Three Buried in Avy Self Rescued Without Using Beacons

Post by blogger | February 2, 2009      

You can’t make it up. In what has to be one of the weirdest (and most fortunate) avalanche survival stories ever reported, three guys in Colorado ended up buried by a slide and were able to extricate themselves without outside help — and with little to no injury.

When this incident happened two weeks ago, rumors and half baked reports burned the digital airways like a small town gossip mill. Main thing that drove the jabber; all three survivors were using Avalungs. Human nature is such that we backcountry skiers WANT the Avalung to work, so any story of avalanche survival that involves an Avalung is incredibly compelling.

But other details of the incident sounded crazy, especially that all were buried and ended up digging each other out. Thus, word on the street was “don’t blog this yet, wait for the official report.” Well, the report is done (see it here), and this is indeed one of the weirdest most fantastic avalanche accident survival stories to ever happen in Colorado.

Apparently the group was hit by a slowly moving part of the slide, which didn’t push them far and buried all near each other in such low density snow they could communicate by voice. Two guys were able to clear their own faces for breathing, while the third man was buried quite deep and says he indeed used his Avalung, though he was also able to clear a breathing space and “see light.” One of the other guys was able to extricate himself, dig out the other man near the surface, then the two dug out the deeply buried man. Adding to the miraculous details, the group didn’t use their avalanche beacons to locate each other, but instead were able to do so by voice.

I’m truly stunned at how lucky these guys are, and am still having a hard time believing some of the details (such as being buried deep for more than two hours and not being immobilized by hypothermia). Beyond that, what stands out to me in terms of analysis is that all three were operating in a tight group while exposed to avalanche danger, instead of spreading out and exposing only one or two people at a time to the hazard. I’ll admit it’s hard to always do a perfect “one at a time” travel style, and who knows what exact circumstances caused these guys to bunch up. But it’s worth calling attention to one of their most basic errors. It all turned out ok, but was so close to being a three person tragedy it gives me chills.



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16 Responses to “Three Buried in Avy Self Rescued Without Using Beacons”

  1. powderjunky February 2nd, 2009 9:30 am

    That has got to be one of the most bizarre success stories out there.

  2. Rob Sta February 2nd, 2009 9:38 am

    Lessons learned (for myself):
    * Will try to hike without ski pole loops in sketchy situations (like, every time we spread out).
    * Quick release system for Dynafits: does such a thing exist, what would it take?

  3. Rob February 2nd, 2009 10:09 am

    While straps help provide leverage when moving uphill, I have always been taught that in many situations (avalanche danger, gladed skiing, &c.) it is significantly safer to have your straps off. As to a quick release for Dynafits, I’m not sure how easy it would be to rig one up. I’ll take a look at my skis and play around a bit and get back to you.
    – R

  4. Clyde February 2nd, 2009 11:41 am

    Proof once again that “safety” gear lulls people into a false sense of security. “All three were climbing with the mouth pieces of their AvaLungs” has to be one of the stupidest things done in the backcountry. If it’s that sketchy, you should get the hell out of there. BD sent out a press release touting this as another save when it really should be cringing that their product suckered these guys into trusting it.

  5. Rob Sta February 2nd, 2009 12:05 pm

    Rob: I have some crude ideas too; do you have access to Lou so he can give you my email address, so we can get in touch?

    Lou, would it be possible to exchange email addresses?


  6. Dongshow February 2nd, 2009 12:39 pm

    crazy, I don’t even know what to think about this.

  7. ThomasB February 2nd, 2009 12:59 pm

    If you are clamping down on your Avalung while climbing uphill as a way to mitigate hazard, you are missing the point.

  8. Jon F February 2nd, 2009 2:23 pm

    Yikes, for sure. Glad they got lucky. Pole straps have no place in the backcountry. Cut ’em off and learn to ski without them.

  9. Geof February 2nd, 2009 2:58 pm

    Each one has one less life on their side, that’s for sure. Pure luck that the situation come out as it did. Since when did the Avalung second as a snorkel? Glad they are ok, though. Lot’s of mistakes on that one.

  10. Jon Miller February 2nd, 2009 6:10 pm

    Really?!!? I find the report hard to beleive, but like everyone has said, it is good to be lucky I guess.

  11. Frank R February 2nd, 2009 8:54 pm

    Why did they have avalungs and no beacons, just knew they could dig themselves out huh? Sound like three guys who thought BD might give them some promo if they said it was the Avalung that saved them? C’mon, if this story is even remotely true they should run out and buy lotto tickets, make a quick trip to Vegas. More likely though they should be awarded Merit Badges for stupidity. Anyone that believes this story I have a bridge, skyscraper (free relocation to Carbondale) and ski area in Aspen I need to sell quick, will consider all offers over a buck ninety-nine.

  12. Andrew February 3rd, 2009 6:54 am


    While I don’t necessarily disagree with safety gear and the false sense of security, I think its important not to go completely the other way. Take seat belts , would we drive more carefully without them? Perhaps but the fact remains that they do save lives.

    This would appear to be a bizarre case with a very lucky outcome, lets simply treat it as such.

  13. Randonnee February 3rd, 2009 7:12 am

    Does the report specify if the scene and debris was seen by the investigator?

  14. Lou February 3rd, 2009 7:49 am

    Frank, they had beacons but didn’t use them to find each other. Even that is bizarre when it comes to the guy who was buried 6-7 feet deep. Rando, sadly, as far as I know they didn’t investigate the scene. It looks from the photo like they were in a spot where the snow didn’t achieve any significant velocity and thus kind of just plowed into them and piled up. Very unusual circumstances to say it mildly. Sure sends the wrong message.

  15. J. Warren February 3rd, 2009 8:17 am

    Many years ago some patrollers I know where on a night rescue and made some critical mistakes that ended with three out of four being buried. The forth person was very young and had virtually no experience. He did manage to dig out all his companions using their still functioning headlamps as a guide. All involved where uninjured including the person being rescued. Does this mean everyone should forgo typical avy gear for a BD headlamp.

  16. Lou February 3rd, 2009 8:29 am

    Warren, very good way to make a point!

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