Dressed to impress — and raising awareness for avalanche education | SierraSun.com

Dressed to impress — and raising awareness for avalanche education

From left, Eryn Grill, Mary Ellen Benier, Brian Olson, Buff Wendt, Chris Hinkel and Morgan Goodwin share big smiles at Friday's event.
Courtesy Priya Hutner |

Sugar Bowl’s Backcountry Ball raises awareness for avalanche education

NORDEN, Calif. — Daron Rahlves and Grant Barta were the “Belles of the Ball” this past Friday at Sugar Bowl Resort’s fourth annual Backcountry Ball, benefiting the Sierra Avalanche Center.

The Ball not only brings together the backcountry ski community and enthusiasts from the Tahoe region, but also illuminates the mission of the avalanche center and the need for continued avalanche education and awareness.

“There is a revolution taking place in the ski industry — backcountry skiing is one of the fastest growing segments,” said Eric Petlock, a former Sugar Bowl ski patroller. “And backcountry skiing at Sugar Bowl is some of the best in the area.”

“There is a revolution taking place in the ski industry — backcountry skiing is one of the fastest growing segments.”
Eric Petlock
Former Sugar Bowl ski patroller


According to Snow Sports Industries of America, an estimated 5 million people purchased $40 million worth of apparel, gear and accessories specifically for backcountry travel in 2013.

Advances in equipment such as the development of fatter, lighter skis, cutting edge lightweight boots and bindings, along with probes and beacons with greater GPS technology have evolved to make backcountry skiing more accessible to those looking for adventure beyond the groomers.

“With some of the best backcountry access in the Tahoe Basin, Sugar Bowl is uniquely positioned to offer one of the best in-bounds and out-of-bounds skiing experiences,” said Petlock, a former mountain guide and an avid backcountry skier who has been skiing at Sugar Bowl for over 25 years.

Skiing in the backcountry is not without its risk, however, and the Sierra Avalanche Center keeps backcountry skiers educated and aware of current conditions.

“The need for avalanche awareness and conditions goes hand and hand with the growth and interest in the backcountry,” said Don Triplat, executive director of the center.


The stormy night Friday on Donner Summit didn’t deter attendees from coming out to the ball — there was a big buzz of excitement in the air as the recent storm had dumped about two feet of snow on Sugar Bowl.

Organizers estimated 200 people attended the event. The attire for the evening was either 80s retro ski or formal — or, for some folks, a combination of both.

John Monson, director of marketing for Sugar Bowl, welcomed everyone and spoke about the resort’s commitment to education and partnerships with the both Alpine Skills International and the Sierra Avalanche Center.

“Be in the know — we want everyone to be in the know about what Sugar Bowl has to offer the community, especially our uphill and open boundary policies,” Monson said.

Petlock also spoke and offered a glimpse of backcountry skiing at Sugar Bowl and the need for skiers to be educated as to how and where to ski the backcountry and the need for awareness and respect for Donner Lake homeowners.

Bela Vadasz, owner of Alpine Skills International, and Logan Talbot, who manages the guide service that operates out of Sugar Bowl, both spoke about the tradition of teaching and guiding skiers and boarders in the backcountry.


Rahlves, Sugar Bowl ambassador and World Cup downhill ski champion, and Barta, a local ski photographer, were guest speakers at this year’s event.

Barta presented a stunning pictorial ski tour of Sugar Bowl, while Rahlves, a three-time Olympian, discussed his life on skis, from World Cup racing to his passion for the backcountry.

“I started hanging around Sugar Bowl with Jeremy Jones, and it was a huge wake-up call for me,” said Rahlves.

Rahlves also presented a trailer from the upcoming documentary movie, “The Strief,” which focuses on 75 years of the infamous course at Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel, Austria.

“The Backcountry Ball is a great community event,” said Triplat. “We not only want people to understand avalanche education is critical to get everyone on the same page, but we also want the event to be fun and entertaining.”

Sponsors at the event included Atomic Skis, Alpine Skills International, Tahoe Sports Hub, Sierra Snow Kite Center, Coalition Snow and Tahoe Mountain Sports.

Visit sugarbowl.com to learn more about the resort; visit sierraavalanchecenter.org to learn more about the center.

Priya Hutner is a freelance writer living in Truckee. She may be reached at pria78@gmail.com.

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