In December, 2013, 26-year-old pro skier Amie Engerbretson was completely buried by an avalanche near Alta, Utah. Her training saved her life. I WAS IN the worst possible spot when the snow started to slide. My buddy and I had set out that morning to ski fresh powder in Grizzly Gulch near the Alta Ski Area. We found a slope that was small and just beyond the Alta boundary—safe, I thought.
After a turn, I felt the earth shift, like someone had pulled a rug out from under me. Then my worst fear: The snow surface splintered beneath my skis. I was right in the middle of a releasing avalanche— and above a gully, where I’d surely be dumped and buried.
I immediately deployed my airbag and angled my tips toward a stand of trees, fighting to stay upright on the river of snow. I managed to grab a branch, but a second wall of snow pummeled me like an ocean wave, ripping the tree out of my hands and sending me cartwheeling. It took everything I had to keep my arm crooked in a protective V-shape over my mouth.
I landed on my back at the bottom of the ravine and had a split-second view of sky before the snow flooded over me, turning the world gray and silent and cementing me in place. It all happened in less than 30 seconds.
I knew I only had a few minutes of oxygen. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t see the snow pressed against my goggles and repeated the same thought over and over: “Breathe slow. Stay calm.”
After about five minutes, I heard crunching above me. Then I felt a probe strike—they’d found me. The first thing rescuers uncovered was my right hand. Someone grabbed it and squeezed. I squeezed back and knew that I was going to live.