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Four skiers died in Breckenridge, Colo., last Wednesday under a half-mile-wide avalanche. They had ventured into a deep-powder bowl that is roped off and clearly marked as out of bounds because of its avalanche danger. Although it is not certain what caused the several hundred tons of snow to cascade on them—avalanches are astonishingly mighty and capricious (SI, April 19, 1982)—two other "back-country" skiers were seen skiing above them, also out of bounds, shortly before the avalanche occurred. The weight and movement of those two may have been enough to break loose the heavy snows that had fallen on Breckenridge in recent days.
Eight back-country skiers have died in Colorado this year in avalanches, twice as many as in all of last year. The lure of soft, pristine powder is strong. Freddie Hinchcliffe, 18, who lives near the Breckenridge Ski Area, told the Rocky Mountain News: "Most people who are locals or have skied here a lot don't even read the [warning! signs." Shamus O'Toole, a local barkeep: "I have friends who ski there every day they ski. [They're] thrill seeking.... Skiing in deep powder is better than sex."
Police questioned the two skiers who may have set off the avalanche but said no charges will be filed. As for those who died, David Peri, Breckenridge's marketing director, said they "were looking for a different thrill. They found it."
WHO'S THE BOSS?
During the recent Rendez-Vous 87 hockey series (SI, Feb. 23) Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky was asked about the next international event in which NHL all-stars are scheduled to compete, the six-nation Canada Cup in September. The timing of that tournament would force players like Gretzky to get into top playing shape even before NHL training camps open. "I think we should have waited until 1989," said Gretzky. "The players have no objections to playing in these series, but maybe somewhere along the line the owners have to step in and say well, maybe it's physically and mentally too much on the players."
The Canada Cup, which was last held in 1984, is the pet project of Alan Eagle-son, president of the NHL Players Association. "I think the owners should sit down with Mr. Eagleson," said Gretzky, "and talk to him and say maybe we should play in '89 and give the players a little rest." One has to marvel at the NHL's bizarre power structure, in which a union member asks management to protect him from the heavy work demands made by the sport's union chief.
THE HIGH PRIESTS OF SLAPSTICK
In 1962, Father Brian McKee was looking for a way to raise money for the charities of his North Bay, Ont., diocese. An idea skated across his mind: Why not round up all the hockey-playing priests he could find, starting with Father Les Costello, the onetime Maple Leaf forward, and find out if people would pay to see them play. Twenty-five years and $3 million in donations later, the Flying Fathers are still flying.