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Be careful in the deep snow...Two stories

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
Note: This did not happen to Me[Thank God] It happened to a guy that posts on the Mammoth forum who goes by the name of Bullet. I posted it here so we all might learn...I know I did.

From the Mammoth Mountain Forum posted by Bullet
Link to thread

I write this to deal with my experience. To try to cope with what happened. There may be a lesson in here as well.

January 1, 2004 around 2:00 PM. After a day of sweet face shots and endless powder I was making one last run down 1 before heading back over to Canyon lodge. I had ran into Steve and was making the last few runs with him and Gloria.

We headed down, Steve to the left, me to the right. Skiing the glades to skier's right of 1 below the Gravy Chutes I snagged a submerged rock. It ripped my ski off. I attempted to ski off on one ski but my boot buckle snagged the rock next - ripping the buckle from my boot. I went into a forward flip. This is not unusual. I've taken falls like this hundreds of time. You just flip over and sit-up.

But I didn't sit up. Something held me down and I felt a heavy weight fall on my body. Snow packed my mouth. I couldn't breath. I tried to sit up. But I was stuck as if in concrete.

Panic. Oh God, I'm going to die. This is how I'm going to die. I thought of the snowboarder who died from suffocation. I had to find a way to get air.

After several attempts I got the snow out of my mouth and got a breath. I was lieing mostly on my back tilted to the left. My head uphill but below my feet. My right leg felt like it was free. My left arm was wedged below my body. My right hand was free. I tried to dig the snow off my head. But I could tell there was at least a foot or more of snow between my hand and face. Everytime I tried to dig the snow off, more would pack my mouth.

More panic. I thought of my daughters and wife. I had to find a way out. I felt around with my free hand and felt a rock above my head. I pushed against it with all my strength and tried to sit-up. I was not able to move. This is it. The end of my life. More snow fell on me and packed my mouth again.

I spat the snow out of my mouth. I could turn my head slightly side-to-side to clear a pocket to breathe. My eyes were open and I could make out faint light, but otherwise I was in darkness. Left leg, left arm and my entire upper body encased and imobile.

I tried to calm myself. I had to buy time, 2 minutes more, maybe 3. Someone will find me. But what if they don't. Oh God this is how I'm going to die. They'll find my body. My kids, oh god my kids - my wife. Find a way to breathe. Get air.

I lay still. I tried to calm myself all over to reduce the amount CO2 I was breathing into my precious air pocket. Just trying to breathe. It felt like breathing through a wet towel. Each breath was labored and felt like very little was getting to my lungs. How long before I'm found? I was in an area visible from the chair. But with the storm, would anyone see me.

How long now. 5 minutes. How long can I last. I was starting to get light headed and felt like I was drifting off to sleep when I felt something squeeze my hand. Was I hallucinating? Before I could squeeze my hand back the touch was gone. Did someone just find me?

Then I felt something against my leg and the pole that was under my body moved. I could hear muffled voices.

With my free hand I tried to point to where my head was. Soon fingers were brushing the snow from my goggles. Seconds later he got the snow off my mouth and I could breath normally.

I could hear now. I told them I was not injured. They dug and dug. They told me later that it took two deep scoops with a snowboard to reach my body and then hand digging to finally get to my torso. They grabbed my waist and with all their collective strength tried to pull me out. The two guys couldn't. So they had to dig some more.

Finally they pulled me free. I sat up. Sean and John. Two strangers. A boarder and skier, saved my life. I pat them on the head thanking them over and over again. Sean's wife had called 911 and their friend Ketty called patrol while Sean and John dug me out.

Patrol arrived just then. As I sat there I started to cry uncontrollably. Sean had cleared my airway just as I was losing my grasp.

Aaron (patrol) comforted me, Zoe and one other who's name I didn't get brought my ski down to me and helped me click in.
I looked at the scene. It was a large rock. I had done a forward dive when my boot had snagged with my head landing under the lower overhang of the rock. The snow on the rock had slid down on me burrying me. A slide of only about 6 feet. It packed in like concrete all around my body. I followed Zoe and then Aaron down to the patrol room at Main. Everytime I looked him or Sean in the eyes I'd start to cry uncontrollably.

