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Could have won a Darwin award

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Yebbut most people who have skied off piste for a while know that there is offpiste terrain + conditions (in combination) that will never ever avalanche and is no more of a risk than similar pistes. The "if you don't know don't go" advice is there to act as a warning to those who are not sufficiently aware to read variations in terrain, convexities, changes in aspect, slope angle, hangfire etc etc.

I would guess that's how most dabblers get into trouble - they start off skiing stuff that is perfectly safe then push another 10 yds over & maybe get away with it then another 10 yds etc and soon they are on a steeper slope, exposed to differential warming/wind etc etc.
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Dave of the Marmottes wrote:

I would guess that's how most dabblers get into trouble - they start off skiing stuff that is perfectly safe then push another 10 yds over & maybe get away with it then another 10 yds etc and soon they are on a steeper slope, exposed to differential warming/wind etc etc.


Agre, dipping toes in the water and not getting bitten inspires confidence and also perceived ability. The human mind is quite guilty for believing that bad stuff not happening to you is a sign that it's less likely to.
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I agree with a lot of the above.

My first reaction to the Sloaney was a deep and sorrowful sigh, then angst.

Apart from the knee-jerk reaction, I think a lot of this is about just being plain human in general, rather than skiing per se. Hope I'm not too far off-topic here.

Are some cases hopeless?

Moving from the particular to the general, skiers must appear in the ranks of the Darwin awards contestants from time to time, but IMO, sadly in the list of reasons for contestants appearing, so many are general ones that skiers won't always win it. Shame.

And so to rant:

- People's abilities generally follow a bell curve distribution. Only a tiny fraction of people are actually great at stuff. Quite a large proportion are only average. Quite a large proportion are poor. This includes thinking and being aware. In the case of skiing, even being better than average can lead to lots of trouble for 'civilians', because skiing has dangers that are not in most people's everyday experience.

- Nearly all people are poor at assessing risk. Often they can't see seemingly obvious dangers. Some even suppress what knowledge of risk that they actually have, or deny it, when they want to press on regardless. 'La la la'.

- I'm guessing most people out on the snow hate being told what to do, being regulated or punished. When others try to reduce the risks they pose to themselves and others, they'll push back or even go over the top. Over-applications of Rule 18 don't help here.

- All people do silly dangerous things, even if only from time-to-time, even Presidents. Some do silly dangerous things a lot. Silliness in groups, even if the members are individually sensible, can be a spectacularly ridiculous social phenomenon. Even when they or their friends get hurt or nearly died, they'll have a good laugh about it. Then that's that done with, isn't it? If you're seriously telling them it's serious, and something really should be done, a lot just get annoyed and tell you to 'lighten up'. Injudicious application of Rule 18 to the person trying to help won't be a good idea here. There's problems of over-excitement, competitiveness, showing off, and the sexual/adolescent stuff. IMO those hormones in action are why we love to ski, but if you don't watch out, they can quickly get out of hand and make risks seriously worse. Of course, being silly skiing can also be very, very funny, so there needs to be judicious interpretation of when Rule 7 Part 2 should apply. Watching the video it seems that being really silly and surviving an avalanche is most amusing.

- Nearly all people overestimate their abilities in most things. Most think they are better than average. Most don't easily perceive how well they perform anything. They can be unaware they are blatantly in breach of Rule 7 Part 1. Self-awareness is a big problem.

- A lot of people believe some other people (or themselves) are intrinsically 'just unlucky'. They have some other silly concepts as well, which avoid them having to confront reality and deal with the actual problems.

- Most believe they will best learn from their own mistakes, rather than from others, and from the mistakes of others.

- Most have difficulty making the effort to learn anyway, to do the drills, do the preparation, to try to contend with their own imperfections, and grow up.

- As well as the skiers, the equipment, instruction, training, information, regulation and enforcement aren't perfect either - they ought to be mitigating the bad effects due to people's worse selves. I don't think they ever will be perfect. There have been fantastic advances, but are the right improvements being made? To the 'systemic' problems, there is usually no simple solution.


So we're all human (I hope) and the systems aren't perfect. Of both, some are a lot more imperfect than others.

I plead guilty to not being perfect myself. I plead guilty to having committed a lot of suchlike sins out there on the snow, and in the bar too. I do think some instructors I've had could have done better in my case, but then they're human too (I hope). I'm sure I'll sin out there in the future, even if I try very hard not to, and even if by accident I met the perfect instructor.

