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Echo Peak Avalanche & Rescue Video | Response From The Burial Victim

On Monday, we posted the above video (Another Skier Buried In An Avalanche In Tahoe | Video of Avalanche & Rescue) with a description of the avalanche provided by sierraavalanchecenter.org. The video, documenting the avalanche and response, has stirred a lot of controversy. So far the post has been viewed over 20,000 times, been shared on Facebook over 800 times and has been commented on over 140 times.

Last night, the post received a comment from the burial victim. Here is his account of the events that unfolded.

Posted yesterday by, emmett 

Glad they posted the video here is an explanation from the burial victim

I know that our party, the party involved in the December 29th incident on Echo Peak, made numerous mistakes. I chose to make the helmet cam video available to Sierra Avalanche Center so that others could learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. As the leader of the party, I take full credit for all of the mistakes and want to document what I’ve learned from them.

The first mistake was taking an inexperienced, ill-equipped group into the backcountry. Every member of the party should have been carrying a beacon, probe, and shovel. Additionally every member of the party should have been trained in avalanche safety. We only had two complete kits among our party of five, carried by the female skier in the video and by me, the skier who was caught in the slide. The other three members of the party were complete novices in the backcountry, able to ski black diamonds at a resort, but with no experience out of bounds. As the party leader, I should never have taken the group up Echo Peak, but I let the party’s excitement about the day sway my decision. I made a bad decision.

The second mistake I made was allowing the excitement in the group to override sound decision making. Two of the inexperienced members of the party had never summited Echo. Safety and snow pack conditions dictated turning the group around at tree line and descending the ridge crest. However, I let emotion make the decision and allowed the party to continue above tree line to the summit. This decision required descending the slope directly above the ridge terminus. A slope that I knew was prone to sliding under the right circumstances, and having kept abreast of conditions, I knew conditions were conducive to an an avalanche. Again, I made a bad decision.

We skied one at a time from the crest to a safe zone in the trees at the start of the ridge proper, but I made my third mistake by choosing to ski a line slightly skier’s left of the safest line to the meeting point in the trees. The female skier in the group asked that I not ski that line, but I let my emotions once again get the better of me. The several turns in untracked snow on a 45 degree slope were just too tempting. My intentions were to ski to skier’s left of the large rocks where the slide released from, then veer hard to skier’s right and meet the party on the ridge. I knew that the slope was convex. I knew that there was a rock band below my intended route. My thoughts were, “I’ve skied this line before. It’s only a few turns.” I made a very bad decision. Fortunately I have been able to kick myself repeatedly for it.

Once the slope let go, I was helpless. Everything I’d ever heard, read, or talked about went through my mind. Stay on top. Get your feet downhill. Backstroke. Remember to create an air pocket when the slide slows. Punch a hand towards the sky. The truth is that I was at the mercy of the snow. I went over the rock step head first on my back. Fortunately, I didn’t crater on impact and end up buried by the rest of the snow as it came over the edge. Instead, I was rag dolled out of my crater and ended up somehow close to the surface. I was able to punch one fist upward as the slide slowed, but otherwise was completely unable to move. Everything was black and the urge to panic was overwhelming. After repeatedly telling myself to calm down, I was able to clear an airway with my free hand. Then all I could do was wait. I was very lucky.

Much has been made on various forums about the way that the skier with the helmet cam handled the rescue. He has been flamed for taking his gloves off, for telling the female skier with the beacon to take her time in transitioning the gear to him, for not putting the handle in the shovel, ad infinitum. The truth is, I am proud of the way he, a novice at avalanche rescue, handled the situation. He knew that the female skier was panicking and had to keep her calm. He knew that the whole party shouldn’t descend to the burial site. He left two people on the ridge to watch the hangfire. Then he descended to the burial site with a partner, one at a time, in a controlled manner. In debriefing after the incident, we discussed what he could have done differently. It goes without saying that he should have left his gloves on. Other than that, there are two possible scenarios. First scenario:Once the skier in the black jacket had located my glove above the debris, the one unburied probe and beacon should have been left on the ridge. That way a beacon/probe search could have been initiated in the case of a secondary avalanche burying the rescue party. Second scenario: My glove was located above the debris, but what if my hand wasn’t in it? Seen from 100 meters away, it was impossible to tell. If the beacon and probe were left on the ridge, that would have led to additional delays in getting the rescue gear to the burial and would have put one more skier in the path of a secondary release. As for the unassembled shovel, I have to take credit for that mistake. I should have made sure that the entire party knew where the rescue gear was located and how to assemble it before ever leaving the trailhead. Finally, my rescuer didn’t relinquish shoveling duties to his partner once his hands started to freeze. He could have either taken the time to get gloves on his wet hands, or asked the skier in the black jacket to continue digging while he warmed his hands.

