Locals tell harrowing tales of avalanches | VailDaily.com

Locals tell harrowing tales of avalanches

Matt Zalaznick

Two locals, both experienced backcountry travelers dug out of the snow by the friends they were skiing with, are proof of the unpredictability of avalanches. Both men say they were skiing areas they were familiar with – even skiing in areas they’d skied earlier on the same day –when they were caught in a rampage of snow.

“The snow fractured just above me. It swept me through some trees, pinballed me around a bit, threw me around and then over a cliff and buried me under snow,” says Mark Weinreich, 36, of Edwards.

“I remember hearing the crack of the branches as I was going through the forest, hoping maybe one of them would stop me,” Weinreich says. “No such luck.”

Weinreich, a co-owner of Venture Sports in Avon, was caught Sunday in a slide in the Stone Creek drainage high above Eagle-Vail and just outside the Beaver Creek Mountain ski area boundary. He was buried for several minutes and dug out by his friend, Peter Lehman, who spotted only Weinreich’s ski tip sticking out of the snow.

“He saved my life,” Weinreich says. “What more can I say? I owe him huge and I can’t stress enough how vital it is not to ski alone.”

Weinreich says he and Lehman –a friend a co-worker – headed to Beaver Creek Mountain Sunday to avoid longer lines on Vail Mountain. He says they skied several runs in bounds before heading into the backcountry.

“We decided to take a couple of runs out of bounds, where we’d skied quite a bit in the past,” Weinreich says. “We felt pretty comfortable and we were certainly aware of dangers back there, but we didn’t think it was extreme.”

Lehman dug Weinreich out enough to expose his face so he could breath. Weinreich pent a short time in the clinic at Beaver Creek Sunday, but was released later that day, and even went to work Monday.

While he was buried, Weinreich says, he wasn’t sure he was going to be rescued.

“It was pretty scary – you’re 100 percent immobilized,” he says. “I was just breathing slow, thinking it was a hell of a way to go, then I just passed out.”

Brian Ross, a snowboard instructor who lives in Vail, tore a ligament in his knee early last year when a slide in the East Vail Chutes slammed him into a tree.

“It’s like being in a washing machine. As soon as it stops, it’s like cement – you can’t move,” Ross says. “I’ve swam Gore Rapids and this was scarier.”

Gore Rapids, west of Kremmling, are among the most treacherous in the state.

It was early 2002, and Ross says he’d snowboarded down to a spot that appeared safe, where he set up to film his friends who were riding down above him.

“I thought I’d picked good a spot. I thought I’d set myself in a place where I could get out if anything happened,” he says. “I didn’t pick the right spot.”

Ross says he tried to escape when his slide started, but the snow started and he was trapped, getting flipped head-over-heal and hurtled down hill.

“It rolled me a couple of times – full flips – and stopped me with my knees wrapped around a tree,” he says. “They only thing that wasn’t buried was my head.

“I ended up in OK position,” he adds. “But it could’ve been very, very bad.”

Weinreich says the lesson to be learned from his near tragedy is never to ski alone and to always bring avalanche rescue equipment such as beacons, probes and shovels when venturing into the backcountry. Backcountry travelers also should always keep track of the weather and the forecasts issued by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, he adds.

“Until you’re in it,” Weinreich says, “you have no idea how powerful a snow slide can be.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

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