So what's the answer, if there is one?

If there isn't one, as I suspect there isn't, then maybe we should just need to accept the Sysiphean nature of the task, and press on trying to help and do good whenever we can?

Personally I've been very grateful to have joined Snowheads and there's some really good stuff on the forum that's helped me along.

And IMO, that alone should be good reason for encouraging more people to keep an eye on Snowheads and trying to make helpful posts.



Does anyone know if the Sloaney is a Snowhead? In a way, I would hope she isn't, because it would increase the horror. But if not, would it have been better for her if she had been? And would she then have read stuff which helped her do the right things instead of being such a ******* *******? One can only hope.
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Fat George wrote:

- People's abilities generally follow a bell curve distribution. Only a tiny fraction of people are actually great at stuff. Quite a large proportion are only average. Quite a large proportion are poor. This includes thinking and being aware. In the case of skiing, even being better than average can lead to lots of trouble for 'civilians', because skiing has dangers that are not in most people's everyday experience.

- Nearly all people overestimate their abilities in most things. Most think they are better than average. Most don't easily perceive how well they perform anything. They can be unaware they are blatantly in breach of Rule 7 Part 1. Self-awareness is a big problem.


I think there is also a strong case of the Dunning-Kruger theory at play.

People who are not very good at skiing think they are very good at skiing because their limited knowledge of skiing technique makes them think that the little bit they already know is all there is to know.
People who are very good at skiing think they are not very good at skiing because their more extensive knowledge of skiing technique makes them think that they're still well short of being 'good'.

Thus, the better skiers might still ski more cautiously because they're comparing their current ability to what they know to be possible, where lesser skiers think that what they know is all there is to know because they don't know/accept that there is any more to go.

This phenomenon is strong in all workplaces and hobbies where there is not an ongoing and structured learning process that keeps people aware of their abilities and limitations.
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@dp: Yup.
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@dp,

That may be true but have you also seen the evidence that suggests that expertise in off piste safety does not protect you?
The reason is that experts tend to put themselves at risk much more often. They are out there more often doing more challenging things and the net result is that there skills get offset by the volume and nature of exposure they take on.

Other people have challenged whether ski instructors make sensible risk assessments when they take people off piste without gear and training.
I don't have good data on this so don't know for sure. My sense though is that ski instructors take clients off piste a lot and that there are relatively few fatalities. If this wasn't true then I'd imagine the profession would be getting sued a lot and their professional insurance would be getting unaffordable.

I'm conflicted about this. My kids were taken off piste a lot by one of their ski instructors. Including in areas where I personally would not have gone without all the gear. This was a factor in discontinuing lessons for them. However, when I discussed off piste safety with him - asking his opinion on certain routes etc. I always found that he was well informed and sensible, including dissuading me from skiing in some areas and favouring the areas he believed to be low risk - guess what, the places he took my kids. And it is only recently that my kids have started wearing transceivers even though I have been taking them off piste for years, albeit in areas that were even lower risk than the ones their instructor took them on.

My personal view is that the idea that as soon as you go outside the piste markers you are at high risk and need all the gear is not based on any credible risk assessment - instead it is very well-intentioned propaganda aimed at people who haven't yet learned much about avalanche risk. It is a simple rule of thumb which like all simple rules of thumb is not always true.
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dp wrote:
What I have done to prepare myself, is create an Avalanche Aide Memoire


That's a really good idea.
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@jedster, I'm somewhat conflicted as well. I would agree that I sense the same, that instructors go off piste rather a lot. However, even on modern fat skis (such as they are) my suspicion is that gradients are relatively shallow. So mitigating risks.

Equally I suspect, sadly, that probably every resort has a tale of that unlucky party who got caught.
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dp wrote:


Every guide I've ever had has said that there's no such thing as 'a little off piste' and that you either go suited and booted for the whole affair or you ski pistes, there's no magic safe place where the snow is able to defy physics and assure safety.


Actually there are plenty of such places: stay under 20° and the snow would have to magically defy physics in order to slide (spring excepted). And you can still have plenty of fun in terrain like that.

But there are ski instructors taking clients offpiste without safety kit, and there are ski instructors taking clients offpiste without safety kit.

Some examples are incredibly reckless and the instructors involved should have known better than to fall into the heuristic trap; others have been totally safe and consciously only in the sort of terrain and conditions where slides just can't/don't happen. Which is the key point!
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Taking unnecessary but small risks with large potential consequences is not wise, but I'm not convinced it's an intelligence issue.
It's more about how people assess risk/reward, plus some social stuff thrown in.

