Monday, February 24, 2014

Risk Management

There may be a genetic predisposition to risk taking. A recent article in The New York Times describes results of a recent study, which unlike older twin-based genetic association studies, focused on athletes in British Columbia who like to ski or snowboard like daredevils. If you carry a rare variant of the DRD4 gene (don't worry, we don't call you "mutants" these days), you are probably racing the Iditarod Invitational right now. If you are like the rest of us, running trails and skiing just for pleasure, it may be comforting to know that there are professionals who do care about our safety when we are out there having healthy fun (as opposed to unhealthy suffering of the DRD4 carriers...).

Case in point No 1: on my Saturday afternoon run at Grand Ridge, I found the trail being blocked by yellow tape. When I looked up, I saw the reason for trail closure, the broken tip of a tree hanging just above the trail. Now, the trail was not just closed, there was a re-route, perfectly cut ribbon of new singletrack around the area, with newly exposed slick roots to make it more fun!

Case No 2: Sunday morning, Steven's Pass ski area summit parking lots filled up quickly, in expectation of another deep powder day. We were bused from satellite parking lots to the resort, while it snowed heavily. It continued snowing and by early afternoon, some areas on the back side of the mountain had thigh deep powder. These February storms are trying to make up for the lack of precipitation earlier this year. Just look at the snow depth chart at Steven's Pass web site:

With this much new snow comes avalanche risk which needs to be mitigated. This also includes avalanche control around the highway to the pass. Highway 2 closed for avy control on Sunday afternoon just when hundreds of skiers could not take another run down the mountain and were ready to leave. Sitting in a car on a gridlocked highways with snow piling up at the rate of 4"/hr was not much fun. But when the road opened after 4 hours, seeing the huge pile of snow that needed to be bulldozed from the road, I was glad somebody knows how to calculate risk. It is good for us, the "wild types" (this ironically means "normal" in genetics speak), since we are not extreme thrill seekers and thus often not too good at risk assessment. The take home message: don't fight your genetics, just choose the right environment.

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