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How to Self-Rescue While Snow Skiing in Deep Powder
Today I wanted to cover safety in deep snow, because every year skiers die needlessly because they can’t rescue themselves in deep snow.
I skied Mammoth Mountain Ski Area today after 10.5-15.5 meters of new snow fell. I skied today because it’s supposed to snow this afternoon and tomorrow. I skied about 6 distances this morning in mostly knee deep, pretty heavy snow. And when I thought my balance was perfect, I was 10? tall and bulletproof, I did something strange and fell into the bottomless dust between the trees. If I fell I got snow in my mouth and it always makes me feel short of breath/claustrophobic.
I fell gently with my skis to the left and my body to the right. I suddenly realized that it was going to be very difficult to get up and get out of this bottomless dust. So I took a moment to take a few deep breaths and tackle my situation. I was somewhere in the trees, and it was unlikely that anyone would find me.
I needed self-rescue. I knew from experience that I was in bottomless dust and my sticks weren’t much help. Some people tell you to make a “t” with your sticks and lean on them, but there’s no way that would have worked. The dust was too deep, and deep dust presents unique, potentially life-threatening challenges. So we have to prepare. Larger baskets on the bar are useful for pushing on powder days, but don’t provide enough resistance to get up from a fall. Since my body is heavier than the boots and skis, the more I struggle and move, the lower my body sinks, so my feet are above my head.
In this case, in about 2 minutes, I was able to slowly shift my bottom to be more above the skis by pulling my body weight onto the skis by pulling my legs below the knees. The last part was hard because I had nothing to stand up against, but I knew if I could make that last move to get my bottom on the back of my skis, I could stand up. So I pulled my leg up once more, knowing that would provide the resistance I needed.
I managed to get up, now about 5 minutes after I fell. I had both skis on and sank deep into the snow. I slowly pulled the right one up, breaking the surface of the snow to stand higher. Then I did the same with the left ski. Ok, finally I could glide back to the groomed part of the run and finish rescuing myself from the bottomless dust.
In another blog post, I detailed how to find skis in bottomless powder that can be challenging. Search the blog search box for “Lost Ski” or “Find Lost Ski” and it should come up. My method has always been able to find lost skis quickly, so you don’t have to worry about that anymore.
But I still want to deal with what happened to me as a kid on June Mt. It was a week with 8 feet of new snow at June Mt. I successfully skied the face, but fell and punched a huge hole in the flat section below. At first I panicked and struggled to get back on my feet. But the more I struggled, the more I sank into the dust, which made the hole deeper. It got to the point where I was 8 feet deep in this hole and I still couldn’t stand up.
I knew no one would ski the face that day. If a ski patrol skied past me, he wouldn’t hear my shouts or see me unless he saw the track leading to my hole. I didn’t expect this!
I was about 11 years old and had to be resourceful to save myself or I would be out there all night freezing. I decided to take a break. I took out the camera in my pocket and took a picture from the bottom of the 8 foot hole. I tried to push my bars to hit something solid and sunk them all the way up to my shoulders. I didn’t hit anything that could have supported me.
I thought about it some more and finally figured out that I could take off 1 ski and use it horizontally as a support. I was able to take off 1 ski and grab the side of the ski, digging in for traction, pulling myself to a standing position. Then I pulled my upper body up and stepped sideways up the side of the hole. I did this until I was down to my knees again.
I put the skis back on and was able to break the trail back to the chairlift. Please remember this technique if you get stuck in deep dust. The same self-rescue strategy can help you extricate yourself from a tree, which can be fatal if you don’t know what to do. More information on what to do if you get stuck in a tree can be found at: http://www.treewelldeepsnowsafety.com. There are some really good safety tips on this site that I haven’t covered here.
From experience, it is easier to learn these proven self-rescue techniques from someone else than to invent a rescue technique if you get stuck. People die from getting stuck in deep dust. I have provided 2 self-rescue techniques here. I also recommend that you always carry a whistle when skiing through trees. You may be able to call for help where they can’t see you. I also recommend that you bring a fully charged cell phone with the Mammoth Mountain Ski Patrol phone number programmed into it. That way, if you get hurt, you can call for help and tell them where you are. Under ICE, you must program the In Case of Emergency person to contact in the event of an injury or emergency. Emergency personnel know to look for it in your cell phone, so they should program the 911 number so they can find it if needed.
Other emergency stuff I carry because I’m skiing in the trees:
1) Small knife – Can cut a tree or fillet a fish or squirrel if needed.
2) I Told You About the Whistle – It can help ski patrol hear you as you make your final sweep of the mountain at closing time.
3) Lighter – If you have to spend the night, lighting a fire can save you from freezing.
4) The mobile phone is programmed as suggested above.
5) Cliff Bar – These have a lower freezing point so you don’t have to chew a rock solid snack bar.
6) Wool Balaclava – Really increases heat retention in the wind and if you get stuck overnight.
7) Ski Helmet – Wear a helmet every time you ski. You cannot predict when a dangerous situation will arise. 80% of fatal skiing injuries could have been prevented simply by wearing a helmet.
I make a photocopy of my driver’s license and medical card, so if I pass out, they know who I am from my driver’s license. And they know that I can call my “ICE” person in an Emergency because it is programmed into my cell phone, which I carry with me all day.
Being prepared and informed can save your life or prevent you from being stranded in the woods for hours or overnight. If you only ski groomed slopes, you only need about 1/2 of this stuff. But I like to hide in wood powder, so I always keep this packed in my ski jacket so I have it when I need it. Please teach your family, friends, and loved ones these deep snow self-rescue techniques so they know what to do in this potentially life-threatening situation. Be safe on the slopes!
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#SelfRescue #Snow #Skiing #Deep #Powder