April 28, 2016
These are the kinds of stories that make our jobs at BCA so rewarding.
The news came from the Friends of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center with a report of a “near miss avalanche near Cantwell yesterday.” A snowmachiner had been caught in a large avalanche near the top of the slope. He was thrown off his machine, deployed his avalanche airbag, carried to the bottom of the slope and miraculously ended up on the surface. The party left from MP 196 on the Parks Highway in Alaska.
BCA caught up with Levi Sanders, the rider in the avalanche incident. Levi reports:
Here is some perspective on how big Mother Nature’s hammer can be. A sketchy climb was made, can’t change that. Key actions and good equipment saved my life. Let me be you’re example that you need the safety equipment and the knowledge to survive in the backcountry when nature kicks back.
The decision to make the climb was obviously a sketchy one, although this wasn’t my first line up the hill that day. At first I only went half way up and the climb felt solid. SO I made the decision to go to the top. As I got to the top I started to sidehill to the peak to go over (also keep in mind I made this climb last year so I was aware of what was on top, it wasn’t a blind run/hope there isn’t a drop off on the other side). While engaged in the sidehill I saw over the front of my skis about a 6-foot wall that cracked and started to slide.
At this point I knew it just got real…
Being as though now there was no snow under me, my sled slapped down on the bare mountain on grade and I was thrown into the avalanche on my back.
After I realized what happened I instantly pulled my bag and spread my arms and legs as wide as I could in the hopes it would help me stay afloat. From there on I was helpless. As I slid down, on my back, and snow balls flew through my field of vision, I remember thinking “when is it going to go black, when will I be covered?” Luckily it never happened.
I stayed afloat on my back all the way down to the point where I stopped right next to my sled. My sled was still running so I unstrapped my pack, got up, dug a hole to the key and shut it off. At that point the gravity of what just happened hit me, I dropped to my knees and screamed and cried all at the same time.
As soon as it stopped my two friends ripped up to where I was to assess the situation. When it cut loose they were both in the runout zone. So they had to start their snowmachines and haul ass out of the way. They said they got to a safe point ASAP and marked me as I came down the hill, thinking that they were going to have dig me out.
Thankfully the only digging that needed to be done was to my snowmobile. Last year we GPS’d the climb and it is 1500 feet from top to bottom.
My friends told me that it took less than 10 seconds for me to slide down the hill. Too me it felt like 10 minutes…. I believe that in conjunction with being at the top of the avalanche, my BCA Float 8 avalanche airbag saved my life. If I would have been lower down in the slide and the snow from above hit me the outcome would have been severely different. I will probably be picking up another cylinder to have a second deployment if needed.
Thank you BCA for making a safety device that saved my life and hopefully anyone else that has to use it. I will never ride without my avalanche back pack.