Sean, Nicole, and Ketty gave me a ride back to the condo. I asked Sean how they found me. He said John had found me first. Sean saw the ski I had lost. John was calling for help. Sean thought that John was in trouble. When he skied down he said all he could see of me was my one glove sticking above the snow.

He was the one who had squeezed my hand. When I didn't squeeze back he thought I was already dead.

How do you thank someone for saving your life?


Bummer story From Bozman...

Local skier found dead, buried in snow at Bridger

By KELLYN BROWN, Chronicle Staff Writer
Deep snow is being blamed for the death of a local skier whose body was found buried at Bridger Bowl Tuesday evening.

Michael D. Cavanna, 34, of Bozeman was skiing on an advanced run Sunday when he apparently went off a cliff, lost control and fell headfirst into the snow, according to a corner's report.

"The snow being very deep in the area restricted his efforts to free himself and he died as the result of positional asphyxia (a result of suffocation)," according to Gallatin County Coroner Duncan MacNab.

Bridger has received more than 100 inches of new snow since Christmas, so much that the resort was closed Saturday and part of Sunday so crews could dig out lifts and do avalanche-control work to make skiing safe.

When the mountain reopened Sunday afternoon, skiers were warned about the potentially dangerous conditions and told to ski in pairs, Bridger Bowl General Manager Terry Abelin said.

Cavanna's ski pass was swiped that day, but he was never seen again.

Two days later, on Tuesday afternoon, the Gallatin County sheriff's office received a phone call from a friend of Cavanna who had spotted Cavanna's car parked in Bridger's parking lot.

Bridger Bowl ski patrol then coordinated a search effort with Gallatin County Search and Rescue that evening.

More than 50 people combed the mountain for nearly four hours looking for Cavanna. Just before 10 p.m., one of the search parties heard a transceiver signal -- a personal-locating device Cavanna was wearing -- near Avalanche Gulch, an expert ski run near the upper region of the mountain in an area called The Nose.

A chair lift carries skiers up to that run, and Cavanna was found completely buried in snow.

"This is the first incident of this sort to ever happen at Bridger Bowl," Abelin said. "People shouldn't be afraid to come out here."

Cavanna was part owner of the Bar 3 Bar-B-Q on North Seventh Avenue in Bozeman.

The restaurant was closed Wednesday. Attempts by the Chronicle to reach employees there were unsuccessful. Cavanna's family apparently resides in Massachusetts.

A friend of Cavanna's, however, described him as a "great skier and a great guy."

"Everybody ( in Bozeman) knows Mike Cavanna," Ben Meager said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "He's a hilarious guy. He was just the life of every party."

Cavanna also was reportedly an "expert" skier, MacNab wrote in his coroner's report, and properly equipped Sunday to ski the advanced terrain.

A memorial service for Cavanna is scheduled for 11 a.m., Friday, at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.


[ January 03, 2004, 11:01 AM: Message edited by: MammothCruzer ]
post #2 of 25
Glad to hear it turned out ok that's scary stuff , really puts a person in touch with reality and your emotions (I've been there).
And a good lesson re: staying together on the slopes!

[ January 03, 2004, 09:56 AM: Message edited by: Leeroy ]
post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 
I just read another post this morning of a boarder that was stuck in the Very Deep snow at Mammoth and almost drown in the snow. He finally got his face clear but it took him 15 min to get out of his bindings. It make you wonder how often this happens when the snow gets real deep like it is.
post #4 of 25
HOLY CRAP Mammoth, that's some incredible story!! :

Thank God you're alive to tell it. It's a great eye-opener to remind a lot of us that skiing will always be a sport with the potential of great risk, no matter how mentally numbed we've become due to the mass marketing of skiing as a nice safe recreational activity for folks of all ages and abilities.

