10 seconds in the tumbler: Aspen skier DeVore recalls avalanche experience
ASPEN – The swelling and the pain subsides with each passing day, but Nick DeVore admits his current circumstances are bordering on torture.The Aspen telemark skier, a former world champion renowned for his big-mountain exploits, primarily has been confined to his couch and bed for the past few weeks while his surgically repaired left femur continues to heal. To break up the monotony, DeVore has been reading books, taking short, crutch-aided strolls, crocheting hats and playing his didgeridoo.”I try to be patient. I’d say I’m patient in some regards but definitely not in others,” the 25-year-old joked Friday afternoon. “I’m just trying to enjoy it for what it is and take the time to slow down … but this is definitely testing me for sure. “The time has gone by pretty quickly. I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks.”The prolonged respite has given DeVore time to reflect on the events that unfolded April 28, when he and friends Jake Sakson, Ian McLendon and Chris Hendrickson hopped on a snowmobile and ventured into the backcountry.DeVore remembers that Thursday morning vividly, from the pristine, beckoning blue skies to the unusually brisk spring air. He remembers those 10 seconds that changed everything – when the steep mountainside in the M&M chutes, perched high above Ashcroft near Taylor Pass, gave way. Those 10 seconds when he lost all control. Had the rock not been there, and had he managed to stay on his feet, DeVore says the group likely would have laughed the incident off and continued skiing.If only.”I have the GoPro footage. It happened so fast,” DeVore said. “It’s amazing. It seemed like it took a long time. I remember having a lot of thoughts.”Because of the recent snowfall and the potential for avalanche danger, DeVore says the group sought out the M&M Chutes because the lines were relatively short – about 500 to 800 vertical feet – and the runouts well defined.After one run each, the foursome remarked that the snow seemed fairly stable. “It was thick and buttery, really nice,” DeVore said. “It gave us a little more confidence.”So much so that DeVore next opted to tackle a much more demanding line – a steep, narrow chute lined with rocks.He paused to study the line and visualize his turns. Then, DeVore dropped off a 5-foot cornice and entered the chute.He remembers landing slightly sideways. The snow beneath him fractured instantly, discharging a slab about 40 feet wide.”It started sliding so fast,” DeVore said. “I was confident I could go straight and out-ski it and run it out to the bottom. I tried that, but it was pretty heavy, wet snow. It was kind of like a mudslide, and it sucked my ankles into it. I couldn’t really turn.”DeVore had triggered avalanches before – he estimates about 10. He had never been caught in one until that moment, however.”When I drop into a ski line, and that’s why I love it so much, you turn to your instincts. You’re not thinking about your actions, you become really in the moment and just react,” he said. “When it fractured, I instantly went into survival mode. Basically, it was like getting thrown into a river and trying to deal with the flow of it as it was going.”The slide sent DeVore barreling into and bounding off of a large, protruding boulder, some 60 feet from the top of the chute. The force of the impact snapped his femur.From there, DeVore remembers tumbling, head over heels, down the fall line. At one point, the raging snow completely buried his head.”I was trying so hard and fighting for my life. … There were a few moments when I was getting worked by this thing that I thought, ‘Is this going to be it?'” DeVore said. “‘Is this how it’s going to end?'”As it hit the runout, the avalanche gradually dissipated. Soon, DeVore, now right-side up, came to a stop after traveling about 600 vertical feet.He furiously began clearing snow to create an air pocket around his face. Hendrickson, who watched the scene unfold from the seat of his snowmobile, which rested on a knoll a few hundred yards away, rushed to DeVore’s side and began digging his friend out.When his skis were removed and his boots unbuckled, the pain finally started setting in.”My left leg was dangling at this weird angle, and when I tried to move my legs together, I really started feeling this excruciating pain. I realized it was serious,” DeVore said. “I’ve shattered my elbow, broken my collarbone, had concussions. In December, I tumbled into some rocks [at Aspen Highlands] and broke my scapula and bruised my lungs and ribs. That was excruciating pain. … This was a whole new realm, which is hard to imagine now. I couldn’t help but scream from the top of my lungs. I was having these spasms. I would kind of be OK for a couple minutes, but then it would seize up and hurt so badly.”The slide occurred at approximately 11:45 a.m. DeVore would spend the next two-plus hours sprawled on the snow, eyes fixed toward the sun as he tried to control his breathing and his nerves.While Hendrickson took off on his sled to find cell service and call for help, Sakson, an EMT, fashioned a back brace out of skis and attempted to stabilize DeVore’s femur. “We discussed getting out of there,” DeVore said, “but really, I couldn’t move.”A Flight for Life crew, based out of Summit County, arrived at about 2 p.m. After giving DeVore some morphine, they hoisted him into a sled and transported him to the helicopter.He arrived at Aspen Valley Hospital at around 3 p.m. DeVore went under the knife later that night; doctors inserted a titanium rod to stabilize his splintered bone. Gruesome photos of his leg litter DeVore’s Facebook page and have a garnered a host of colorful responses.DeVore spent four days at AVH before heading home to begin the next phase of his recovery. If all goes well, he is hoping to be riding his bike by late June. He is not planning to ski again until the fall.”I really would not have done anything differently,” DeVore said of his accident. “It was the first blue day in weeks, and I’m passionate about skiing fresh powder. … It’s sort of hard to explain, but I’ve gotten to the level where, to ski the lines I want with the conditions I want to ski them, inevitably there will be avalanches.”He continued: “Someone went online and said I was being dumb and arrogant. I’m not saying it was smart. It’s dangerous and risky. If you’re more conservative, and something like this is not worth dying or getting hurt over, then it was dumb. For me, it’s my passion. It’s what I do. I know the risks, and I’m willing to accept that this will probably happen again.”This definitely does [change things]. I’m still trying to figure all that out and digest it. … Maybe this is a turning point. I’m not really sure yet. I’ll wait until I click back in to see what happens.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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