I Lived To Tell About It

Caught in an avalanche

April 2019 Feature Tony Jenkins

Snowmobile season is fast approaching and with that in mind we all hear the word “avalanche" sometime throughout the season. We might hear it in the news or from checking forecasts and advisories. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just a natural occurrence that we as outdoor recreationist need to respect.

As many of you may or may not have heard last season, I was involved in a pretty decent- sized avalanche. As I look back to that moment to reflect on it, I try to learn from the incident rather than looking at it as a negative event. Yes, it scared the hell out of me and the guys who were with me that day. Did I make a bad decision? Yes, most likely. I thought to myself with all these mature trees on the hillside I most likely would be safe.

I was wrong.

The day’s forecast called for “Considerable” avalanche conditions with more danger prevalent to northeast aspects. As I looked up at this hill I was searching for a line that I thought would be fun. As I planned it in my head, I shot up the hill and quickly cut right. As soon as I cut to the right, that's when the snow sluffed off the hill below my sled. I had the sled stopped, assessed the situation and thought I was ok.

Again, I was wrong. As I turned left, I looked up to the top and that's when the three-foot crown let loose. At this split second I deployed my BCA vest and heard the air bag go off.

Once the wall of snow came crashing down I knew I wasn’t going to be sitting well because of all the old growth trees I was headed for. At this moment all I remember doing is grabbing onto the handlebars and hoping to ride the sled down with the sled on its side. As I did this I remember looking at a massive old growth tree and aiming the skid for the trunk of the tree. Once impact happened I really don’t remember what happened other than me tucking into a ball and seeing nothing but darkness as I continued to slide through more trees.

Once the slide stopped I popped up on top of the snow bruised and shaken with one leg on top of the snow and the other buried. All I can say is I was lucky to have walked away with no major injuries. The sled was a loss but I was grateful to have walked away and have a good group of friends with me that day to be there. 

From my years of riding in the backcountry I learned how to be a safer rider but even experienced riders make mistakes. Here are a few pointers that might help you.

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