Skier describes surviving a Sierra avalanche

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TRUCKEE, Calif. (KOLO)-- An unidentified skier described surviving an avalanche Friday near Independence Lake north of Truckee, the same day a California man died in an Alpine Meadows avalanche.

The Sierra Avalanche Center made the description of the event available on Saturday morning.

” We made many mistakes yesterday,” the report from the unnamed skier said. “I know I am alive more from luck than anything else.”

The avalanche happened Friday about 11 a.m. on a steep slope on the north side of Independence Lake about 11.5 miles northwest of Truckee. There were three skiers, one of whom was trapped in the avalanche. The report did not explicitly state the reason they were there, but the description refers to drone video footage of the area.

It happened about 20 miles north of where an avalanche at Alpine Meadows had killed 34-year-old Cole Comstock of Blairsden, Calif., a half hour earlier. Another skier was injured in that avalanche.

The skier said the avalanche was about 100 feet wide and went from an elevation of 8,400 feet to 7,400 feet. The skier wore a BCA airbag, which inflates like an inflatable life vest.

“When I triggered the avalanche, I saw cracking everywhere,” the skier wrote in the avalanche report. “I tried to ski out at a fast 45 degrees to the left but was immediately buried. I pulled my BCA float bag. I lost one ski and both poles.”

The avalanche pulled the skier about 1,000 feet down the slope, with the skier going headfirst and on their back.

“My ski felt like it was pulling me down while my airbag felt like it was pulling me up,” the skier wrote. “I tried swimming to the surface and kept my mouth shut but I was still inhaling snow.”

The avalanche lasted about 30 seconds to 40 seconds. The skier used one arm to protect an airway and tried to reach the surface with the other, but didn’t quite break the surface of the snow.

The other skiers searched for the skier trapped in the avalanche, including looking for a beacon signal, but were not far enough down. The buried skier started flicking snow with one free glove and created an air pocket with the other hand.

“I kept digging and flicking snow with my free hand,” the skier wrote. “After about 5 minutes I was able to move my digging arm enough to create a tunnel to breathe through to the surface. After another 10 minutes of one arm digging I was able to reach my radio tell my friends I was fully buried but had an airway.”

The friends ran down the mountain to rescue the trapped skier.

“By the time they reached me, I had freed my other arm,” the skier wrote. “My only injuries were some bruising and a small cut.”

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