January 21, 2008
BCA is featuring rescuers who have used a Tracker beacon to save a life. The following account is from Janina Kuzma.
Monday the 7th of January started off like any other day. I got the call from Todd that the turns were bomber off the back side of Proctor Mountain. So we packed our gear and left. The Avalanche bulletin for that day was considerable in the tree line, and we knew the dangers with the ‘deep slab instability’ within the snow pack. So the game plan was to play in the mellow trees beside the turns from the skiers the day before.
After a 10 km drive we loaded the sled and ripped up the valley another 15 km to the skin trail. Staring at the back side of the three sisters and Mt Bizzaro was making us giddy as we envisioned the turns we were so close to making. A coffee break and a bite to eat was in favor when we gained the ridge so we stopped, examined the snow and took some photos trying to work with the sun’s early light. Everything felt good and we were tired of post holing for photos so we headed for our planned decent.
Todd stopped us at a nice spot in the trees and described the features and aspects of the terrain we were about to ski as we packed up our skins and sipped on our bevi’s. He set himself up for his first shot, and waved me down. Milking our turns, we skied together down a mellow, semi-clear slope one at a time. About half way down was when we encountered our first slab. Ian’s ski cut the edge of a chute that had been skied the previous day and it ripped way too big for our liking. Ian headed up the group on what was happening and we dipped into the tight trees to regroup and decide on a safe way out. One at a time, and feeling very vulnerable, we staggered ourselves out, skiing tree to tree, one at a time in constant verbal and visual communication. Then without warning as we stood still, there was a massive settlement and the slope began to slab and run towards Todd.
Clinging to the trees for dear life and screaming “avalanche!” to Todd, who was below us, we waited for the avalanche to finish and that’s when I heard Todd yelling as he was taken down. Looking down at Ian I realized that I was hanging on the hang fire, which is the remaining unsupported snow-measuring 1.5m that could go at any time. I was forced to jump the hang fire to get myself to Ian. Todd got taken down in a class 2.5 slide and it carried him around 350m. Ian and I straight away had our beacons out and on search mode. We skied the avi debris carefully, and we finally both got a signal right at the end of the debris. I had a BCA Tracker avalanche beacon on and the lowest reading I got on my beacon was 4.2m which means he was buried really deep.
We got our probes out and started spiral probing and I was lucky enough to hit him on my second probe. We started digging quickly then realized that what I had hit was his head so we dug all the snow from around his head. His face was blue and he was unconscious but he had a pulse. We finally dug down to his chest and pushed all the snow away and he let out a big breath of air. After five minutes or so he started mumbling. After that it took us another 20 odd minutes to dig out his whole body. He was buried 2m deep.
What I’ve learned from this experience is, if you like to go ski touring, take an avalanche safety course and read the avalanche bulletin every day to know whats going on out there and to learn the terms. Also carry the best gear that out there. BCA has awesome gear that’s reliable, fast and easy to use.