By analogy, if "being safe" is all about intelligence, then in the last 20 years skiers went from being unintelligent (wearing beanies) to being intelligent (wearing helmets).
We know that's not true => it's more complex. Ditto solo climbing, which is not the preserve of the most stupid climbers.
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Don't forget the situation where expertise in one area can make people believe that they have expertise in a related but technically different area. i.e. ski instructors believing that they have off piste safety skill just because they can ski well in that environment. This comes up all the time but is not well addressed.
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@clarky999, According to Henry’s Avalanche Talks 30 degrees is the safe limit.
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Gordyjh wrote:
@clarky999, According to Henry’s Avalanche Talks 30 degrees is the safe limit.


The trigger point must be 30 degrees. So if you are in a sector with NO slopes above 30 degrees you are safe, from avalanches at least, but remember the avalanche may start 500 meters above where you are. Spring avalanches (wet snow) will generally run much further than winter (dry snow) slab avalanches, a case being a CAF group caught in the Bauges a dozen years back. They were on a flattish path but the avalanche started on a slope 800 meters above, because the path was in a narrow valley (terrain trap) they were unable to escape.

Round here there are maybe a couple of ski tours that fit into the above... providing you stay on the standard route, as people have found out to their cost. Even the easiest tours will often have a pitch >30. Ditto beside red pistes there is often a pitch >30 degree, even between blue pistes. It is very easy, as has been said above, to stray onto steeper terrain. Hence the "no off piste without the gear" rule that is often cited. That said I suspect most resorts have little trade routes the instructors can use as an introduction to off piste skiing that are safe - whether it is instilling the correct attitude is another question.

As for the women in the first post. She clearly made a mistake as she got caught. She was lucky to be rescued. I would say the same even if she had a beacon etc.
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Easy to get very self righteous about this kind of thing. Humans are genetically quite weak willed and undisciplined aka prone to making mistakes and doing stupid things. The reference to the Darwin awards are because they are for people who do something manifestly stupid. And I think the lady in the OP was at least bordering on that top level of stupidity which often leads to an exiting of the gene pool. I'm glad for her she escaped. Many of us have ridden our luck with arguably lesser degrees of stupidity... shall we be nice and call them "errors of judgement". I've plenty to tell in this regard.

I actually don't think skiing off piste without gear is inherently stupid. As someone said we aren't necessarily great at defining risk. In some ways going off piste without gear shows a lot of faith in your ability to assess risk. And indeed maybe you assess risk more cautiously in that situation. One of the ironies is that avi gear is merely "seat belt" safety. Ideally you should never use it. Of course, it is better to have it.

Loosely related article highlighting there are perils everywhere, even on your doorstep.
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The focus on "having the gear" is of course not about whether it objectively makes a situation safer but it's a heuristic shortcut for us to determine if someone is prepared enough to have made a very modest financial commitment ( seriously I got a replacement probe from Decathlon for £10) and accordingly has thought a bit about how they will use it.

It's kinda useful - if some billies start following you without packs you hang out in a safe place and let them commit to a route. Because if they haven't even got the basics you don't want them coming down behind you.
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davidof wrote:

As for the women in the first post. She clearly made a mistake as she got caught. She was lucky to be rescued. I would say the same even if she had a beacon etc.


Whilst the thread has kinda morphed into general avalanche safety, the Darwin award comment definitely related to her actions that caused the avalanche, not the fact she wasn't wearing gear.

She basically said that they knew this area was called Death Valley because it had a strong history of avalanches, but they got up one morning after fresh snowfall and went to Death Valley to ski there and then two of them managed to ski into each other causing an avalanche. There is no amount of equipment you can carry which makes this any less feckwitted.
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@dp,
Quote:


davidof wrote:

As for the women in the first post. She clearly made a mistake as she got caught. She was lucky to be rescued. I would say the same even if she had a beacon etc.


Whilst the thread has kinda morphed into general avalanche safety, the Darwin award comment definitely related to her actions that caused the avalanche, not the fact she wasn't wearing gear.

She basically said that they knew this area was called Death Valley because it had a strong history of avalanches, but they got up one morning after fresh snowfall and went to Death Valley to ski there and then two of them managed to ski into each other causing an avalanche. There is no amount of equipment you can carry which makes this any less feckwitted.


