Avalanches in the backcountry have been in the news for all the wrong reasons this year.
People have been dying in snow slides at alarming rates across the United States and Canada, and according to statistics kept by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, this winter season could end up being the deadliest in recorded history.
With that in mind, professional big-mountain skier Austin Porzak took to his YouTube account on Saturday to post a GoPro video of himself being swept up in an avalanche last week in the backcountry of Vail, Colorado, with the intent to warn others of the very real, omnipresent threat of snow slides in the backcountry.
“First of all in no way shape or form do I think being in an avalanche is cool or something to be proud of,” the Boulder, Colorado-based Porzak wrote in the video description. “It’s scary and something that should be avoided at all costs, but part of being in the backcountry is being open and honest with others so that they can learn and continue to enjoy the wilderness as well.
“I wanted to post this recent video of an avalanche I was in so that first, you could see just how much snow slid and how quickly it moved, but also to remind everyone out there of the possibility of avalanches, even in zones you have been skiing since you were a kid or where other skiers are present.”
Porzak was skiing with friends in the East Vail Chutes when the avalanche occurred.
The slide was so severe it sent him hurtling into a tree (which was snapped by the weight of the snow) before throwing him over a 50-foot cliff. Porzak was properly equipped with an avalanche probe and beacon, as well as an inflatable airbag, and says that while he was lucky, that equipment likely saved his life.
“I was able to stop for a moment by grabbing onto a tree but as snow kept pouring by me, the tree eventually snapped,” Porzak wrote. “I had one chance to pull my avalanche airbag before going in. I pulled it and it inflated as I was going off the cliff … I could feel the snow trying to pull me under but my float pack kept me on top without question and this is a perfect example of why you should always use every tool at your disposal when skiing out of bounds.”
Rescue officials in the area reiterated to CBS Denver just how severe the slide was and how fortunate Porzak was to walk away in one piece.
“It was a near miss in East Vail, below tree line, steep terrain, soft slab, loose snow, avalanche,” David Dellamora of the Summit County Rescue Group told the news station. “That gentleman is very fortunate that he didn't have problems related to trauma in terms of taking a ride in that fall.”
Porzak, who made headlines last year by becoming the first person to ever ski down the steep First Flatiron summit near Boulder, echoed that point and said he was happy just to be alive and recovering.
“We need to continue the conversation and remind each other to stay vigilant out there. I hope this video can help you stay aware,” Porzak wrote. “I’m banged up but just happy that I’m alive and that this wasn’t a season ender.”
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