by jim moran
Did you ever have a near-death experience? I've had a few, but this one really stands out in my mind.
It was the day of the 1993 World Championship final's in Altenmarkt, Austria. I wasn't in it anymore. 69th was cool enough for me.
I had spent the morning skiing with my great Canadian friend, Lane Berritt. We had taken the best three runs off- piste in an area that was hard to get to. The powder was sick, untracked, and over the head on every turn.
We had just had another great run and went back to the course to check out the competition. I saw two of my friends and teammates, Sean Smith and Craig Rodman. Craig did compete seriously with us that year, but he was nursing his knee injury. He had only one year to recover due to his injury clause. I said "you guys have to take this run with me. It's sick!" They agreed and we went up to the run that I had taken with Lane all morning.
We had entered for the last time by jumping off of this ten-foot cliff-followed by a 1500-foot powder field. I went first because these guys wanted to watch my line. I hucked the cliff, and flew about five feet further than the run before. I landed perfectly, and started making deep, beautiful turns. I made two turns then the weirdest thing happened. I stopped dead in my tracks.
How weird, I thought. I was just skiing and now I am totally still. This had never happened to me before. Then I realized that the snow under me was still, but the mountain to my left was moving. Wait a minute. Mountains don't move, I thought. Holy shit! I was in an avalanche.
From my first landing spot to my second one, there had been a fracture two and a half feet deep and about 15 feet wide on each side. Holy shit, I was sitting on about half a million pounds of snow that did not care what was in its way or on top of it. It was traveling with gravity and nothing was going to stop this thing.
I immediately realized that there was an island of trees to my right, and that the fall-line fell to the right. I tried to move to my left, but it was hard. The snow was just breaking apart under my feet. The avalanche was getting bigger, and the branches that I thought were too high to hit me were now about chest level. I put my foot out to deflect myself off of a tree. I had about 1300 feet to go.
The snow was starting to fly around me on either side, so I put my arms out to try to get some speed. My plan was to try getting in front of it, then cutting to the left so that it would fall to my right. I was starting to get a bit of speed on my skis, and I thought I was about to make it. Then it got worse. The snow got too big, and came right up over my head in a giant wave. It pulled my feet right out from under me. I starting doing front flips and got totally stuck in the vortex.
Have you ever heard that some people have life flashes? It's true. I gave up and started having my own life flashes. My first was my Grandma, then my Mom and Dad, then my brother and sister, then all of my best friends.
Everyone says that they see a light at the end of the tunnel. It was time for the light, but I smacked a small tree that was in the field and it woke me up. I thought to myself, "if I don't do something, I am definitely going to die."
The snow was going down in front of me and coming up behind me. I thought if I arched my back when I was upside down, it might push me up. I tried it. It worked, and the avalanche spit me out. I was traveling very, very fast, but I stuck the landing and remembered to cut to my left. The avalanche stopped about 300 feet down from me. I just could not believe what had happened.
I yelled up to Sean and Craig who were now about 1200 feet above me. I heard them talking about where they last saw me. I yelled to them. Silence for a moment, and then "you f**king asshole!" I hear them yell back. They were smart and took their time to get down to me. We all went 300 feet down, and checked it out. It wasn't snow anymore. It turned into solid ice. If I did not get out, you probably wouldn't have even been able to dig for me or read this story. I would have been dead!