Summit County Rescue Group, ski patrol rescue snowboarder lost in Arapahoe Basin backcountry
Man lost out of bounds for almost 5 hours
John Moser sat bundled in a blanket inside the Kid’s Center at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on Tuesday evening trying to warm himself up after almost five hours lost in the backcountry behind the resort.
He held on tightly to a hot water bottle in his hands — dyed black from the sweat-leeched material inside his gloves — intermittently reaching down into a pile of snacks as representatives from the Arapahoe Basin Ski Patrol and Summit County Rescue Group peppered him with questions.
For Moser, his face still red from cold winds and exhaustion, there was a sense of relief. Not only did he survive his brief brush with the Colorado wilderness, but he escaped unscathed, aside from some numb fingers and likely plenty of sore muscles in the coming days.
“I’m just kind of proud of our determination to get back,” said Moser. “We didn’t give up. Even if it took us four-and-a-half hours, we made it back.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Moser and his friends from Avon — Patrick Powers, Henry Badham and Isaiah Mitchell — were enjoying the storm and taking advantage of one of the season’s last snowboarding days. Moser and Powers decided to try something a little more challenging. The two hiked up to the top of the mountain near the Montezuma Bowl with hopes of dropping into some of the chutes on the south face of Lenawee Mountain. But things soon went awry.
“It got really whiteout, and we couldn’t see where we were going and accidentally dropped into the valley with no lifts or anything,” said Moser. “There were not ropes or anything to tell us not to go there.”
The two snowboarders accidentally went too far east and ended up out of bounds in the backcountry.
“The more we kept going down the more we realized we weren’t seeing anything,” said Powers. “So we stopped and we sat there thinking about what we could do. We decided to hike back up and try to get there before dark, because there’s no cell service or anything.”
Moser and Powers decided to make the hike back up to the top, using their snowboards to chop into the snow for leverage. Moser said that as they neared the upper lip, the snow gave way and dragged him about 50 yards down the mountain. Powers wasn’t caught in the slide.
“We checked out the avalanche,” said Devon Haire, a ski patroller at the resort. “It was long, but it wasn’t particularly deep or big, so it was survivable.”
Powers continued up the mountain, and was eventually able to make his way down to the lodge where he contacted ski patrol and called 911. At this point the other members of their group — Mitchell and Badham — were also making efforts to contact ski patrol after Powers and Moser never showed up to leave. As emergency teams mobilized, Moser was still trying to make his way up on the other side of the mountain.
“I waited for about an hour, maybe more, hoping somebody would come,” said Moser. “When I looked around and noticed the conditions were extremely windy and it was a whiteout, I knew there was no way a helicopter was coming in. So I found a less steep slope to climb back up. … I made sure to stay as warm as I could just to keep my body moving, using all the little tricks I’ve picked up from other snowboarders and survival shows.”
Moser eventually made his way to the top where Haire — along with a group of rescue workers that included Search and Rescue team leader Tyler McGuire, and ski patrollers Will Bruce and Paul Schmidt — spotted him on the ridge.
“Once we found the tracks leaving the slide, our team was able to follow those,” said Haire. “I was up on the ridge when John found us. He waved me down and we got him off the hill.”
Jim Koegel, mission coordinator for the Summit County Rescue Group, said that the Arapahoe Basin Ski Patrol was invaluable in the rescue efforts.
“This was really the ski patrol’s operation,” said Koegel “They came in off duty to help us, and this could not have done this well without them.”
After what was undoubtedly a long afternoon and evening, Moser and the rest left for Avon, happy that everyone made it out safely.
“Now they’re safe and everything is great,” said Badham. “That’s the important thing. Everybody is OK, and that’s all that matters.”
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