Colorado splitter and splitboard.com reader Eric Kane, aka cometogether was in the right place at the right time on a recent splitboard trip and saved a life by rescuing a solo skier buried in an avalanche. Read the CAIC accident report as well as the victim’s and Eric’s account below. Awesome work man, you’re a hero!
A solo skier exited the boundary of the Loveland Ski Area and climbed to a saddle at 11800 feet. He descended an east aspect into moderate terrain with a steep convex roll mid-path. The skier triggered an avalanche at the convex roll, was caught in the slide, and fully buried when the debris came to rest on a bench in the terrain. A snowboarder riding nearby saw the fresh avalanche, assembled his splitboard to ski with no skins, and skated to the accident site. He began searching with his avalanche rescue beacon, but found no signal. He began a visual search of the site for clues. He discovered the end of a ski pole protruding from the debris downhill of the victims ski tracks. The snowboarder dug down the shaft of the ski pole and found the victims hand in the strap of the pole grip. He continued to dig and was able to extricate the skier. Burial time was estimated at 10 minutes.
Below is a firsthand account of the incident from the burial victim (shared via Eric)
Friday, December 27, 2013 – Dead Man Skiing by Martin
Blue sky. Good snow. Great ski day at Loveland Basin. Temperature about 25˚. Started the day with
black diamond runs off chair #1, moved to moderate mogul runs late morning on chair #4, and skied trees and powder in the afternoon on chair #8 on the northeast side of the basin.
Looking for some virgin powder, decided to hit one last run for the day at 1:30 PM and then back to Denver to beat the traffic. They were working on chair #9 connector trails with the cat (this is the lift that goes up to the continental divide in the west part of the area for hike skiing and typically great powder when open). It looked like it might open in the next couple of days but not today. There were 4 or 5 dynamite triggered avalanches near the ridge with good size slides from the past week.
So took Chair #1 on south side of area. Exited the open boundary gate near the warming hut and trudged up 20 min to the windblown bald ridge and saddle, getting there about 1:50 PM. I had done the same run done 20 days earlier on Dec 7th on snow that was hard pack crust up top and great powder lower in the bowl under low visibility weather that day. It had snowed about a 15” more in the 20 days since in batches of 1” to 3” storms… so no major dumps. Figured it would be safe as long as I stuck to the low pitch shoulders and got into the trees quickly as I had done on prior runs.
I did not have avalanche equipment. I had scoped this general area about 4 years ago to make sure it was a relatively “safe route” by checking the net for any stories regarding avalanches in this part of the Loveland Pass terrain. While there were a number of slides in other areas, this route, a descent down a south facing aspect appeared to have no history of incidents. I typically skied this run a couple of time a year earlier in the season to catch powder until the inbound chutes off of #9 opened. There were general avalanche warnings across virtually all central mountain ranges in the state listed as moderate risk for the weekend. Spent 5 minutes at the top checking for a route and took some pictures. Ski tracks indicated other skiers had been down this area recently.
Saw a snow boarder in the west center of the C-shaped bowl that opens to the east and sits between Loveland ski area and north of the actual pass. He appeared about a half mile away and took a steep line straight down from that ridge on a pitch that looked risky and possibly more prone to a slide. He stopped at the base of where the run flattened out and before where the descent continued into the trees/gully draining area. He was hollering in exhilaration about his run and then looked like he was talking on his phone.
Further north on the arm of the “C” bowl rim, I chose my descent line… going first east under the ridge to avoid steep cornices and some generally steeper sections. No problems. Good powder. Easy turns. Felt like I could now get into some gentle powder slopes a little lower that ran into the drainage/exit ravine area so turned and headed back west on a traverse on top of a shoulder. Slope felt like 5˚ to 10˚ on the line I was on but dropped to 30˚ on the left or south towards the bottom of the bowl. Within 10 feet of starting the descent, I could see a crack develop on my right, uphill about 5 feet away. Physically felt the snow plate I was on drop. A large slab broke away. There was no cracking sound, just a gentle whoosh.
After the fact, the sensation makes me think of a table cloth draping down and touching the floor at an angle and someone accidentally steps on the table cloth pinching it to the floor… the plates and glasses on the flat top surface all start to come over the edge. From reports afterward, the size of the slab was roughly the size of a football field – 200 feet wide and 200 feet long.
“Can’t be happening” I said to myself… Instantly decided to head straight down the steeper pitch I was originally going to avoid rather than continue the traverse I intended on the gentler upper shoulder… hoped I could outrun the quick moving snow which was in undulating blocks of different sizes going up and down at random like the keys of a player piano. There was dusty snow powder swirling all around. Skied probably a 100 feet downhill straight down on top of the mass and then abruptly was no longer floating. The bottom of the slope hit a flattened area in the drainage and the snow rapidly started piling up in front of me, behind me, and eventually on top of me— first covering my legs, then my chest, then my head. I vaguely remember using my arms to try to “swim” but with skis still attached, there was no flotation. I consciously put my left hand to my face to create an air pocket. I remember seeing a slight gleam of light through the snow to my left and up which made me think the surface might be close. I think I tried to reach up and poke a hole in the surface with my hand. My ski pole was still attached to the same hand and by good fortune not conscious intent was pointed up above me like a skinny solid antenna. My guess is that the elapsed time from the start of the first crack in the slab and being completely buried was about 20 seconds.
