Notes from an avalanche surivor
summit daily news
SUMMIT COUNTY – A Lakewood snowboarder who survived a Loveland Pass avalanche Tuesday said safety should be everyone’s priority when riding the back county.
“We tried to go in there as well-informed as we could,” said 25-year-old Alec Meyer. He said he still plans to backcountry ski, but that he “would more than reconsider” snowboarding on similar slopes in similar conditions to the site of his accident. He was able to ride and swim his way out of a large avalanche on Loveland Ridge around noon on Tuesday.
Meyer and his friend, Amy Glatt of Dillon, started hiking up to the ridge around 10 a.m. They hiked up to the summit and Meyer said they inspected the snow for cracks.
“We chose a spot that was nice and firm at the top,” he said, but also noted that he still was cautious and nervous. Meyer said he instructed Glatt on what to do if an avalanche did occur, and then he went first.
No more than 30 feet off the ridge (on Meyer’s fourth turn) everything started moving at once – “That’s when the slide started,” he said. “I felt it start to pull me under, and I decided not to fight it. I surfed the slab all the way to the bottom. Snow was flying all over the place.”
When the avalanche flattened out, it threw him into the ground, and Meyer said he thinks he hit rocks – he’s currently nursing a bruised hip and elbow.
“I started swimming and bobbed my head up,” he said. A blanket of snow ended up falling over his lap, with his upper torso and board above the slide. Meyer managed to stay completely out of the debris field. Glatt was able to ski down and help dig him out.
“I hate to be the example of the lucky one, but I hope it helps other people out,” Meyer said. His survival is good news – not many avalanche accidents like this have a happy ending.
Though Meyer said he’s ridden the Loveland Ridge area extensively over the past four years, he was lacking essential backcountry gear. But he said it wasn’t for lack of knowledge.
“I ordered a beacon and shovel for Christmas already,” Meyer said. “I just didn’t have it on me yet.”
He also said the whole reason he survived was his “brain” – he examine snow, gave instructions to his friend, he stayed calm, didn’t fight, and swam to keep himself up and to the edge of the slide.
“I thought about it consciously before it happened and while it was happening,” he said. “We were very aware of the danger. I didn’t panic and give up. I kept a cool head and followed protocol. I did the best thing I could do given the circumstances.”
Meyer – who is already singed up to take an avalanche safety class in January – said he’d encourage anyone to sign up for a workshop.
Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecaster Scott Toepfer said the first thing anyone should do before entering the backcountry is take an avalanche awareness class.
“It’s like being a detective out there,” he said. “You want to have fun, but you don’t want to die.”
He suggests going to a local ski mountaineering shop, visiting the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website or contacting local ski patrollers to find out about classes. Reading avalanche survival guides are also suggested.
Summit County Rescue Group public information officer Anna DeBattiste stressed that just because an area is crowded or popular, something bad could still happen.
“Always have a buddy,” DeBattiste said. “Always have a beacon, probe and shovel. Always know how to use them. And more importantly make sure your buddy knows how to use them. You need to be prepared and educated.”
Toepfer recommends a slope meter, a shovel, a beacon and a collapsible probe as necessary items for back-country play.
“Check in with shops to see if beacons can be rented and test different models,” he added. “Renting is an easy way to break into the big expense. … You need tools of the trade. Recreating in any backcountry is potentially dangerous, and you need to reduce your risks.”
According to Toepfer, Summit County and its surrounding areas still have a considerable risk for avalanche danger.
“We update that (risk level) every morning on our website and the Summit County hotline between 6-7 a.m.,” Toepfer said. “I highly recommend checking that. It’s free.”
Summit County’s avalanche hotline can be reached at (970) 668-0600. The website is at http://www.avalanche.state.co.us
Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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