Survivor story: Mike Bennett
Last February, Mike Bennett moved from Bellingham, Wash., back to the Rocky Mountains. When some friends asked him if he wanted to ski the Steep Gullies west of Arapahoe Basin, he didn’t know he would almost die.
For years before moving to the Northwest, Bennett snowboarded the chutes as a way to get away from the crowded ski resorts and he was glad to return after being out of the state.
They chose the fourth chute that day and little did Bennett realize what was in store. Wearing a beacon, Bennett dropped into the chute and made eight or nine turns when he tried to pull off to inspect the rest of the chute and give his friends a chance to follow.
As he turned to look up the hill, he couldn’t believe what he saw – a huge, wall of snow heading for him. He had set off the torrent of snow and began to tumble.
Bennett guesses he fell about 200 feet before coming to a stop. Then, another layer of the slide buried him even deeper under the snow.
Knowing his left arm was broken, he could feel air with his right hand and began trying to dig a small hole back to his mouth. That’s when he blacked out. He finally came to moments later when he realized his friends, Dan Pedrow and Jason Waite, were feverishly trying to dig him out.
Minutes later, he was standing on the surface of the debris field, shivering and in shock as the Arapahoe Basin ski patrol assessed his injuries. Despite the broken arm, Bennett strapped his board back on and rode the rest the way out of the backcountry.
“I guess I was a little overconfident,” Bennett said just after celebrating the one-year anniversary of living through the avalanche. “Maybe I forgot just how bad the Colorado snowpack can get.”
Bennett said he fought the slide and tried the various tricks he had heard about surviving in a slide. “I was tumbling over rocks and through trees and put my arms over my head,” he said. “I was trying to swim, but it didn’t work because with a snowboard on, it just dragged me down to the bottom.”
When he finally stopped, he knew he was in trouble. “I came to a stop but the snow didn’t. When it finally stopped it solidified around me like concrete.”
Bennett knows he was lucky. Despite having ridden the run by himself many times before, he knows he’ll never go back into it alone again.
“Definitely, never go by yourself,” he said. “Know how to use your beacon and don’t trust the conditions – ever. We had done a run in the Beavers earlier that day, but we shouldn’t have judged (the conditions) off of that.”
And Bennett suspects, one day, he’ll ride the chute again.