I’m sure that there are many more lessons to learn from this incident. That is the reason that I chose to let Sierra Avalanche Center make the video public. My hope was that I would receive constructive criticism and maybe force other people to review their decisions and the process by which they make those decisions. I knew that we would be flamed for our mistakes, but I’ll take the flames if my mistakes will help keep others safe. My hope also is that all of the flaming does not discourage others from making public their mistakes, so that we, the backcountry community, can learn from each other. We all make mistakes, some of us more than others, I am sure, but we all make mistakes. I’ve watched countless avalanche videos and thought, “What an idiot!” “Why’d the dude do that?” or “That guy is completely clueless.” Guess this time I’m the idiot and the clueless one. Hopefully, because I chose to share this video, you won’t be the clueless one if or when things go wrong.”

 

42 comments
  • telern

    Emmet,

    With hindsight being 20/20, I appreciate your insight into this situation. And yes, I did share your video with a Level 1 group I took a class with last February. I want to thank you for releasing the video to the people at the Sierra Avy Ctr, because I have learned from this incident. And thankfully you have learned as well. Which is not the case in most incidences.

    Thank you again.

    Chris

    • emmett

      I was not the burial victim I just saw that posted on the sierra avalanche center website and thought people should read it.

  • David Saputo

    First of all, you are lucky to be alive. Second, that was about as irresponsible as you can get heading into the backcountry and putting everyone’s lives at stake. Emotions are not an excuse. The footage showed a complete debacle as far as the rescue went. I seriously don’t know what any of you were thinking being out there that unprepared. That being said, I am glad to see that you and your crew are all ok and I commend you for posting what not to do….

  • Lawrence Smith

    I comment when the video first came out. Glad the group learnt from the mistakes and glad no one was hurt.

  • TR

    You are obviously very lucky to be alive. As a pro patroller I’ve unfortunately seen what can happen to those not so lucky and have lost a few dear friends to avalanches. You were luckiest that it was you, someone with experience who and a beacon who was buried. Imagine if it was one if the uneducated, non-beacon wearing members of your party and they’d died.

    But I won’t pile on with more criticism. Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m willing to bet everyone dishing out abuse has made a bad decision based on stoke at some point or another, me included. Thank you for honestly sharing what happened, admitting the mistakes you made and helping others learn. That takes balls.

    • geriatic Skier Gurl

      Phew. thought I was going to be stuck w that one 4ever.

      I actually have dreams about that gloved hand waving back and forth above the surface of the snow. I think that upon reaching it, if it turned out there WASN’T a hand in it, making it wave, that would just totally freak me out ! Remember that the camera point-of-view showed the rescue person tracking the fallen skier caught in the slide and he was pointing one of his pole tips at his pathway down the slope as he went by, so he knew roughly where to look for anything… and there was the glove. That was a very, very handy piece of simple navigation done by instinct, but drawing lines from point to point from boat to shore, is also used by sailors to find their location.

  • zarmot

    Emmett, thanks for posting your comments, and for your willingness to openly share and discuss the mistakes that were made. Powder fever clouds most people’s judgment from time to time — most of the time we get away with it and we never even realize that we dodged a bullet. Incidents like this are hugely helpful to dissect and learn from. Glad you weren’t injured and that you’re still with us!

  • Jamie

    First mistake was going out in the first place, some times just go to the ski area. But no, every suburban yuppie wants to be so cool and ski the backcountry, the mountains are wasteland of mediocrity!

    • Anonymous

      “Wasteland of mediocrity”

      Just stay out of the mountains then Jamie, we don’t need you there anyway!

