BURIED ALIVE

Backpacker - - Skıll Set - By Mor­gan McFall-Johnsen

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.

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