Very rapidly I could no longer move any part of my body. Remember thinking “I think this is really it… won’t get past 60” and “got to relax, breathe deep and slow… not use up the oxygen.“ Don’t remember much more past that point. Don’t know how much time went by but was likely fully conscious a couple of minutes and then went into a mental hibernation.
From reports afterwards, best guess is 10 – 15 minutes went by for the time I was buried. My consciousness was roused slightly when the air pocket around my face appeared filling with snow and I could not move my hand to clear it. I remember thinking a second time it really must be my final moments. I did not feel panic. I did feel a sort of resolution and peace, mixed with regret.
At some point my mind registered that I heard someone yelling. Someone was digging and shouting.
Eric Kane, the snowboarder I had seen across the bowl, had seen me starting out and saw the slab break. He accurately guessed I got caught. He hurriedly headed to the run out on a split snowboard and used it to skate/ski, slogging through some deep snow, and post-holing over the contour to the large pile of snow blocks at the bottom of the slide. He said he tried to use his transceiver to catch a signal which he could not pick up a signal as I did not have a device. He surveyed the scene, saw my escape effort ski line tracks and visually followed the path down to where he spotted about 9” of my ski pole tip that was sticking out of the snow chunks. With a backcountry shovel, he dug a little and recognized a hand attached to the bottom of the pole and continued digging. Following the arm, Eric got to my head and freed a breathing hole. I was still semi-conscious and began to respond little by little.
Eric said that my hand was limp with no muscle tension. He uncovered my face which did have some snow around it. He said my face was blue. After clearing my mouth and nose, he said I responded by spitting and opened my eyes.
I basically had come to a stop in an upright position within the snow, sort of sitting back like in a lounge chair position. I never lost the prone position and wasn’t ‘churned.’ My left arm was level with my head with the top of the pole sticking out of the snow. My right arm was at my side still attached to the pole buried beneath me. My legs were crossed and the skis were still attached. I had no recognizable physical injuries other than a slight cut lip. Emotionally, I was numb, dazed, with a strong feeling of surreal-ness, disbelief that it had happened, incredulity that I survived.
After 30 more minutes of digging I was finally out. In the end after seeing the hole that I came out of, I figure my head was probably 4 feet under the surface and parts of me had 6 feet of snow on top with another 4 to 6 feet of snow below. As they say, what felt like powder early on in the snow submersion felt like cement that had set. Two other skiers at the top of the bowl ridge had also seen the slide and had called in an emergency. A helicopter circling and passing over the divide was in the vicinity as I was starting to ski out but never had direct contact with me.
Eric on the other hand was whooping and hollering at having helped a live person emerge from the snow grave rather than pulling out a lifeless body. While a part of me thought I should feel ecstatic and I was highly relieved and humbly grateful, the shock/stunned feeling dominated.
When I got my legs back under me, we skied out and down the drainage terrain to the Loveland Pass road to the pull out that is a few hairpins up the pass where skiers and riders stage their trips. This is where you hitch a ride back to the bottom or up to the top of the pass to get your car. A ski patroller from Loveland named Pip was there coordinating the details of a possible rescue and was trying to figure out if anyone else might have been caught in the slide. A man from Summit County Search and Rescue was also there. They said a county deputy would want to talk to me and would arrive shortly but after a while they said another rescue was taking place on the pass and I could go. Reportedly a woman who was sledding on an inner tube had gone down a steep pitch near the top of the pass and landed in some rocks ending up with internal injuries.
So after all this narrative… a special thanks to Eric Kane, without whose heroic efforts on behalf of a stranger, I would not be typing this summary. Eric said he had gone to Evergreen to get his car registration taken care of and decided to head up for a few runs. He is a split snowboarder and actually made his own board. The snowboard comes apart and can serve like skis and then be re-connected to serve as a board. Eric pursues the less traveled and semi-extreme areas with a religious vigor. He has taken several avalanche preparation classes over the course of time. He likes to board with friends but not always able to find one for a trip and doesn’t want to be held back. He said he recognized from my experience, that he needs to rethink some of his approach.
For what it is worth, I did stop at REI and get a transceiver on the way home.
Here’s what cometogther had to say about the incident in the forum. http://splitboard.com/talk/viewtopic
“Well fellas….. that was me! And I specifically asked Becs of the CAIC to put that in the report so people like him would start to give us the respect I think we have earned.
I must say- right place, right time.(for me) This was hands down the craziest thing I have ever accomplished.
He was very lucky I had my trusty shovel and was on my game. The one foot of ski pole sticking out very much saved him, since he wasn’t wearing a beacon. Digging down to his mouth and chest was a SHIT ton of work. After digging to his hand I felt no return squeeze and became very nervous. Luckily I heard faint panting breaths and this made me work faster, eventually reaching his face and chest area, he came back to color (from the blue of his googles) after clearing his mouth and nose area of snow. He seemed totally out of it and mentioned he thought he was getting close. I estimate total time buried was around ten minutes. ALL in all it couldn’t have worked out better, I got some impromptu training practice and he got to live another day!
This has made me reevaluate my riding solo practices, and look at some of my equipment in case this scenario where to happen again, I would be even more ready.
Thanks to my avy 1 class this challenge was something I was prepared for.”
With many avalanche accidents not ending as fortunate as this one it’s nice to report on one that did! Good job keeping your wits cometogether!