  • Aaron T

    Firstly, thanks for sharing. It’s hard to front up to a mistake made and I hope that you can continue to enjoy the sport in a safe manner learning from these events.

    Second, I would like to offer a third alternative (as a discussion point) to the scenario (that should never happen) of the beacon being left on the ridge, or taken with. Could the rescuer not have descended the slide path quickly in a search mode towards the indication (glove)?

  • pj

    There are very few people i choose to travel in the backcountry with,period.Good for emmet for owning up,but what a mess.If i am leading a group i never ski first so as someone with experience is on the ridge if something does happen.Like i said ,travel with small groups and keep novices to one in a group.

  • PFS in the PNW

    Thanks for posting- good to hear a response from the party involved offering some insight into the group’s decision-making process. Undoubtedly you all have taken a lot of flack (much of it deservedly so). Nonetheless, it’s important to hear that these mistakes weren’t made by a group of complete novices- rather, at least one in the group had backcountry training, experience, and familiarity with the terrain. It puts things into perspective and serves as a reminder to the rest of us when faced with similar situations that experience and/or familiarity does not equal safety, and sound decision-making has to be divorced from emotion, no matter how good the snow.

  • Dave J.

    Emmett,
    Takes guts to admit your mistakes. We’ve all made them in the backcountry and, luckily, most of us haven’t had to suffer the consequences. I’m glad your episode ended with you alive and able to learn from your mistakes. I think your video has helped create awareness of the safety measures we all need to practice on a regular basis. Any of us could find ourselves in a rescue scenario and we always have to ask ourselves, “did I do all I could have done to prepare?”

  • Conrad

    Emmett, Thanks for sharing the video with SAC, and for posting these comments. I won’t repeat what everyone else has said, except: I appreciate very much, your sharing and posting this. It was awesome of you to expose yourself in this way, so that others may learn.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing, and thank you for following up. We are all human, and while the video by itself was shocking, the video plus your followup reminds us all that we need to check ourselves. I’m glad you are alright, and I’m glad people have learned from your shared experience.

  • mdskier

    Thanks for the commentary on the mistakes you guys made being ill prepared and untrained for backcountry avalanche survival.

    On the other hand last year 12 expert skiers ( many were top names in the ski industry). Skied from Crystal Mt into the Tunnel Creek backcountry last February. 3 were caught in an avalanche, 2 died, one a woman with an airbag survived uninjured.

    The NY Times had the most fascinating multimedia enabled in depth article on
    this accident: (Note: Only start this if you can set aside a lot of time)
    http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=tunnel-creek

    All but 1 had beacon/shovel/probe, were highly trained and several even did the avalanche training.
    It’s about group dynamics. Some of the group knew conditions were dangerous
    and the group was too large but were afraid to speak up or thought the pro’s knew what they were doing.

    Megan, the woman who survived, was a journalist and she also wrote her
    story on this Tunnel Creek avalanche: (a bit shorter)
    http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/snow-sports/Tunnel-Vision-November-2012.html?page=all

    Stuff can happen . Be Safe.

      • mdskier

        Stevensbrah is correct. My bad. (old age brain fart) I’ve skied Stevens,Crystal and hiked near base of Tunnel Creek.

  • StillCurious???

    Emmett, I personally fear emotion and poor decision-making more than an avalanche. You did an unselfish and honorable thing with a crap sandwich of your own making. And it’s never too late for someone to start acting responsibly. So props for that. However, it would be even more helpful for me if there was context regarding the day’s emotion. Can you elaborate about the group’s relationship and the circumstances of the day that led to the stoke? With all due respect for everyone’s privacy? For example, showing decent resort-skiing out-of-towners your playground, trying to impress the girl, lotsa talk about powder at the bar the night before, etc.???

  • Anonymous

    One mistake can and will continue to teach us many lessons. Thanks for posting…Glad everyone walked away to ski again.

  • edgesport

    A lot of people are flaming the guy who came to assist the first responder but no one seems to hear that guy say in the video “I am really stuck” and then say “I am completely stuck”… The assist guy likely took his ski(s) off to assist, post holed in the debris, and got his foot or feet wedged between some debris blocks.. what ever it was he couldn’t move and without his own shovel he couldn’t extract himself and so couldn’t assist.

