Vail skier caught in avalanche: ‘It freaked me out’
December 15, 2008
VAIL, Colo. ” Sunday started out as a typical powder day for Matt Jones.
The Eagle-Vail resident and his wife were in line at the gondola early, eager to ski the 12 inches of powder that Vail Mountain had reported that morning.
The snow was indeed “ridiculous,” Jones said, and they quickly made their way to Blue Sky Basin. On their second run there, they headed to the cornice below the Skyline Express Lift.
Jones watched two skiers drop in on the Lover’s Leap trail and, after they skied away, he took his turn.
“I jumped off, landed, made one quick turn to the left and slope broke,” Jones said.
Jones found himself being carried by a rare in-bounds avalanche on Vail Mountain. The avalanche was 100 to 150 feet wide and about 600 feet long. It was 3 feet deep, sliding to the ground.
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He tried to out-ski the slide, but quickly realized that wouldn’t be possible ” the snow was buckling underneath him, trying to pull him under.
“So I started swimming like crazy, trying to keep from being buried,” he said. “I was screaming. I was yelling, ‘Slide, slide, slide!'”
When the snow stopped, Jones was buried to just below his waist, and a friend quickly dug him out.
“It freaked me out,” Jones said.
Jones, who was unhurt, was able to ski down to the bottom and tell Vail Mountain workers what had happened.
While he was a bit shocked to have been caught in an in-bounds avalanche, Jones said it wasn’t a complete surprise to him.
“I wouldn’t say a total surprise, because it’s skiing,” Jones said. “Skiing can be dangerous. There are inherent risks.”
Vail Mountain uses explosives on Lover’s Leap to reduce avalanche risk. Patrollers had been throwing explosives in the area of the avalanche for the past several days.
Jones had nothing but good things to say about Vail Mountain and Vail Ski Patrol ” both in the way they try to reduce the risk of avalanches and their response to the incident.
“Those guys are to be commended for the (avalanche) mitigation they do to get mountain ready to ski, to keep it safe,” he said. “Vail Mountain did everything completely 100 percent correct.”
Jones acknowledged the in-bounds slide was a rare occurrence in which he happened to get caught.
“I would be way more likely to have a car accident on the way to the hill than to have anything like that slide again,” he said.
Still, he’s now going to wear avalanche gear ” such as a beacon, shovel and probe ” even when he’s skiing inbounds.
And he won’t stop skiing Lover’s Leap, either, he said.