’s Back Country Awareness tour.
“Growing up in Southern California, I always thought avalanches were some God-sent act of vengeance and anger,” says Iguchi. “I didn’t realize it was a science—that you could actually understand avalanches and predict them.
“Knowledge is freedom in the backcountry,” Iguchi continues. “The more you learn, the more it opens up. And you can’t really shortcut that.”
Brian Iaguchi is all smiles after what essentially was a PK for back country riding in avalanche country.
“Knowledge is freedom in the backcountry. The more you learn, the more it opens up. And you can’t really shortcut that.”
The Vancouver date, the tour’s only Canadian stop on the nine-city tour, attracted about two dozen snow sports enthusiasts of all levels. After an hour-long presentation, which included video and detailed information about risk assessment, snow conditions, and search and rescue techniques, the floor was opened up to questions.
“It’s super important for local shop kids and employees to become more knowledgeable,” says Murphy, who’s been teaching backcountry awareness in Wyoming for over five years. “Backcountry is so popular now. With splitboarding, open gate policies, increased access and more media now pushing people to get out, people need these tools.
“With Brian, his big thing is he wishes he had things like this growing up, ’cause he learned everything the hard way.”
Nathaniel Murphy (far left) and Brian Ianuchi (fourth from left) dropping science…avalanche science, that is.
“Backcountry is so popular now. With splitboarding, open gate policies, increased access and more media now pushing people to get out, people need these tools.”
Mark Thomson of Showcase, the evening’s host shop, knows all too well the realities of learning the backcountry the hard way.
“We’ve all been touched by people who’ve been killed by avalanches, or been in serious accidents, so it’s important for us to spread the awareness of the dangers and try to prevent it as much as we can, and to be give back to our community like this.”
“Events like this also help drive sales, to get people into the into the store asking questions, maybe get people thinking about buying some avi gear.”
Thomson has seen sales in the backcountry category climb drastically in his store.
“It’s just getting huge now, especially with splitboarding,” he says. “In the past couple years, it’s just taken off. For us, we’re selling tons of boards, and there’s a lot of interest in avi gear.
“Usually the types of customers we’re dealing with when it comes to avi gear are knowledgeable enough that you feel comfortable selling to them,” he admits. “But the odd time you get the person you can tell is totally not ready for taking that step. So you try to steer them in the right direction.”
Echoing a common theme, Thomson says having knowledgeable staff is key to his shop’s success at drawing the backcountry customer though his door.
“It’s one of those things you can’t fake your way through. You’ve got to either know your stuff or you don’t sell it. We’ve always got one or two guys on staff who know their stuff.”
Mark Thomson of Showcase stands below the splitboards, a category he’s seen take off in the last couple years.
“It’s one of those things you can’t fake your way through. You’ve got to either know your stuff or you don’t sell it.”
Rob Williamson of Volcom, the presenting sponsor of the tour, also points to the growth in popularity of backcountry riding, and its dangers, as the impetus for the tour.
“It was Brian’s decision to go out on the road and do this tour. It’s about the people he’s lost in his life and trying to affect change in the market place,” says Williamson.
“There’s so much growth in the industry with backcountry, splitboards and all the other stuff that goes with it. And if you don’t have the education that goes along with this, there will be tragedies, that’s the reality.”
Williamson also expressed the importance of operating on the shop level for the tour.
“The reason we want to do it at shop level, is for us, we believe it’s really a grassroots movement,” he says. “It should be done at the level of a core store. The people who come in, those are the people who are excited enough to listen to something like this. And those are the most likely candidates to be out there in the backcountry in the first place. This tour is a community service; it’s what the shops that are connected with their community are prepared to do.”
“There’s so much growth in the industry with backcountry… And if you don’t have the education, there will be tragedies, that’s the reality… This tour is a community service; it’s what the shops that are connected with their community are prepared to do.”
Iguchi agrees: “I think it’s great to be doing this at the shop level. As a rider, and just as a kid, everything was centered around the local shop. I’d go there to get all my information, check out the new gear, the videos. There’s always kind of a buzz around the shops, so I thought it would be a great to give back to and be a part of.
“Over my career, I’ve had the opportunity to take a lot of avalanche classes and learn from a bunch of really experienced guides. I’ve learned a lot from people who are very knowledgeable. That knowledge has been passed down to me, and I want to continue to share that.
“We need to look out for each other. Look out for our friends, for people you love, who you share the backcountry with. Keep having fun, that’s what it’s all about, but if things get sketchy pull back, live to ride another day. Keep the stoke alive.”