  • powfiend

    The guy who was burried is seriously lucky to be alive. Im pretty confident that if there had not been a visual sight he would have died, there is no way someone who cannot even put a shovel together knows how to properly perform a beacon rescue. After reading his very thought out response it is clear that he had an idea of what he was doing and this makes him even more foolish for trusting his life with a bunch of kooks…. What is even more saddening is how many kooks there are in the BC here in tahoe. So many kids go out of bounds at alpine with no experience, gear or rescue plans. Blame it on the movies or whatever but people need to start taking these things seriously. I am a strong proponent of instituting the becon check at BC gates at the resorts and we also need to start more community focused avi courses that are available to those with shoestring budgets. This whole situation is disgusting and appalling, these idiots are lucky to be alive and hopefully this will be a wake up call to all the clueless backcountry skiers

  • Grant

    Emmet. It takes a real man to admit his mistakes. Thank you for allowing this video to go public. There is not a doubt it my mind that it will save lives and in the end that’s worth all the flaming and trolling anyone can throw your way…

  • kyle

    gota get the gloves cumfy to save someones life if my friends took that long to get there shit in gear n start looking for me n i seen this video after i would kick them all in the nuts worry about your gear after douche bags

  • Laurel

    Thank you for having the bravery to post this video! As a mountain person who is a dirt/rock landslide burial survivor, I can relate from personal experience that everything you know to do (as the victim) can be trashed in seconds if you are thrown into a position or circumstance that eliminates your ability to try and save your own life. These videos are very valuable as teaching aids – ESPECIALLY to examine the mistakes. While a few things were not handled as they should have, other things were. It would serve our community better if discussion was structured towards intelligent analysis instead of hardcore trashing that benefits absolutely nobody. This group knows what could have been done better, and they took the time and concern for others to share it, instead of hiding it all behind possible embarrassment. That earns a nod of respect.

  • Acme Backcountry Outfitters

    Thanks for posting the video. There’s no way of knowing how you’ll react in a situation and seeing a real situation will educate people and ensure they don’t make some of the same mistakes, and realize that heading into the backcountry requires some training and the proper gear. I piled on my criticism too, the video was posted without an explanation of why it was posted (just the basic SAC description of what occurred) so we all became the armchair quarterbacks. It was a great idea to post it and now countless of others can benefit from it so as we humans always do, lesson learned the hard way. My own confession, I bought a powder sled when they first came on the scene and was fairly clueless to the dangers involved with hill climbing, sidehilling, etc until I slowly started reading and learning more. We have much better access to this sort of information now and it will help to educate more people.

  • Darrell May

    Wow that’s a lot of courage to post a video of so many mistakes. Thankfully no one died and this video will be used by many instructors/individuals on how not to go into the slack or back country. Thanks for posting and have a safe season.

  • the other Grant

    Truth is, most of us are fortunate enough not to know how they would react in a situation such as the published video. It was all too easy for us to sit at the comfort of our computers, shake our heads and sip on a Sierra Nevada. My brother and I have a made a meager living off the Tahoe Back Co for the last 20 years. The first decade we were lucky and enjoyed a bunch of lines in conditions we will not touch today. In the second decade we are educated and prepared and have learned from the mistakes of others. Thanks for having the guts to post the video.
    One of the many things we have learned is that there are maybe two times a Tahoe Winter when you just don’t go out of bounds at all. That span of time from the Donner Ski Ranch avy to the Alpine Avy to Echo avy we stayed close to the ropes, we knew it was upside down and tried to spread the word. If the are avys in bounds at the resorts it is probably a bad sign for the back country. One other thing we have learned is that if you are going to take a chance, don’t make small turns, especially off the top in the starting zone as the skier in the video did.

  • Ski Both

    Attention riders: If you ski Alpines open boundary and are riding in munchkins area, I have seen numerous people out there by themselves on big powder days with no shovels, probes or beacons. If you are all so smart then ride with a buddy and be trained with the appropriate gear. Alpine does bomb the area, but as we all know that doesn’t necessarily stop avalanches. Please be careful.

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