Categories: General
      Date: Mar  7, 2009
     Title: Avalanche
Chamonix avalanche

I was surfing a white wave, calm, quiet, powerless.  Just me and the snow.  Any efforts to ski sideways out were nulled by my skins as I had been skinning (walking) uphill on my skis when I set the slide off.  Skins are designed to stick to the snow. Great for walking uphill, not for quickly escaping an avalanche.

 I noticed I was heading for a huge black rock and I thought, ‘Oh well, I will feel that when I am taken over it.’  Then the snow wave’s power grew, my feet were snatched away from me and I was tugged under. I felt a stillness in the strength of the snow wave, and was surrounded by bright white.  The agitated snow was coaxing my backpack and skis down, pulling me with them, but I was unable to move at all to get rid of them. On and on I jostled down, squeezed from all sides.  It is incredible how light fluffy snowflakes can turn into a heavy prize fighter, assaulting the body from all sides.

Then the ride stopped. I felt snow punching my head as it piled up behind me and I shook my head and neck as much as possible, trying to shake the snow to the sides. At the same time I attempted to burst through the snow sideways with my arms to create any kind of space in front of my face, which I had been covering with my hands.  My snow tomb immediately set like stone. I had a tiny gap in front of my face. I could not move at all. ‘Is there going to be a second slide?’ I wondered.  I listen for the signs.

 Stillness. 

‘Ok, my friend Matt is going to come and find me.’ I think.  I feel confident that he knows what to do.  He has the kit: transceiver, probe and shovel.

Silence.

An age passed.

A thought occured to me, ‘what if he was caught too? Jesus. Then I am going to die here.’  We were in quite a remote valley. It would have been too late for anyone else to be doing this ski tour now.  A shriek of ‘Matt’ broke the silence. I had screamed it. Nothing.  Shit. If I didn’t suffocate to death, I would freeze to death.  I wondered what it would be like to die this way?  I have some altitude experience, and I thought, on balance, dying up high would be the way to go.  I didn’t want to die, although I was not particularly surprised to be in this situation. People who spend a lot of time in the mountains realise and consider the balance of risk, enjoyment, fulfilment, and fragility of life in the magnificence of mountains.  I was calmly considering all of this when I heard, ‘Suzy’. It was Matt. I was going to live. Brilliant. Eventually he got to me. Shocked, he started scrabbling away at the snow with his bare hands.

He had been caught in the slide too, but only pulled about 20 metres and was able to get out of it. We had been walking slightly apart. The avalanche risk was low: 2 out of 5. It hadn’t snowed for ten days, it was a cold day, the slope was fully in the shade and it was morning.