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'I was sure I was a goner': Skier recounts burial in inbounds avalanche

The U.K. skier was traversing to Whistler Blackcomb's Sapphire Bowl when he triggered a Size 2 slide
Ryan Crisp Whistler Blackcomb avalanche Sapphire Bowl - Crystal Trees
Ryan Crisp and other members of the Ski Club of Great Britain enjoying powder-filled tree runs in Blackcomb's Crystal zone on March 15, hours before Crisp would be fully buried in—and survive—a Size 2 slab avalanche near Sapphire Bowl.

Learning about last Tuesday’s death in a Size 1 avalanche on Whistler Mountain was undoubtedly an eerie experience for Ryan Crisp.

The skier—a frequent visitor to Whistler from the U.K.—recently survived his own brush with death after being fully buried in a Size 2 slab avalanche while traversing to Blackcomb Mountain’s Sapphire Bowl on March 15. It was one of four avalanche events that occurred within Whistler Blackcomb's boundaries between March 15 and April 6 of this year, a spokesperson for the resort confirmed. 

“I was sure I was a goner. Sure my life was cut short, that it was entirely out of my grasp, no longer in my own hands,” Crisp wrote in a lengthy Facebook post recounting the incident.

A representative for the Ski Club of Great Britain who has spent several seasons in Whistler and typically passes at least five weeks in the resort each winter, Crisp was leading a group, enjoying tree laps through 10 centimetres of new snow and stormy conditions that Tuesday when visibility in the alpine began improving. The group decided to cruise down Blackcomb Glacier that afternoon, with the objective of skiing into Sapphire Bowl to Zut Zut.

“Fortunately, whenever I ski this zone I always spread the group out. Not because I am directly concerned about avalanche risk, but more so as I like to promote good skiing tactics, this being one of them,” he wrote.

After stopping briefly, Crisp got moving along the traverse toward Sapphire again and immediately noticed snow sluff starting to fall around him.

'The difference maker and reason I am here: [avalanche] training and equipment'

“In the next second my life literally turned upside down as the entire slope released,” he said. “I didn’t hear a crack, but others did and said it was deep and haunting.”

The snow pushed his skis downhill, pointing toward a cliff band. “The best way I can describe it is it was like just as I thought I was going to escape, a snowy arm came out of moving snow and grabbed me by the scruff of the collar and pulled me into the chaos,” he described.

As he found himself in a “tumble drier” being pushed downward in a cloud of snow, “I was swimming upwards to the light, fighting with everything I had, screaming,” he wrote, “and as a result of the latter, now choking on rushing snow down my throat.”

Aware of the cliffs beneath him, Crisp braced for the weightless feeling he knew would accompany being carried over the edge. But it never came. “I came to a sudden stop, a quarter of a second relief that I hadn’t rode the cliff,” he said, “but then the gravity of the situation increased ten fold.”

Crisp realized he was fully buried as the heavy snow compacted around him, gradually snuffing out any light seeping in from above. Though his left arm was cemented, he could tell which direction was up and knew his right arm was stuck reaching for the sky. Barely able to move his fingers, Crisp mustered the strength to punch upwards, ultimately cracking the surface.

A friend spotted his hand and rushed over, quickly digging out his face, with another friend moving in to clear the snow that had filled Crisp’s airway.

He soon learned two other members of his group had been at least partially buried in the slide; one of whom managed to swim to the surface and self-extricate. Two others were caught in the avalanche, which Crisp said left behind a crown wall approximately 20 metres long, but not buried.

“The difference maker and reason I am here: training and equipment,” Crisp wrote. “Three members of my group all had their AST 2 (Avalanche Skills Training Level 2), and two had all of their gear with them.”

All Crisp lost in the incident was a pole. Though another member of his group lost a ski, patrol attended with a spare and the group was able to ride out via Zut Zut after all. Crisp told Pique he was skiing with a transceiver, probe, shovel and airbag at the time of the incident. He didn’t have time to activate the airbag.

“The concept of an inbounds patrolled area is one of the reasons I love skiing out here,” he wrote in the post. “We get to regularly ski terrain that would only ever be considered in Europe with full pro mountain guides. Not saying that’s right or wrong, also not saying that that makes us/me not take the hills seriously. I do, and always have worn safety equipment.”

The following day, Crisp said he learned a Size 1.5 avalanche had released on nearby Surf’s Up earlier on March 15 that carried two people, but resulted in no burials.