For many people, being buried alive is their worst nightmare. For Jay Mort, it was his reality.
On January 30th, Mort and two friends were skiing down the Swiss Alps when they decided to go "off-piste," or off trail. It was one of the first mistakes Mort admits making in his blog about the incident, but probably not the most dangerous.
As Mort and many online commenters with ski experience have noted, the most dangerous part about he and his friends' decision to ski off trail in a high-risk avalanche setting was that they didn't all have transceivers, which can help locate buried skiers. That become even more important when Mort was buried above his head by an avalanche just minutes later, with nothing but his upward-facing ski pole as an indicator for where he was.
Here is an excerpt from his blog:
As the snow piled higher and higher, It became darker and darker until I was surrounded by an eerie black silence, broken only by the sound of my slow breathing and racing heartbeat.Seemingly by pure luck, Mort was located quickly by his two friends and after some frantic shoveling had his head freed of snow so he could breathe. Then, after Swiss ski patrol arrived and an hour of five people digging, he was completely dug out.
"Okay" I thought to myself;
I had a shovel and probe in my backpack and I was wearing a transceiver, however, the others were only carrying a shovel and probe. I was convinced that they would not find me in time. Unable to move I focused on slowing my breathing, relaxing and conserving oxygen. I felt bizarrely emotionless and wondered for a moment what death would be like. Then I remembered that I was reaching upwards with my left arm, ski pole still attached. I tried to wiggle my hand and I felt a 'pop' as the top 5cm of the pole broke the surface of the snow. Suddenly emotion flooded through me as I realised that Andrew, Dan and Leonard would be able to locate me under the snow if they saw the tip of the pole. However I still forced myself to remain calm as I sat in wait.
As people on Reddit, avalanche forums and YouTube have noted, the crew made a few additional mistakes:
- You should never remove your gloves in these conditions, as they are the only thing between you and frostbite.
- Mort was the only one with a transceiver, which is useless if his skiing companions didn't have them, too.
- Skiing off the prepared piste is always dangerous.
- Skiing in an avalanche danger as high as 4 or 5 is always dangerous.
- They all descended the mountain at the same time, which puts them in danger of being buried together.
- Descending into a gully is considered a "terrain trap" where the mounting avalanche snow can build up much quicker.
You can read more about how to stay safe on the slopes here.