Couldn't agree more. snowHead
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Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
The focus on "having the gear" is of course not about whether it objectively makes a situation safer but it's a heuristic shortcut for us to determine if someone is prepared enough to have made a very modest financial commitment ( seriously I got a replacement probe from Decathlon for £10) and accordingly has thought a bit about how they will use it.

It's kinda useful - if some billies start following you without packs you hang out in a safe place and let them commit to a route. Because if they haven't even got the basics you don't want them coming down behind you.

Ah but then you have the "all the gear but no idea" concept.
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dp wrote:
davidof wrote:

As for the women in the first post. She clearly made a mistake as she got caught. She was lucky to be rescued. I would say the same even if she had a beacon etc.


Whilst the thread has kinda morphed into general avalanche safety, the Darwin award comment definitely related to her actions that caused the avalanche, not the fact she wasn't wearing gear.

She basically said that they knew this area was called Death Valley because it had a strong history of avalanches, but they got up one morning after fresh snowfall and went to Death Valley to ski there and then two of them managed to ski into each other causing an avalanche. There is no amount of equipment you can carry which makes this any less feckwitted.

Yep, that was definitely where I was going when I posted it.
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Layne wrote:

Ah but then you have the "all the gear but no idea" concept.


Oh sure and even among people with gear and idea there are individuals who can't or won't respect sensible spacing or overtaking etc...
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Quote:

Yep, that was definitely where I was going when I posted it.


Agreed.

And I'd go further - assessing the terrain and the risk is MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than carrying the gear (even if you know how to use it).
If you need the gear then you have already royally screwed things up. That is not an argument for not having gear of course. But if someone dies in an avalanche the biggest lessons are likely to be about the the decisions where and when they skied.
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As this has morphed into a more general avalanche thread, there have been some good threads in the off piste section over the seasons.

After I was caught in a slide a couple of years ago there was a good thread running with a lot of good information based on experience etc, and maybe as some people have alluded to sticking it in the "off piste section" and not here in " the piste" is not a good way re education others as it were.

Here's the link http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=130216
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Weathercam wrote:
Here's the link http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=130216

Mr Weathercam Sir, many thanks for linking such an interesting and apposite thread.
Your link to the heuristic traps and comment on one of them is worth putting here IMO :
"The acceptance heuristic is the tendency to engage in activities that we think will get us noticed or accepted by people we like or respect, or by people who we want to like or respect us. We are socialized to this heuristic from a very young age, and because we are so vulnerable to it, it’s no surprise that it figures prominently among the heuristic traps embedded in advertising messages."
http://www.sunrockice.com/docs/Heuristic%20traps%20IM%202004.pdf
(Did you see this dp? It looks right up your street.)
I'd mentioned group idiocy too, above.

This thread seems to have run on to include general idiocy, not just off off-piste, which aren't everything.
Pistes get to be similarly dangerous too.
It's all very well us smart people being so smart, but what is to be done about the idiots?

Here's something that happened during the EOSB.
PeakyB and I were skiing low on Mont Vallon Campagnol run, when some avalanching happened across the valley.
So what did some idiots do?

- hope this works: my first go at embedding images - sorry if it looks cack handed -
Numbers 5 and 6 are what stunned me.
1: No slide at this point.
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1BYcXndvIrLCD_kuzJzW-w4YvU1rfUY7h

2: Slide may have begun.
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1b3gjdyGRR7nLAjGSiVERoWY2VyWgM0NS

3: Slide moving.


4: Skiers don't react.
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1arxO3LFBsixjmPiPE4VGuHT_LhwFgXa1

5: At the barrier.


6: Plenty more up there ready to go. What did some people do?


7: They go further around the safety netting and onto the danger route . .


8: . . . and actually onto the avalanched snow on the closed piste!


Time elapsed from first image to last was 60secs approx.
You may be a contender for a Darwin award if you ignore a 'closed - avalanche risk' barrier, and ski around a fence, both deliberately put there, which could have protected you against yourself, so you can 'have a look' at an avalanche that was actually still sliding when you arrived at the barrier, with you also leading your idiot mates who will follow you like sheep instead of using their brains.
It's hard to see what the ski industry can do alone to protect everybody when this is what people are like, but maybe there is something.
There aren't enough good guys out there to man-to-man mark them, and even if there were, they'd still do mad stuff anyway, maybe worse because that's how cussed some people are.
What to do.

