herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Skiers tell of killer avalanche

SKIERS have told how they survived an avalanche that killed three of their friends.

One skier who was on the mountain in Washington state, USA, survived by bear-hugging a tree and holding on as the snow barrelled over him, another used a ski air bag.

"It's an absolute horror story," said Powder Magazine editor John Stifter, who was on the mountain.

He identified those who died as Jim Jack, a well-known head judge for the Freeskiing World Tour, marketing director Chris Rudolph and Johnny Brenan, a Leavenworth contractor.



beacons

The Freeskiing World Tour and Utah's Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort had scheduled a gathering at the resort yesterday afternoon to remember Mr Jack, whom Mr Stifter described as generous, smart and influential in the ski industry.

Professional skier Elyse Saugstad has told how she survived the disaster in Stevens Pass resort, near Seattle.

She told NBC's Today Show that she's convinced the air bag she deployed immediately -- which she carried in a backpack and deployed with a lever by her chest -- saved her life.

"It's lifting you kind of up above the avalanche," she said.

"It's not like you're taking an inner tube ride down some snowy field... It feels like you're in a washing machine."

Only Saugstad had an air bag, Stifter said. Air bags cost around ¤750. They have been widely used in Europe, but they have become popular in the US only recently.

Mr Stifter said he and Mr Jack skied in the resort until about 11:15 am on Sunday, before meeting up with a group.

He said he read the avalanche report that morning and knew avalanche dangers were considerable. He and others talked about it and determined they could ski it safely, he said.

Three of the 15 in the initial group peeled off and went a different way. Twelve others headed down, skiing one by one, leapfrogging each other.

Each carried shovels and avalanche probes and wore avalanche beacons, a device that allows rescuers to locate the signal of a victim if buried.

Mr Stifter watched as Jim Jack made three turns, and then he saw a pocket of snow pop out. "Holy smokes! This is huge," Stifter said, when they realised how big the avalanche was.

"We immediately pulled out our transceivers, designated a leader and spaced out 30 feet, zig-zagging all the way down," hoping to pick up their friends' signals, Mr Stifter said.

Eventually, they picked up on the first signal and began digging furiously. They found Mr Rudolph face down. Mr Stifter performed CPR for about 30 minutes to no avail. Another group worked on digging out Mr Brenan and Mr Jack.

The avalanche was the deadliest in the US in three years.

hnews@herald.ie

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