Austin Porzak was thrown off a 50-foot cliff by an avalanche in the East Vail Chutes, CO recently. The avalanche crown was 3-4 feet deep. Austin deployed his airbag and credits it with saving him. You can see him gasping for air and clearing his mouth in the end. Very scary.
I guided Austin on Denali in Alaska in 2008. I’m very glad to see he is ok after this gnarly incident.
East Vail Avalanche AP
by Austin Porzak
First of all in no way shape or form do I think being in a avalanche is cool or something to be proud of. It’s scary and something that should be avoided at all costs, but part of being in the backcountry is being open and honest with others so that they can learn and continue to enjoy the wilderness as well. I wanted to post this recent video of an avalanche I was in so that first, you could see just how much snow slid and how quickly it moved, but also to remind everyone out there of the possibility of avalanches, even in zones you have been skiing since you were a kid or where other skiers are present. We need to continue the conversation and remind each other to stay vigilant out there. I hope this video can help you stay aware out there.
I dropped in after making a few ski cuts and nothing moved. Eventually the slide was triggered. It broke everywhere around me and from about 100 feet above me. I heard my partner yelling, “slide, slide, slide”, and I immediately decided to go for the straight line off the 50+ footer I knew was below me. The slide was just too big and powerful and it bucked my right ski up. I was able to stop for a moment by grabbing on to a tree but as snow kept pouring by me, the tree eventually snapped. I had one chance to pull my avalanche airbag before going in. I pulled it and it inflated as I was going off the cliff.
You can hear me getting tossed off the 50+ footer and I had no clue where I was or which way was up or down. I was completely engulfed. I could feel motion and just kept thinking soon I would hit a tree and that would be it. I was gasping for air and swallowing snow. It was truly terrifying, and this is the reality of being in a slide. I fought hard to stay on top and keep my arms free but had no power. I could feel the snow trying to pull me under but my float pack kept me on top without question and this is a perfect example of why you should always use every tool at your disposal when skiing out of bounds.
At the end you can see the cliff I was tossed off of and where I ultimately stopped. The crown was 3 to 4 feet deep and ran for a ways. I hope we can all learn from this – I know I have. Please wear a avalanche float pack if you ride in the backcountry, ski with a capable partner and always carry a shovel, probe and beacon. I have taken avalanche and wilderness responder courses and can’t advocate for those enough. Knowledge and experience are tools too… The backcountry is a sacred place and I always go prepared. I never let my guard down but things happen to even the most seasoned veterans. We have to learn from others and never stop learning which is why I wanted to share this experience. I’m banged up but just happy that I’m alive and that this wasn’t a season ender. Thank you so much BCA for making products that keep us safe in the backcountry.