(edited photo links)


Last edited by After all it is free Go on u know u want to! on Mon 27-08-18 13:03; edited 11 times in total
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@Fat George, ...very interesting sequence.

I read much of the research on heuristic traps etc since it is part of my work...but enough of that for now...

Your sequence reminded me....

I have full on and off-piste insurance and BMC climbing insurance and special DH insurance. For good reasons.
But the policy also states 'follow all meteo and local recommendations and do not ski any closed pistes'. For good reasons.
So a friend said '...shall we do it, it looks fine...' and it did, it just had a set of red flags and 'closed/ferme' across the piste.
I wouldn't do it. What's the point? what are you losing by NOT doing a closed piste? I can ski the whole mountain; why would I want to ski uninsured? And also I know that the piste in question has a slip-prone middle section - looks fine; isn't. Absolutely refused to ski it with the closed sign at the top. Peer pressure in place? Go on, go on, it'll be fine. Nope. Just turn around, and do something else. No problem.
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One I saw this winter. There is a luge track where I mostly ski, usually it has a sign that reads "closed to skiers" but on one day it just read "closed". Some skiers started to duck under the rope at the top and took a lot of persuading that it really was closed and that they shouldn't ski down it.

The reason that it was closed - there was a piste basher parked on a bend halfway down completely blocking the track.
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Fat George wrote:

http://www.sunrockice.com/docs/Heuristic%20traps%20IM%202004.pdf
(Did you see this dp? It looks right up your street.)


Not enough pictures Puzzled
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@dp: Too many charts and tables?
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https://drive.google.com/open?id=1eMS_0PhklZEsY3irH4VctUr98qt0Y1xU
How's this?
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@Fat George, that’s just reminded me – we did see someone very stupidly setting off an avalanche from the chair out of Orelle on the last day. It was right above that bit at the bottom where the piste splits into the slush mogel route to the lift and the high line flat narrow piste to the restaurant just above the lift. Someone was coming over the rocks skiers’ right, above the piste, making a complete mess of it and the wet snow started to cascade down onto the piste as we went past...
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@Scarlet, Yeah, they were in a bit of a pickle weren't they. It was a steep drop to a flat landing and the snow was starting to slide away from them, more than enough to take them for a short nasty ride. The chair took us out of view, so never did find out how (or if) they got out of the mess.
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@midgetbiker, or if they managed to catch anyone else on the piste below...? Initially, I thought it was just a bit of sluff, but then there was more snow coming down, and more, and more, and probably a few rocks just to up the danger rating Shocked
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@Scarlet, I was with you two and don't remember this at all. Shocked

I was possibly too busy on the lookout for fences to keep you away from
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@dp, You might've been on the chair in front. I think there was only me and @midgetbiker from our group as it was getting busy. Otherwise, it's must be that you just weren't paying attention, and that seems unlikely...
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Fat George wrote:
... Pistes get to be similarly dangerous too. ...

That reads a little better in the original context, but it's not correct.

The risk from avalanche on a piste is no where near "similar" to the risk in uncontrolled terrain. It's extremely small.
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@philwig, so why did you take it out of context???

Fat George wrote:

This thread seems to have run on to include general idiocy, not just off off-piste, which aren't everything.
Pistes get to be similarly dangerous too.
It's all very well us smart people being so smart, but what is to be done about the idiots?


I think it makes absolute sense what he's saying and he's not saying the risk of avalanche on piste is equal. He's saying the general risk on piste is similarly dangerous, because the risk is posed by idiots. And I'm inclined to agree that a busy piste poses just as much danger from idiot skiers, as off-piste skiing poses from avalanche etc... just different risks. But where the risk is from idiots being idiots, being on or off piste does not offer any respite.
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Quote:
I'm inclined to agree that a busy piste poses just as much danger from idiot skiers, as off-piste skiing poses from avalanche etc...
more! I find pistes quite terrifying at times.
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Pistes are riskier than off-piste IMV in terms of overall accident risk. Off piste I can control a lot of variables through conservatism, I can't improve the skill level, self-awareness or speed of piste skiers.
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@Dave of the Marmottes, indeed, and it is through trying to avoid such carnage, that one inevitably(?) ends up in a fence from time to time rolling eyes
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Scarlet wrote:
@Dave of the Marmottes, indeed, and it is through trying to avoid such carnage, that one inevitably(?) ends up in a fence from time to time rolling eyes


Yeah keep spinning. One day you'll be up to Shane Warne standards with the story.
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