I'm sure those guys who dug you out are as happy you're alive as you are. It's rare for anyone to get the opportunity to save a life like they did, and I'm sure they're feeling pretty good about it themselves. I think that for most people, saving a life would be it's own reward.

Too bad it happened on the 1st day of 2004, because now you may have already used up your luck for this year, so be real carefull for a while!

Thanks for the amazing story! [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]

[ January 03, 2004, 09:02 AM: Message edited by: Carvemeister ]
post #5 of 25
Thread Starter 
To Clarify...

It was not me [Thank God] that had this experience. It was a guy that posts on the Mammoth Forum "Bullet". I posted it here on Epic cuz I thought many might learn from what happened to him...I know I did.

post #6 of 25
Originally posted by MammothCruzer:
To Clarify...
It was not me [Thank God] that had this experience. It was a guy that posts on the Mammoth Forum "Bullet".
OOps! I guess I got so engrossed in the story, I forgot about that.

Well, I for one am STILL glad you're alive anyhow, Mammoth. And I hope you never have to ski in any of that deep snow ever again.
post #7 of 25
Last season a friend of mine was snowboarding at one of the Tahoe resorts and got into trouble when he left a groomed trail without much speed and ended up stuck in very deep snow when he stopped. He was only waist deep but because he was snowboarding he had a difficult time getting his bindings unbuckled and then he had to try to wade through the snow back to the trail. Even a few yards off the trail he had little chance of attracting help from passing skiers and boarders. Although he was exhasuted, he was eventually able to struggle back onto the trail.
My friend is a strong, athletic 25 year old with years of resort boarding experience. If he was not as strong he could have ended up stuck in the snow overnight with tough survival chances.
Especially with all the snow out west this season, everyone should be even more careful than they usually would be and also keep an eye out for others in trouble. It would also be good if we all made more than the usual attempt to make friends with solo skiers and boarders we meet on lifts so less people are skiing alone.
Happy Skiing.

post #8 of 25
Had s less severe but similar thing happen to me a few days ago at Snowbasin. Coming out of the John Paul area there were a number of skiers and borders in the middle of a traverse heading back over a ridge back to the lift. I decided to ski around the left under the nob they were on thinking I could still make it back across the ridge. As I came down into a gully the side wall I was on sloughed and I was carried to the bottom of the gulley buried up to my waist. Then the other side sluffed down and covered the rest of me. I freaked a bit when the next breath was nothing but snow. I was able to hold my breath long enough to get my face mostly uncovered. Luckily the slough didn't harden too much but I was still locked down. I was able to get a pole free and work it down after ten minutes or so to get one binding to release. Another few minutes and I got the other released and was able to work myself out (exhausted to say the least). I tried to reach down for my skis but they were too deep to reach so I had to dig for another 5 or 10 minutes to get them out. It was a harrowing experience to say the least.
post #9 of 25
This is an excellent post. Thanks Mammoth and everyone else for sharing.
post #10 of 25
Ah hell, y'all know what I say...

Anything over the boot top is just work! :
post #11 of 25
Originally posted by Si:

I was able to get a pole free and work it down after ten minutes or so to get one binding to release. Another few minutes and I got the other released and was able to work myself out (exhausted to say the least). I tried to reach down for my skis but they were too deep to reach so I had to dig for another 5 or 10 minutes to get them out. It was a harrowing experience to say the least.

Wow, Si. That's scary. Something kind of like that happened to me at Targhee (of all places) a few years ago and I went into outright panic. It turned out okay - obviously - but I've never forgotten the feeling. I got enough of a taste of not being able to breathe that I *never* want to go through that again.

One of the Teton Gravity Research rock stars had a similar experience here in Saratoga Bowl yesterday. Tiny little rollover slough, but it put enough snow on him that he couldn't move. If any more snow had come down on top of him, he might have been toast.

And a very similar thing happened in my party today. We were skiing Pinedale Canyon (you and the kids and I have been there) and a *very* strong woman skier got trapped up to her armpits. It wasn't even a slough - she just aired a little dropoff and came down into some deep, dense snow. She simply could not move. Again, if any snow had come down on top of her, she'd have been helpless. I was tail-gunner and was there to dig her out, but it was scary as h*ll to see someone of that caliber just completely at the mercy of the snow.

