“Its started to spin me and I felt it take me over the edge. It rolled me at least once. I could feel glass breaking on my arm, snow coming in.” –Daniel Kristensen
A man survived an avalanche in Gallatin County after he was struck while driving a snow groomer in the Montana backcountry. KBZTV reports Daniel Kristensen is well versed in avalanche danger as a 12 year veteran trail groomer and resident of the Gallatin Valley Snowmobile Association but was caught off guard when a slide was triggered while he was grooming for the East-West Ride around 8pm on Thursday. Here is his story:
“It’s like watching a movie but then you’re like I was in it. That just happened. We had groomed the upper section on Wednesday and that was just grooming the lower part from Storm Castle into Swan Creek so we’d have a nice, groomed trail for our ride. I don’t know if I saw something or I heard something or what but I had a sense that the mountain was sliding.
It started to spin the Cat. It kind of came in from the back so it started to spin me and I felt it taking me over the edge. When it hit me and started taking me over the edge, then I was like ‘I’m in trouble. It rolled me at least once. I could feel glass breaking on my arms. Snow was coming in on me. That was a pretty scary moment right there because I had told my wife the night before that I would be home about two in the morning.
In an avalanche, you have 15 minutes to get somebody out with good odds of survival. After six hours when she would have started worrying about me and somebody would have got up there, it would have been a body recovery.”
The first thing I thought about was my wife and son because…when I started going over, I don’t know if I’m ever going to see them again. I went into survival mode. From years of recreating in the backcountry during the winter, I knew that fire is your friend.
I was able to keep my hands warm on the exhaust pipe. I was digging in through the snow, trying to find gloves and first-aid kits and that kind of thing. That’s where I cut my hands.”
Luckily Kristensen had cell service and was able to call for rescue:
“That’s probably the only place on that section of trail that I would have cell phone service so I started sending texts out. I had a saw. I had a fire starter and I had some food, some candy bars and then it was just survival.”
Search and rescue crews reached him within hours. His only injuries where cuts to his hands:
“When I got home that night, I was like I am so unbelievably lucky to be alive. The avalanche guys measured (it) at 660 feet long and 150 feet wide with a three to four foot deep crown line. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have had some kind of an injury. Luck kept me alive but training, winter survival training kept me alive after the accident. There’s a lot of people that go out there in the winter time and they don’t understand the ramifications or they don’t understand the danger of where they are at or the avalanche danger. Educate yourself as much as possible.”
Here’s a breakdown of the slide from The Avalanche Guys:
Doug Chabot of the GNFAC investigates an avalanche that partially buried a groomer without injury to the driver. The slide broke on facets at the ground and was 2-3′ deep, 100′ wide, and ran 600′ slope distance. It put 8′ of debris on the roadcut. The slope was west facing at 7,500′ and averaged 38 degree steep in the starting zone.