It was a Mt Hood cement powder day. After years of shredding at Mt Hood Meadows I just became used to this type of snow. A powder day was a powder day. My friend and I were stoked. At the time neither of us could drive, so we resorted to using the ol thumb and hitch trick. We got a ride to the resort, clicked into our skis, rode up Mt Hood Express and enjoyed a few runs.
It was only our third or fourth run of the day. I was traversing across Show Off under Mt Hood Express to access a fun tree zone that few people journey to, and with reason. You have to cross a snow covered stream in order to access the zone. I had skied this area many times before, but never experienced what I was about to.
I made it safely to the other side of the stream, unlike most times I stopped. Maybe this was instinct! Maybe not! I looked around and my friend Sean was no where to be seen. Out of the corner of my eye I saw two ski bases sticking out of the snow. The worst had happened. Sean fell head first into a five foot deep snow sinkhole and his mouth was inches from the stream. This meant he was trapped! His only hope was me.
I paused for a few moments in disbelief. Did this really just happen?
Luckily we were a short 50 yards from the chairlift and main run. Unluckily my screams for help meant that only maybe someone on the chair would hear me, inform ski patrol at the top and they would be at the scene 20 minutes later. Sean would have passed out by this time.
I had no choice but to go into rescue mode. I crawled over to where Sean had fallen with my skis under my body to decrease the chance of me falling into the creek (which was rushing under six feet of heavy snow). I started digging with my hands. A shovel would have been great, but I did not have that luxury.
Within five or ten minutes I had reached his thighs. The snow had literally packed in around him like cement. I could tell he was panicking. I continued to yell… “Sean I am going to save you. Calm down. Everything is going to be alright.” I do not know if my words calmed him down or his extreme lack of oxygen intake.
A few minutes later I reached one of his arms. He began beating the snow with his arm in the area that his airway was. I began digging a small hole directly toward his mouth. I reached his airway and he gasped for air. At this point the only part of his face that was exposed was his mouth. For the first time in ten minutes I felt a cloud of relief. I was not going to lose a friend in my arms that day.
The hole that I had dug was shaped like a funnel and that meant snow was going to cave in over his airway again. I informed him of what we were going to do next and that his mouth might get covered in snow. Sure enough it did, but we were making some serious progress in getting him back to safety.
I continued to dig more snow out from around his shoulders. A few more minutes passed before I had his airway cleared again. Another gasp! This time I had more than a little air hole for him. His whole face was exposed. For the first time since the episode happened I could see his goggles, which had been stuffed with snow. He could still not see anything. Again I reassured him I am definitely getting you out of here Sean. Just breathe for a moment!
It took a few more minutes to get enough snow dug out around his shoulders so I could bear hug him out of the hole. Had he been unconscious there is no way I would have successfully pulled him right side up and out of this five or six foot hole he got himself into.
It took a few more minutes of pulling and digging to get him out. This was truly one of the hardest parts of the whole process. Finally he was coming out from the cement that had formed around his body. And, pop! He was out of the hole! We both sat exhausted, panting for a few moments before reflecting on the experience that we had both just gone through.
Sean shared with me that there were multiple times in which he almost passed out during this process. I am grateful that was not the case. Had he passed out I do not think there would have been hope. I would have lost a lot of willpower in getting him out and it would have taken a lot more energy on my part to finally get him out of the hole.
He also said that during the entirety of his stay down under the snow he could hear the creek rushing inches from his head. This was the scariest feeling he said. I literally felt like any moment my head could become submerged in the stream and I would drown.
I told Sean how exhausted I was and how much energy it took to get him out. I was literally digging with my hands and skis for twenty minutes to break his body free from the concrete like snow that had formed around his body.
After fifteen minutes of gathering our thoughts and breath we both decided that today was not a day to continue skiing. It was time to go home, rest and be grateful for life.
That day I learned some pretty heart warming things about life that I have never really shared with anyone.
Saving Someone's Life Will Change Yours Forever: My life has not been the same since this experience. I have become a more caring individual and truly feel grateful to have been there to save my friends life.
Life is Fragile: No matter what we may have learned as kids watching TV shows. We not Superman and we are not invisible.
Things Do Change Without a Moments Notice: Expect the unexpected. It might just happen.
There is no feeling you will ever get that will compare to that of saving someones life.
I did not write this with the intention of making you scared to ski in deep powder or take risks. In fact I hope you continue to live your life to the fullest and enjoy every moment. Do what you love, take risks, ski fast in the trees, mountain bike down trails at 40mph. Love the life you live.
Summit as friends!
We awoke at four am to get a beautiful sunrise on Tumalo mountain. What we got was more than that. The mountains blessed us with fresh powder, spiritual awakenings and one of the most beautiful backdrops one could ask for.
For these reasons; Tumalo Mountain in Central Oregon has quickly become one of my go to spots for backcountry skiing. I can be on the summit within an hour and a half of leaving my front door and like today have an entire back bowl of fresh powder to enjoy with good friends.
If you have never experienced a sunrise in the mountains then I suggest you add it to your bucket list. Better yet get your butt out of bed this weekend and just do it.
"Sunrise is one of those magical times of day. To spend it in the mountains with your friends is priceless."
Summit as friends!
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