Everybody be careful out there. When the snow is as deep as it is in a lot of places around the West, things can go wrong in a hurry.

post #12 of 25
That was definitely one of the most amazing first hand survival stories I have ever heard. All I can say is that I am glad you made it out of there free of harm, and all we can do is pray for those we have lost this season. I hope your story can be the last of its kind we hear this season although doubtful. Being from the East I know we dont have a lot of those happening out here, but awareness should be made just the same. Thanks for sharing such a dramatic experience and I hope you decide to stay on the snow after such an event.
post #13 of 25
I was at Bridger the day the skier died. The conditions were beyond dangerous. The mountain was full of powder skiers there for the 81+ inches and most quickly realized how dangerous the conditions were and stayed on the main runs. Even the most experienced powder skiers were having a hard time staying upright and most everyone there had to dig themselves or a friend out that day.

I was amazed to see a group of skiers hiking the High Traverse to the section of the mountain the skier died in. The conditions were such that if you fell in steep terrain your group might not be able to get to you in time. I have know idea what the skier that died was thinking going into a remote, dangerous part of the mountain alone. Few experienced Bridger skiers go where he went alone even in optimal conditions.

[ January 04, 2004, 08:18 AM: Message edited by: Rio ]
post #14 of 25
I had a similar experience recently while skiing in the trees at a local hill just this weekend. It was starting to get dark and we figure we would do one more in a treed area off one of the main runs. I ended up hooking one of my skis under a tree branch which was buried in the snow and fell to my right into a tree well. My body and head were downhill to my feet, while my feet & skis were uphill still hooked under the branch. I managed to grab onto some of the branches which kept me from slipping fully head first into the tree well.

I couldn't free my ski nor could I pop my boots out of the bindings. I was just hanging there almost upside down suspended by my ski. About 5-10 mins had passed and as much as I struggled, I could not upright myself or free myself. The area where I was stuck was far enough away from the main runs that no-one would have heard me or found me till the next day, especially as it was getting darker by the minute.

Fortunately, there was 5 of us skiing and one of the slower skiers spotted me. She was able to reach me and pop me out of the bindings so I could then pull myself out of the tree well.

I didn't think much of the incident at the time, but after reading these 2 stories, I realize how ugly it could have become out under slightly different circumstances.

Make sure you are skiing with someone else when venturing off-piste. You just never know when an untimely slip or fall can lead to disasterous consequences.
post #15 of 25
Great posts! It looks like this is an Epic year for the West, so be careful, which you are anyway. Check the avalanche reports, read the Avalanche Handbook (McClung, Schaerer, The Mountaineers Publ) or similar expositions in good mountaineering books, be wise and carry the gear. But of course people have been killed in Tuckerman's Ravine and the gulfs nearby as well, so it equally applies to the East.
post #16 of 25
Another similar story with a tragic outcome. This is from today's Idaho Statesman:

Sun Valley skiing teacher’s body recovered
He apparently had gotten tangled in scrub pines

By: Bill Roberts

The body of a Sun Valley ski instructor missing on Bald Mountain since New Year´s Day was found Sunday.
Tom Wernig, an instructor at Sun Valley Resort for five years, apparently died after becoming entangled in scrub pines while skiing down Baldi´s Upper River Run, Blaine County officials said.

He was located by a search dog about noon Sunday, said Blaine County Sheriff´s Lt. Greg Sage, who is also commander of the search and rescue unit.

“He hooked a binding in the deep snow and went upside down,” Sage said. “He got himself trapped.”

Wernig was inside designated skiing boundaries, according to reports.

Wernig, considered an expert skier, ascended the mountain Thursday amid a storm that was dumping 2 inches per hour on the mountain.

His death is the third in south-central Idaho associated with the New Year´s Day snowstorm.

Two people died early Friday when an avalanche smashed through their cabin not far from Soldier Mountain Ski Area.

