Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I was watching CNN regarding videos they had of avalanches with skiers caught in them. They were sharing about inflatable backpacks and other devices that help skiers, snowshoers, snowboarders and even snowmobilers to survive avalanches.

Though I have skied Cross Country since I was 15 throughout California and Oregon and started Downhill skiing at resorts in California starting in the 1970s I only was in one really serious avalanche where I thought I might die. This usually happens when you are somewhere ungroomed because most ski areas that are maintained use cannons and other devices to protect their skiing and snowboarding clients from injury or death due to an avalanche.

The time I thought I might die I was above tree line (which is a prime place for avalanches because there are no trees to hold it back). So, I was skiing alone on metal edged mountaineering skies on Mt. Shasta. The snow depth was likely between 10 and 20 feet deep. (The depth of the snow is also a factor in all this). For example, it is much less likely that you would die in an avalanche if your snow depth is under about 5 feet deep. Where it mostly becomes dangerous is where there are snow drifts of 5 to 10 feet deep or more on a steep slope especially with no trees and only rocks. (Trees can slow down an avalanche and sometimes you might even be able to hide behind a tree while an avalanche is coming at you and actually survive it. Because the main reason people die in avalanches is they get physically knocked down, then they don't know which way is up and they can't move their hands, head or arms or legs and they have nothing to breathe but snow. So, they either breathe in snow and die or they suffocate from lack of an air pocket. That is why wearing an inflatable backpack in avalanche areas might save your life as long as you have someone there who wasn't hit by the avalanche to dig you out with their gloved hands, skis and poles as digging tools.

In my case this was the 1980s and I was skiing alone about 10,000 feet which is above tree line which is between 8000 feet to 9000 feet on Mt. Shasta. All of a sudden a whole piece of snow the size of a city block with me in the middle of it started to move. As this block sized piece of snow moved it became like a river or ocean as it (liquified) and I struggled with all my might and speed to keep my skies and poles on top as it moved. The whole thing moved about 6 blocks in distance down the mountain and even working as hard as I could to not drown in the snow I still was waist deep when it finally stopped hundreds of feet away from where I started. Luckily, there were no rocks or trees to hit me or impale me during my downward speedy descent. However, this was the last time I skied alone at that altitude above tree line during those kinds of conditions. Though it was a sunny day and I had already taken my jacket off this still all happened to me. And only because I was young and strong enough to move really quickly like a sprinter did I actually survive this at all.

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