MATTAWAN, Mich. - A ski trip to Arapahoe Basin Ski Area turned dangerous for one Mattawan, Mich., family and 11 other skiers when an avalanche occurred on Feb. 16.
Nonetheless, Justin Hodges, 15, is more than ready to get back on his skis.
Hodges, who has been skiing for as long as he can remember, said that the frightening experience hasn't changed his feelings about the sport at all.
"I would go take that same run right now if it was open," he said. "I plan on continuing to ski backcounty in upcoming years, but I will definitely look into getting an avalanche beacon like my father has for future trips."
The young skier was planning his path down the hill when he heard the ski patrol shout, "Avalanche!"
"I looked up and heard the sound of what I thought was a freight train," Hodges said. "It was a wall of snow moving my way. I spun around and started skiing down. I looked back and, inevitably, the wall was feet from the tail of my skis."
Hodges, his brother Jordan, 13, and his father Marty, 46, were near the resort at about 2:30 p.m. when they saw a group of skiers and snowboarders heading out to explore some backcountry areas. After speaking with a member of the ski patrol, Hodges learned that another group of experienced skiers was going to be departing for the same location shortly, so he and his father and brother joined them.
"(The patrolman) said that speed was not the goal and to play it safe," he said. "The ski patrol also told us what to do in case of an avalanche."
The group started the hike, going over a snow cornice one at a time. Hodges remembers being the fifth person in line and the avalanche beginning after almost everyone was over the cornice.
"I recall falling backward onto the snow and hitting a bump that spun me. I ended up on my stomach," he said.
The teenager remembered the instructions he had been given concerning avalanches and spread his limbs.
"At that point, the concrete snow had clogged my throat and mouth and I couldn't breathe," he said. "I could see most of the way down and I was worried about being buried alive."
After Hodges managed to slow to a stop, he removed some of the snow covering his body and immediately began searching for his father and brother, who had been carried about 500 to 1,000 feet down the hill.
"I heard my father frantically shouting, but I waited until the ski patrol told me to move. I was very worried about a second avalanche being triggered," Hodges said.
Hodges began walking around, poking his ski poles into the snow, searching for bodies. He didn't find anyone, but he remembers walking by a man who was being attended to by the ski patrol.
"His first words were, 'You don't need to dig me out. Go find someone else more in trouble,' and his next words were, 'Can I get some free beer for this?'" he said.
After finding his father, who could barely walk, Hodges waited with Marty until a sled came to remove him from the scene. Marty was later taken to the local emergency room and diagnosed with a strained MCL (medial collateral ligament).
Hodges was also transported by sled because his skis had come off during the commotion. He was taken to the nearest ski lift, picked up by a snowmobile and brought to the building where the rest of the skiers who had been caught in the avalanche were located.
Marty Hodges and his two sons enjoy skiing together and they go to Timber Ridge as often as possible. They have also visited Breckinridge, Vail and Beaver Creek in recent years.
"(During our trip), we were at Breckinridge, but it was too crowded due to Presidents Day Weekend, so we packed up and headed to Arapahoe Basin. It was our first time there and that place is a phenomenal ski resort," said Hodges, who is on the Mattawan High School Ski Team.
Hodges and his brother, who is on the Timber Ridge Junior Development Race Team, both have some bumps and bruises, but Hodges said that he enjoyed the overall experience and that it makes for a great story.
"It was the ride of a lifetime," he said.