You can’t make it up. In what has to be one of the weirdest (and most fortunate) avalanche survival stories ever reported, three guys in Colorado ended up buried by a slide and were able to extricate themselves without outside help — and with little to no injury.
When this incident happened two weeks ago, rumors and half baked reports burned the digital airways like a small town gossip mill. Main thing that drove the jabber; all three survivors were using Avalungs. Human nature is such that we backcountry skiers WANT the Avalung to work, so any story of avalanche survival that involves an Avalung is incredibly compelling.
But other details of the incident sounded crazy, especially that all were buried and ended up digging each other out. Thus, word on the street was “don’t blog this yet, wait for the official report.” Well, the report is done (see it here), and this is indeed one of the weirdest most fantastic avalanche accident survival stories to ever happen in Colorado.
Apparently the group was hit by a slowly moving part of the slide, which didn’t push them far and buried all near each other in such low density snow they could communicate by voice. Two guys were able to clear their own faces for breathing, while the third man was buried quite deep and says he indeed used his Avalung, though he was also able to clear a breathing space and “see light.” One of the other guys was able to extricate himself, dig out the other man near the surface, then the two dug out the deeply buried man. Adding to the miraculous details, the group didn’t use their avalanche beacons to locate each other, but instead were able to do so by voice.
I’m truly stunned at how lucky these guys are, and am still having a hard time believing some of the details (such as being buried deep for more than two hours and not being immobilized by hypothermia). Beyond that, what stands out to me in terms of analysis is that all three were operating in a tight group while exposed to avalanche danger, instead of spreading out and exposing only one or two people at a time to the hazard. I’ll admit it’s hard to always do a perfect “one at a time” travel style, and who knows what exact circumstances caused these guys to bunch up. But it’s worth calling attention to one of their most basic errors. It all turned out ok, but was so close to being a three person tragedy it gives me chills.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.