Killed were Marsha Landolt, 55, a University of Washington Graduate School dean, and her husband, Robert A. Busch, 58, an aquatic health consultant.

Wernig, 40, of Hailey leaves a wife, Monica, and a daughter, 1 1/2 years old, said Jack Sibbach, a Sun Valley Resort spokesman.

“Our heart goes out to the family,” Sibbach said. “It has been an emotional three days.”

Searching parties of nearly 200 people, including sheriff´s deputies, Blaine County Search and Rescue and the Sun Valley Resort Ski Patrol, combed the mountain for three days looking for Wernig.

Sage said Wernig´s body was discovered with only a bit of ski protruding above the snow.

Searchers had gone over the area in the two days before discovering Wernig´s body.

But deep snow kept authorities from using search dogs in much of the search area.

Snow from Thursday´s storm had compacted by Sunday, when the dogs were brought up to search the area where Wernig was found, Sage said.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact Bill Roberts
broberts@idahostatesman.com or 377-6408
post #17 of 25
Here is a 6 year study results on this subject. In short its only recently becoming more apparent that that is a bigger problem then originally thought.

post #18 of 25
Though it won't help if completely buried in cases like Bullet's, for other inbounds resort stuck in the snow cases of being stuck in branches or tree wells, a whistle will be audible much further than any voice. On powder days my fluorescent orange boatman's whistle is always on zipper pull loop hanging from an inside parka pocket. Cheap, small, lighweight and could save my life some day. -dave
post #19 of 25
Originally posted by dave_SSS:
Though it won't help if completely buried in cases like Bullet's, for other inbounds resort stuck in the snow cases of being stuck in branches or tree wells, a whistle will be audible much further than any voice. On powder days my fluorescent orange boatman's whistle is always on zipper pull loop hanging from an inside parka pocket. Cheap, small, lighweight and could save my life some day. -dave
I second Dave's advice.

I've worn a whistle around my neck every skiing day for 25 years. I've never had to use it (knocking wood), but it's there if I need it.

It's worth considering.

post #20 of 25
Man this thread has my heart pumping just thinking about it -- got a little stuck upside down and nackward in a treewell myself last week. Even when you are inches from the surface you can feel pretty helpless. And even when skiing in pairs -- my brother was at least a few trees down from me -- couldn't have really done much if I really was trapped. Eeeshh; why is it that the best things in life always seem to have a dark side?
post #21 of 25
This was @ three seasons ago when we had the serious big snows out east. Jay Peak , my buddy and I took the tram took a left and hiked the rocks. Some of the deepest snow we've had since the early 70's. We both headed off but I stayed more to the left. I lost sight of my buddy while in ecstacy but I hooked a stump, which turned out to be the top of a tree...one ski came off and I landed alongside a fir tree in a well...didn't realize it was a well at first since I was still mostly above the snow but had my other ski attached and below me...every time I moved I went deeper and concern started to set in. I was soon looking up to see out....managed to get my pole onto my binding to relese ski and work it up....there was no bottom to be found with my freed boot ...greater concern set in . Nobody was skiing in this area. To make a long story short, after much very, very, slow, calculated movement and digging foot holds with hands and using remaining ski as a brace to keep from going deeper, I managed to get out .I think trying to remain calm is very important.I was just lucky not to have been inverted. My buddy and I never ski the big days anymore without walkie talkies and high pitched whistles. Even when skiing in pairs it's easy to get split up for a moment. These tree well episodes can even happen in the east.
post #22 of 25
I posted this before so the reference to Camille's story won't make sense but...

During the mid 1980’s I had the dubious distinction of being involved in two avi’s. The first was a mid size slab avalanche, which occurred on a small inbounds hill at what is now the Northwest Express lift area at Mt. Bachelor, Oregon. My brother and I skied up to the hill through some widely spaced Doug Fir trees, as we broke out of the trees and skied down the hill (not real steep, maybe 25 degrees), the entire face of the snow broke free. We rode the slab for a short while, and then broke through. We were lucky, and were able to ski out to the side/bottom through some trees, which were about 50 – 60 yards away. Total slab size was about 100’ x 100’ x 18” or so, and slid for more than 60 yards. The pucker factor was pretty big. No warning, not an area we were expecting an avy, and we could see the slab crack and slough off while we were on it.

