If you work in the broad field of resource extraction (Exploration, Drilling, Completions, Pipeline, Refining), you probably know someone who has a copy of a Slednecks DVD. If you’re a Slednecks fan, you know why someone would send themselves over a 100 ft drop attached to a 600 lb machine: it’s a feeling of exhilaration, or “aliveness”, or simply “because I can”.
This blog post is for all the young men and women who work hard and play hard on their days off. If you’re buying a sled for the first time and are ready to take it out to the backcountry, keep in mind that everything looks easy when the pros do it. We thought we’d drop a line to Chris Brown to gain some insight into the safety precautions that go into every single cliff drop performed for the camera.
Xi: A lot of guys on the rigs wonder what it would be like to have your job. Tell us about how you go about making a living.
CB: “I’d really like to reach out to all the guys and girls on the rigs and in the energy industry. I teach technical riding clinics with avalanche safety in Golden and McBride. I also run a snowmobile lodge in Whistler, BC where we offer three different adventure tours. One with myself, one with KJ and one with our guide Craig. The Ultimate Adventure with Chris Brown is a hands on technical ride with lot’s of skills training while riding deep powder in some the best terrain BC has to offer. The other Adventures have something else to offer at a lower price. All of these Adventures can be seen at http://ridewithchrisbrown.com/”
Xi: Boilermakers, Drillers, Blasters and Heavy Equipment Operators have some sort of safety training. Tell us about yours:
CB: “I have my 80 hour wilderness first aid cert. as well as my CAA Level 1 OPS Avalanche cert. I can teach AST1 and Companion Rescue Skills avalanche courses through the CAA and CAC. I’d like to see as many riders as possible come to a technical riding clinic or to my lodge. I teach everyone how to become safer riders while improving their technical skills immensely. All of my students leave with a new level of confidence and skills.
I produced Slednecks 10-12 as well as Compound Films Vol. 1 and Burandt’s Backcountry Adventures 1 & 2. Prior to that I was just riding in Slednecks and some other titles. Now I ride with Slednecks, 509 and a few other titles….no more producing for me. My technical riding clinics and snowmobile lodge keep me busy full-time! As I mentioned previously I have extensive first aid and avalanche training which can be super important while filming in the backcountry.”
Xi: Now to the big question: When the Slednecks team is out filming, do you guys just pick a cliff and launch yourself and your sled over it, or is there more to it than that? Walk us through the planning and risk assessment your team does before someone takes a 100 ft drop.
CB: “While I can only speak for myself, there is quite a bit of planning that goes into a film day. When I am going out for a film shoot I check the avalanche report on the CAA site and I also check the weather forecast. I decide where we are going to film based on the data I collect. For example, if the avalanche danger is considerable to high I won’t film in the Alpine or in any terrain that involves risk…that includes traveling through risky terrain. On those days I would choose to ride in lower angle trees where there is little to no risk of an avalanche occurring. You can still find lots of really technical tree riding to film that is safe on increased danger days. I could write a whole chapter on this subject…
If the conditions are right for filming in the Alpine we will hit that up. Usually I have some cliffs or whip hits or lines in mind prior to that day of filming. KJ and some of the younger guys are hitting the same cliffs I did years ago so it is always fun for me to find new ones that haven’t been filmed yet. For me this is important as I only filmed three days total last year between Slednecks and 509 and I want to make the best of it. This year I am going to try to get out at least 10 days filming. Some riders film 100 days a year…KJ is one for example.
Before I drop a big cliff I always look at the cliff from the top and from the bottom. From the top I make a mark on the takeoff to indicate my direction as I come off the cliff. This is very important! I always throw snowballs to see where I will be landing and to figure out how much speed and the direction I will need to land in the best spot. This comes from 10 years of experience dropping cliffs. I started small and worked my way up. Sometimes the top of a cliff is good to go naturally and sometimes I have to shovel a bit to get a nice in-run and takeoff. You want it to be as smooth as possible.”
