Avalanche survivor knows danger of the backcountry a little too well
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 02:03
If you’ve ever had the guts, and been willing to hike uphill in the snow, you know how great skiing or riding in the backcountry is. Nothing beats booking it downhill, carving first tracks. But all that glorious powder can be dangerous, too. Take it from Townsend Keller, an Estes Park resident who last year found himself in a potentially deadly avalanche.
Keller and a few friends were hiking up along side an area known as the “banana chute” near the town of Montezuma, despite reports from Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) of avalanche risk instability. “It was late in the season,” Keller said, “We started getting a little more ballsy.”
In pursuit of some good terrain, the group marched up the side of the chute, passing by what Keller knew were the warning signs of risky snow; shooting cracks, wind-blown pillows of snow, and a punchy sound with each step.
Arriving at the top of the mountain, Keller was to go first, with his friends on the look out up top. On his second turn a loose pocket of snow started to fall apart and the snowpack started to give behind him. Remarkably, though the shouts of warning from the top of the hill went unheard, Keller nearly avoided being caught in the avalanche. He was turning out of the chute into a safe zone when his board hit a rock, stopping him flat.
“I turned around and saw the powder coming down,” Keller said. Before long he was knee deep, waist deep, and finally the snow came over his head. Luckily, it didn’t last long, and after following the avalanche more than 100 feet, Keller was able to get his board between two trees and his head above the snow.
Moral of the story: become aware and stay cautious. The CAIC and the ski patrol for most resorts host a number of avalanche safety courses on how to spot warning signs and use safety devices such as a beacon and snow shovel. Avalanches aren’t always in the backcountry.
Keller had taken these beginner courses before, but has now taken some higher-level classes and has done scouting for CAIC. His return to the mountain came that next winter and now he considers himself “a little more cautious.”