Avalanche Rescue Needs a Revolutionary

I love adventure stories and I love profiles about interesting people doing interesting things. This tale is both. 

avalance resuce needs a revolutionary

By Devon O'Neil, for Outside Magazine

From the start, they knew to be careful: prolific early-season storms had left the snowpack layered and unpredictable. Though Weselake had snowboarded the same run the previous day without incident, he and his partners descended with caution. They stuck together on low-angle slopes, where they crossed tracks from the day before, then paused above a wide gully halfway down. When Bezubiak, who was 23 at the time, skied across the entry to test the snow stability, his weight triggered a two-foot-deep, twenty-foot-wide slab avalanche that raged downhill like water released from a dam. Suddenly on high alert, they moved into the trees, where slides are less common, and began making their way down the rest of the slope one at a time to limit their exposure.

Almost immediately, they felt a substantial collapse of snow beneath them. Kuzma, a 22-year-old professional freeskier from New Zealand, grabbed a fistful of branches. Bezubiak bear-hugged a tree. But Weselake disappeared as a torrent of snow swept him on his back headfirst down the slope.

Kuzma, who was left standing atop the two-foot-tall avalanche crown, leaped down to the bed surface, the layer left behind after a slide. She and Bezubiak switched their avalanche beacons to receive mode and began a frantic search of the debris field for Weselake. Kuzma’s device led her 1,150 feet to the bottom of the slide path, where the reading indicated that they were within a few feet of him. Bezubiak performed a more precise search to pinpoint Weselake’s location, then Kuzma drove her probe into the snow and hit him almost immediately. They whipped out their shovels for the hardest, most time-consuming phase of any rescue: digging. They knew Weselake was buried six feet deep and that his chances of survival were falling fast.