The second was very similar to Camille Coyle’s story. Again the same Bro and I were skiing, this time at Mt. Hood Meadows. We were skiing inbounds during a weekday after quite a few days of heavy snowfall. We probably had 2’ or so of new snow. We had skied the front of the ski area and had taken a few runs down the Hood River Meadows lift area. It was just about last run and we expected to find little fresh snow on this lift but did expect to find some good fast groomers to finish the day. On Willow, however, we found nice, although tracked, powder. It looked like a dozen skiers had been through the area (which is short and not very large). On our second, and last run down Willow, we decided to ski the skiers left part of the face. The top of Willow has a flat spot that is not very wide, and as I skied up, I skied to a stop on the left section of the table. I was about 2’ from the edge and not quite stopped when a section of the table about 30’ x 10’ by 6’ deep collapsed. I just remember dropping 6’ hitting upright and being pushed into a steep and tight ravine. I flipped over and my left ski caught on willows in the ravine. As I flipped, I remembered an avy lecture I had once heard about making an air pocket, so I grabbed my jacket and pulled it over my mouth/face.

Some thoughts on avy snow: it is cold, you can’t move, it is dark, you can’t breath (the snow filled into my air pocket but I was able to clear an airway with my hands which were by my face and my tongue), it is totally quiet.

I was lucky. I fell and was trapped in the top part of the slide, upside down, with my skis above me acting like an umbrella. The area I was in was very steep, probable over 45 degrees but short, perhaps 30’. So while I was deeply buried, it was easy to uncover me. The area I was in also caused some problems, since the snow above me was not stable. I did not feel at all safe till I was out of the slide and down on flat ground. The tip of my right ski was out of the snow so I was immediately discovered by my bro. Unfortunately, he had already skied below me and had to hike up the 45-degree slope, through the 2’ of new to get into a position to rescue. It took him about 20 minutes to get into position and about 10 min to dig my face out (that was real time in avy time the whole thing took about 2 hours). We made last chair but had to explain what happened to the lifty.

Reasons for the avy: I don’t know, but here is what I think. The area had received substantial snow over the past few days. That area had received more than its fair share and because there were few skiers it had not been heavily tracked. The small area I chose to stand on was free of tracks. I suspect my added weight on the unconsolidated snow caused the top to slough off and pull a section of snow down the hill. The ravine was completely covered until the avy pushed the snow below out of the way.

This was a small slide, but if I had been alone I would have died in it. It was dark by the time we made the lift and no one would have found me till next day at the soonest. Good avy skills are a must, ski with a partner, practice avy skills and rescue. And don’t forget avys can happen inbounds as well as out.

I burned up a lot of my luck on that one day. But better there than the night before at poker.

post #23 of 25
I found this looking for info on walkie talkies - it seemed to be worth reviving given the recent condtions over there. The report mentioned by catskills is interesting.
post #24 of 25
Thanks for the posts here, because I had previously considered skiing "inbounds" to be immune from an avalanche.
post #25 of 25
Heard a scary story from my roommate about an inbounds slide at Vail over the weekend - two of his friends were buried in an avalanche. One completely, one partially. They were skiing and snowboarding in a big group so friends were able to dig them out. I was actually pissed - they didn't report this incident to patrol.

Inbounds.. Vail. If I was to draw up a list of resorts someone might get trapped in a slide, I wouldn't put Vail very high on the list. I have no idea where this happened, I suspect it might have been one of areas in Blue Sky or maybe one of the far bowls like Mongolia.

Time to break out the ol' common sense: ski one at a time, ski with other people, don't cut slide paths, don't be dumb in the backcountry, have powder leashes. If you haven't taken an avy course, it might be a good year to do so - lots of snow and terrain features to learn from.
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