The Writers’ Circle: The avalanche in the Horseshoe Bowl

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    By Gregg Heid
    PREVIEW Columnist

    Five of us climbed into the back of the snowcat. It was mid-December 2018 and we had a good start to the snow season. The ride up to the Horseshoe Bowl across Knife Ridge on Wolf Creek’s backside is steep — I’d hate to walk it. The driver dropped us off at the turn-around site at the top of the Bowl. Dominick, my son, and I stepped into our bindings as the other three skiers walked on up the ridge to ski the trees.

    “Dad, you ski down by that big boulder and get a video when I come off over the top of you.”

    “I’ll break trail, no one’s been here this year. Looks like some nice powder.” I pointed them downhill and made two turns before the mountain under my skis began to slide.

    There was 12 inches of new snow on top of 2 feet of the early sugar snow we received in October. This steep slope made for perfect powder turns and avalanche conditions.

    I rode it for a couple seconds, then it tackled me and pulled me down into the sliding snow. It was kinda fun at first, riding a moving slab, but when it pulled me under — not so much. Should I form an air pocket? How long would I be under? Five seconds seemed like an eternity. Would this be the end of my life?

    The snow yanked off my skis and poles. Then the moving monster spit me out and the upper half of my body was on top of the snow. After a couple more body rolls, I freed my legs and rolled out of the monster’s grip. The avalanche stopped.

    Dominick watched the whole thing from on top of the ridge. He immediately boarded down to me, “Dad, that was the scariest time in my life. I thought you were a gonner.”

    I readjusted my helmet, “I’m still alive, thank God.”

    “Are you OK?”

    “My ankle is sore from my ski getting ripped off; other than that, I’m OK. Let’s find my skis.” I found my poles and one ski pretty quickly. We dug and dug for the other. “It’s gotta be down below us.” I trudged down the slope through deep snow up to my waist. Dominick boarded down below me.

    A few minutes later, one of the other skiers, George Bodde, who was above us, showed up and asked if he could help. “I saw the whole thing from up on the ridge — you’re a lucky man.”

    “I know, God was watching over me today.”

    “Not me,” said Dominick. “I ‘bout had a heart attack.”

    We dug for another 10 minutes. Two ski patrollers and an avalanche dog showed up.

    “Everything OK here? We see there was an avalanche.”

    “My dad was in it.”

    They took some information from me and helped look for the missing ski. A few minutes later, Bodde, who was 10 yards down from Dominick, yelled, “Found it. It’s down here.” 

    We dug it out with Dominick’s snowboard and I carefully skied on down the mountain. Dominick followed to make sure I made it.

    My eyes teared up when the lift operator at the bottom asked us, “Did you hear about the avalanche over on the Horseshoe Bowl?” 

    “I was the one in it.”

    “Really!”

    “Yea, about 15 minutes ago.”

    “You’re the first one this year.”

    “I hope I’m the last.”