The Avalanche – Part 3

(The Avalanche – Part 2  Read part 1 and part 2 first!)

It was snowing heavily now and had been for the last hour. My face was numb and my fingers felt like they would snap off like icicles hanging from a roof. It was absolutely freezing. My mysterious friend was still with me and also seemed to be suffering a little from the cold. He was struggling with his ski mask and gloves as he tried to keep warm and maintain some visibility from his protective snow shield.

We finally got to the bottom and stopped at the chair lift gates for a moment. he took off his mask and cleaned the condensation, then put it back on. It was reflective so I couldn’t see his eyes, though I knew he was smiling behind his skeleton design face mask.

“Woohooo!” He exclaimed. “Powder for ever! Are you ready to go again?” This guy was insane.

“Don’t you think we should stop? It’s snowing pretty bad and there’s a lot of snow on the slope.” I shouted.

“No man, let’s rip it up. When do you get a blizzard like this? The conditions are perfect.” He barked back at me. “Come on! I’ll buy you a bombardino in the bar.”

Ok, so with an offer of a heart-warming cocktail I was off. We got onto the lift and went up. The snow lashing into our faces and the wind was howling past the metal structure. We could see very little as we slowly made our way to the top. We were about to get to the station when I heard the noise. A slow rumbling at first, then what seemed like an enormous clap of thunder. We looked at each other and at the same time said, “What the hell was that?”

The chairlift suddenly came to a halt. We were hanging over the safety net just before the terminal point where you get off. Typical. Someone had fallen off again. It was usually some kid or a newbie.  However, after what seemed like forever, the engineer came out and told us that there had been an avalanche. It had knocked out the power lines with the force. We had to take off our boards, throw them on the net and jump down. It was a mere 2 metres at most so we did it without thinking.

I asked if there was anyone else on the chairlift to which he replied, “No, you guys are the only ones who rode up. However there were some people on the slope when the avalanche  struck. Come with me! I need your help. Hurry!” He cried above the howling wind.

We got our gear back on and very quickly shot off after him. Obviously he was quicker than us on skis but we managed to keep up.

When we got to the area where the avalanche had hit we could see just how big it was. It was probably the length of a football pitch. The force of it had taken trees, pylons and other debris with it. We stood there in amazement and silence for a moment until we suddenly became aware of the shouts and cries from the slope. The fog cleared a little and we could see dogs, rescue teams, and skiers all in a line walking up the avalanche snow.

We quickly ran to the area and offered help. One of the rescuers asked us if we had experience, to which I quickly explained the snow safety course I had done. Although snowboarders are often considered reckless and carefree, the majority of them fully understand the risks of the sport and will have done some sort of avalanche safety course. In addition, a good snowboarder will always be prepared. I got out my ARVA, switching it to search,  my avalanche probe and spade and started searching.

The ARVA was beeping in unison with the others around me, until suddenly I heard one change rhythm. “Stop!” Someone cried. Very quickly the dog rescue team were on it and the dog was digging rapidly. A few minutes passed and suddenly the dog uncovered an arm. The dog was still digging rapidly when the arm started moving slowly. The silence was eery as everyone looked on anxiously, hoping.

It seemed like an eternity, but all of a sudden the dog managed to reveal the victim’s face. Licking it rapidly to get the person to come round. It was a young woman, who immediately burst into tears at the sight of all the people around her. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” She cried. “We’ll have you out in no time now.” A rescue worker reassured her, covering her with a thermal blanket as they got closer to uncovering her legs. ” For her she was lucky to be alive. Sadly, I was to learn that this was not the case for everybody there that day.

I later learnt that 15 people had been buried under the snow, of which 9 were recovered alive. The rescue workers had worked through the night to search for victims, only stopping when they had covered every single area of the avalanche at least four times. It was hopeless they said. The other bodies must have been buried deep under the snow. They all looked absolutely exhausted as they sat in the bar waiting for the rescue vehicles to come up the mountain from the road behind and take us all down.

As we slowly dispersed from the car park I turned round and looked up at the mountain. The weather had cleared a little and the heavy clouds had lifted a little. I could see the avalanche now and as I did I broke down in tears sobbing vehemently. My friend saw me and came over. He hugged me and said, “Today we were lucky. I wasn’t going to go up that route we took. I was going to take the one where the avalanche hit. If we hadn’t met, maybe I wouldn’t be here today. Thank you.”

It hit me just how incredible life can be sometimes and how things turn out. I felt so sad for those who had lost their lives that day. However, this is the risk we take every time we go into the mountains. That maybe one day we will never come back. Although we know we have lived. Our lives are never in our control and we should never limit ourselves because of that.

This story is fictional and has no reference to any real-life event. Any reference to characters in this story is purely coincidental and unintentional. I practise free writing from inspiration I receive and all parts of this story were written spontaneously and without external reference to current events.

I would like to dedicate this story to all those who go out into the world, to save the lives of people in danger. For they are true heroes.

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Thanks for reading.

© Dominic Christopher Elliston and 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dominic Christopher Elliston and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.