Steep, Deep and Deadly

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    Snowboarders are exploring the backcountry in record numbers, taking advantage of both old and new technology to make their way uphill. Some are using Voile's Split Decision ($665), a board that divides into skis to skin up mountains. Others are strapping on snowshoes, such as K2's Verts ($159), to ascend steep mountains. Buggy-whip companies such as Tubbs, around since 1906, have a spring in their step. Last season more than $13.2 million worth of snowshoes were sold, an increase of 236% over the previous year. Sales in skis like the Salomon Super Mountain, Volkl Cross Ranger and K2 X-15 ($675-$729), which suit all terrains and conditions, are up too. So are sales of avalanche probes, shovels and beacons--signaling devices that help rescuers locate a buried skier. Time is crucial--an avalanche victim has an 86% chance of survival if found within 15 minutes.

    Why take the risk at all? Because the backcountry offers too much to resist: beauty, solitude and, yes, danger. So while the wilderness is still vast, it is going to get more crowded--and more lethal.

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