Snowboarder buried in size 3 avalanche in Australian backcountry

avalanche australia
The full avalanche debris. Photo credit: Alpine Access Australia

The team at Alpine Access Australia regularly run avalanche training courses and are experts in backcountry skiing in Australia. They have, today, posted a detailed report from a client who was in the backcountry with his partner this week and got caught in a size 3 avalanche and buried.

The man survived and was able to extricate himself from the debris as a result of a number of very lucky factors. Both he and his wife had all the safety gear required, including beacons that they both knew how to use.

He agreed for Alpine Access to share the story and they have given us permission to re-post the harrowing account below, as an educational report to alert backcountry skiers and boarders in Australia this season to take care and caution.

The avalanche occurred Tuesday this week around midday on the Main Range at Etheridge Ridge above Seamans Hut. This area is traditionally accessed from Thredbo and is the next ridge east of Kosciuszko.

Buried in an avalanche, a harrowing account

At around 12:30pm I was buried in at least a class 3 avalanche at etheridge ridge. I estimate class 3 as there was more than 1000 tonnes of snow in the slide, perhaps many times that. My wife and I had already ridden several lines on the face during the morning, performing a hand shear test first up with no signs of instability. 

After several runs she decided she’d had enough so I began snowshoeing back up the face for one last line. I had chosen a small rock lined ridge line to follow up that was quite firm and wind scoured and felt like a safe route. 

About halfway up there was all of a sudden a thunderous boom and the ENTIRE face top to bottom about 150m wide began to slide.

It happened in a split second. I tried to run. To who knows where, but was immediately pulled completely under into darkness and immense pressure.

I was tumbled several times with snow pushed hard against my face, but was surprisingly completely calm with the realisation that I was about to be buried and this is how it all ends.

avalanche crown
The crown of the slab avalanche debris the day after the slide. Photo credit: Alpine Access Australia

As the motion began to slow the weight of the snow began to bear down and there was an eerie silence and with one last tumble I saw the light and I came to rest completely buried in an upright standing position with just my head and 1 arm above the surface.

The sudden silence and stillness was deafening, even more suprisingly again I was completely calm and relaxed.

I was able to dig my other arm out and reach my pack that had broken it’s straps and was pushed up around my head.

Upon freeing my legs it was evident that I had a possible broken ankle but was able to pull myself up onto the debris field and slide on my back down and about 100m clear.

During all this my wife performed amazingly, she was already on the phone to 000 and had her transceiver out and in search mode making her way back up the slope. Unfortunately she had been about 300m away waiting down the bottom and had not seen me go under and had not seen my last position.

I can’t even imagine what she has gone through witnessing the whole thing and having to put into action what we had only just learnt days prior.

In the end, 000 had alerted Thredbo medical and they got a crew up on sleds to get us both out and back to safety.

Now at home assessing my equipment, one pole is missing the other snapped in half, my snowboard that was strapped to my pack has a destroyed binding and severe gouges in the base and top sheet.

There is no doubt the board on my back saved me from being crushed against rocks.

Currently sitting at home sipping a scotch with my ankle in a moon boot, season over. But ALIVE I’m happy for you to share this story as it’s important for people to know.

Want to know more about backcountry safety? Alpine Access Australia and Snowy Mountains Backcountry will be discussing the key learnings from this avalanche at a backcountry information night at Banjo Patterson Inn in Jindabyne on Monday August 19 at 6.30pm. 

READ MORE  Wake up Australia, avalanches happen

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Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.