The very thing that the skiers and snowboarders had waited for — fresh, soft snow — instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab of snow nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.
Elyse Saugstad, a professional skier, traveled into Devil’s Fiddle back country terrain, located at Stevens Pass resort of the Washington Cascade Range. She was there with 15 friends seeking only one thing – fresh powder snow. She wore a backpack with an air bag, a relatively new and expensive part of the back country gear arsenal designed to increase a skiers chance of survival.
Elyse dropped in. She was skiing fast and smooth, until suddenly snow shattered and spilled down the slope. The slab of snow was a dangerous avalanche the size of a thousand cars. The snow weighed millions of pounds, moving at 70 miles per hour. It snapped the limbs of trees and shredded the bark from their trunks. About to be overtaken by the snow, Elyse pulled a cord near her chest. She was knocked down before she knew if the canister of compressed air inflated winged pillows behind her head. The avalanche caught up to her. She had no control of her body as she tumbled downhill. She did not know up from down. She was caught in the snow. At heights of 20 feet and weighing millions, the snow was unbearable. Elyse waited for 20 minutes. She was suffocating. Knowing she could be dead any minute now. Suddenly, she saw a light. It was the sun peeking out at her, as she was being pulled out by her friends.
She lived to tell her story. The average person can last only 8 minutes under that much pressure. Elyse lasted 20 minutes and 30 seconds. Steven’s Pass’s terrain is known for it’s great snow and dangerous lines. An avalanche is not forgiving. It will swallow it’s victims and will not spit them out. Elyse was fortunate enough to survive one of the most dangerous avalanche’s in the past 15 years.