Last April, pro skier KC Deane joined photographer Mason Mashon and friend Kye Peterson for a photo session near the Pemberton Icecap in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains. But after testing stability on similar terrain, KC dropped into a line and took a wild ride. Here’s KC’s story in his own words.
It hadn’t snowed in a while before that day. But eventually we got some snow, and we went out filming. We knew it was a bit unstable because we had had a previous run in with some slides, and all the crews that were out there in Rutherford had dealt with those in the days before. We knew that things were moving and that we had to be careful.
We picked a north/northeast-facing aspect that we thought had some good lines on it. It’s all glacial, big-open terrain. No trees. To start it off, we went up and picked lines that didn’t have any exposure, and we eased into those. Kye skied his first line—it was super mellow—and then I went farther down the ridge, skier’s right of his line, and just worked my way down to get some good ski cuts in. The snow felt really solid. I dropped in, skied my line, and nothing moved.
The lines that Kye and I both skied next were hanging snowfields over some exposure separated by this little cliff. Kye was a little nervous about his line because if it slid, he would get ripped over quite a few rocks. As we found our way to the edge, there was a cornice and an opening for us to get in, so I stood near the opening, spotting Kye while he cut the cornice. He dropped a piece of cornice down onto the snowfield, and nothing moved. Kye went to make a ski cut and was hammering on it pretty hard but couldn’t get it to move. He dropped in, skied his line, and everything was fine.
Five minutes later, I worked around the cornice to my line. It was pretty much the same aspect, and I was feeling pretty confident. We had done two test runs. I ski cut into my first line, we had dropped the cornice, and Kye made his ski cut. So I dropped in 50 or 60 feet over from where Kye had.
First turn in, the whole thing ripped on me. I knew that there was at least an 80-foot cliff directly below where I dropped in, so I had to make it over to the left and get into another chute or else I’d air off into a lot of exposure. I was white roomed—I saw that everything had spidered underneath me, and it ripped my feet out. The snow was moving so fast. I got going so quickly that I couldn’t dig in, so I just picked up and tried to get off to the left. Then I aired a 15-foot cliff into the slide because I couldn’t quite get into the chute. I just pointed it and tried to stomp, but I couldn’t see anything.
I went over the bars and started tomahawking, going for maybe three or four rolls and lost a ski. When I landed, it was just white. I remember feeling the weight of the snow and knew I was going to have to use my airbag. I’ve been caught in a slide and buried before, but in my mind, when I pointed it off that drop and aired into all my sluff, I thought, “This is definitely not good. I don’t know if I’m going to make it out of this in one piece.”
I popped my airbag after that. I waited until I felt the weight of the snow to pull it because I could tell the difference between getting caught in all the sluff, where it’s full white and you can’t see, to the minute you feel the weight of the snow and get pushed down. I don’t know how far I was taken, but my bag brought me pretty much right to the surface where I could get myself out.
For whatever reason, I wasn’t scared like “Oh man, what if I die?” I just became strangely focused. Luckily, we knew from the previous days that the snowpack wasn’t stepping down [to a deeper layer]. If that slide had been the size of the face that I was on, if it had spread out and stepped down, that would have been it for sure.
Looking back, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I feel we did everything we could have. I think it’s just a good reminder of how safe you need to be. Sometimes, no matter how safe you are, things can still go wrong.
Did KC make the right call? Would you have done anything differently? Check out POV video from the avalanche below and share your comments here.
This story first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Backcountry Magazine.