Colorado Heli Skier Caught In Huge Slab Avalanche

A skier shared POV footage from a heli-skiing trip in the San Juan Mountains on March 1st, 2024.

He inadvertently captured the experience of being caught in a slab avalanche with this footage, showing exactly what happens when you find yourself sliding down as part of the top layer. See below.

Video by YouTube/EvPow PMH.

Backcountry skiing is any type of skiing that exists outside of a resort, or out-of-bounds. While the rewards are high, the risks are high, too, as these areas are not patrolled the same way resorts are.

Specifically, skiers are responsible for making their own decisions regarding snow safety and weather conditions.

In this case, we see a slab avalanche take the skier down the hill, literally rippling under him as the layers break apart and the top layer begins to slide. Slab avalanches, while made up of multiple layers of snowpack that can act as a cohesive unit, need several "ingredients" to come together.

Avalanche.org explains that the fundamental ingredients for a slab avalanche are a stratigraphic unit of relatively cohesive snow over a less cohesive weak layer.

For a slab avalanche to occur, the slab needs to be more cohesive than the weak layer and have sufficient tensile strength to help drive a fracture across the slope.

Slab avalanches account for the large majority of avalanche accidents because they release across the slope and around the victim, making them harder to escape than a point release avalanche.

Utah Avalanche Center released a video about Persistent Slab Avalanches. They explain that these slabs are considered an "unmanageable avalanche problem. The only tool we have is to avoid them, by using safe travel and terrain selection to our advantage." Watch below. 

As this skier showcased, once you are sliding as part of the avalanche, the best thing to do is whatever it takes to avoid getting buried. In this case, the skier had an avalanche airbag, which he deployed.

It may be worth noting that these can only do their job if the skier gets shaken around on the way down in the avalanche. I have hear the example of an avalanche acting like a bag of potato chips, with the smaller and broken chips at the bottom and the biggest chips at the top. In that case, the airbag acts like a "big chip", expanding the size of the skier, giving them the best chance at getting shaken to the top instead of getting buried at the bottom.

But if the skier does not get shaken around, they cannot be sifted to the top.

The skier reflected on the experience, writing that being caught in this slide was "a terrifying and humbling experience, and I’m truly grateful to have been able to walk away."

Related: 180+mph Winds Damage Chairlift Terminal At California Ski Resort

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