Xi: So after gathering data and scoping out a spot, you’ve decided this is the cliff you’re going to drop. Tell us about what’s happening from takeoff through to landing it.
CB: “Once I am confident about the drop I stand on the top of the cliff and visualize the entire run all the way through the landing and after…I see it through. I then radio to the filmer(s) to tell them I am going to hit it. With my experience, I almost always land right on my snowballs. I never have to hit the brake or throttle in the air…I just hit the throttle right as I am landing to lessen the impact. I the beginning I was using some brake or throttle in the air to adjust the attitude of the sled but learned how to come off the cliff properly so that I don’t have to adjust in the air. Brake will drop the nose and throttle will bring the nose up. In the air I am braced and ready with my knees and elbows slightly bent hovering high above the seat. I always look ahead too…I never put my head down.”
Xi: Do you ever have to call it off?
CB: ” I do walk away from stunts when it doesn’t feel or look right. I do it for me instead of the camera now…it took me a few years to see it this way but now it is the only way. I had a really bad crash 3 years ago while attempting a double cliff drop and I will explain what went wrong with that another time. Basically I was pushing it too far….none of the other riders wanted to do that line but I convinced myself I could do it. I didn’t fully listen to my gut and it almost killed me. Please use you head and ALWAYS trust your gut feeling. If your gut says don’t do it then don’t do it.
This is simply my story and what works for me. In no way am I condoning these activities. 🙂 I love teaching people different skills from Technical tree riding to jumping to avy safety and drops. It would be great to see you this winter!
Have a SAFE and FUN winter!!!
Xi: That’s it. We wish all of you a safe sledding season. Remember: safety doesn’t come by accident. It takes practice, skill, effort and mentoring to develop competency. We highly recommend that riders of all skill levels book a clinic with Chris to become better and safer riders.
Xi Safety believes in safety at home and in the workplace. In our travels, we stumbled onto this free e-book by Fred Rine of FDR Safety called Getting to Zero. This is the Paradox of Safety: The more we push Safety, Safety, Safety at work, some people may turn the other way and rebel against the workplace mantra. As Fred states below, we may not make a difference by confining our safety efforts to the workplace domain of behaviors and habits.
“It is a fact that only 4% of fatal accidents occur on the job. 96% of accidental deaths are from vehicular accidents, or accidents at home or in the public domain. Working on 4% of a problem and expecting significant improvement might be considered a form of insanity.”
– Fred Rine, FDR Safety: Getting to Zero (pdf)
Take ladder use, for example. At home, how many of us take risks with stepladders that would not be acceptable in our workplaces? But in the workplace we will find a fall arrest harness and anchor point when working above the employer’s designated height, whether it’s 9 feet, 6 feet or even 4 feet. We do this because we “have to”. But when it comes to hanging Christmas lights at home, the percentage of people using fall arrest equipment is likely in the minority.
The “Safety Iceberg” represents the percentage of unsafe behaviors, habits and values visible in the workplace. This is because the employer typically has a lower risk preference than that of the employee. Friction arises where behaviors that were perfectly acceptable at home are suddenly forbidden in the workplace. Examples include heights for tie-off, box cutter use, cold work permits, lockouts and speed limits. Workers will generally comply with the employer’s programs for preventing accidents while the employee is in the workplace, but at home it can be another story.
Why should employers care about how their employees take risks at home? An accidental death of a worker during their off-hours creates its own iceberg of hidden costs for the employer:
1. The loss of the individual, their experience and presence.
2. The relationships they had to others and its impact on morale.
3. The cost of recruiting, retraining and mentoring another worker(s) to full competency.
4. The opportunity cost of lower production while retraining.
Employers have no control over what people do in their leisure time, but employers can have some influence by creating a safety culture that workers want to take home with them. This starts with motivating your people to work safely: most people want to return home to their loved ones in the same or better condition than when they left their front door. By tapping into worker motivations and values, your workforce can move from the “have-to” of Safety to the “want-to”.
We highly recommend this free e-book by Fred Rine, which you can download HERE.
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