U.S. snowboarder survives being buried by avalanche near Whistler

VANCOUVER — An American professional snowboarder has survived being buried alive by an avalanche in the backcountry near Whistler, B.C.

Eighteen-year-old Brock Crouch was under the snow for five minutes before his friends uncovered him — blue-faced but conscious — in a harrowing rescue.

“It’s actually quite a bit of a miracle,” said Shin Campos, who was on the mountain with Crouch.

It was a beautiful day on April 22, a few days after a storm, said Campos. Between 10 to 30 centimetres of snow had fallen in the last few days, but it was sunny and temperatures had been warming up.

It was also Crouch’s second run down the same slope on the Pemberton Icecap that day for a film shoot by Nevada-based Absinthe Films. Campos was acting as mountain safety location co-ordinator for the shoot.

But Crouch and another snowboarder, Cam Fitzpatrick, strayed a little off course. Fitzpatrick realized the mistake and started hiking back on track, while Crouch approached a cornice — an overhanging mass of hardened snow.

That’s when Campos, who was only about 45 metres away, heard the crack of the cornice breaking away and a long rumble as it tumbled down the mountain.

“It was a big — not explosion — but a big rushing. A big rumble,” Campos said.

What followed was a flurry of action, with radio check-ins that came back from everyone except Crouch.

Blackcomb Helicopter pilot Josh Poole, who was stationed on an opposing ridge, lifted off to survey the scene. He pointed to debris and directed Campos and the others through a safe route to reach Crouch. He then landed, grabbed a shovel and jumped out of his helicopter while the blades were still spinning to start digging where the edge of Crouch’s board was sticking out, Campos said.

Campos, who is a former pro athlete, said he was aware of the danger — and the importance of time. He had tried to rescue another friend a few years ago in the B.C. Interior, under similar conditions, but was unsuccessful in resuscitating him after 45 minutes of CPR.

“It doesn’t happen often. Most people think (two rescues) is a lot. But I’ve been in this game for 27 or 28 years,” he said.

When the group reached Crouch’s location, they first uncovered his boot, Campos said, then determined his body was folded in half, with his head near his crotch.

“We uncovered his head, got his airway clear — he’s like, blue,” Campos said. “But as soon as we get his airway clear he starts moaning and then we’re like, OK he’s alive,” Campos said.

They carefully and quickly excavated him out, cutting his backpack off and stabilizing his neck and back in case of injury.

Crouch was flown to hospital. He didn’t need surgery and had no head trauma or compound fractures, Campos said.

“He has three broken vertebrae — two burst vertebrae and one fractured — a lacerated pancreas and a bunch of busted teeth. His whole front grill is pretty messed up,” Campos said. “But he’s alive.”

Beyond the slight straying off course, Campos said he doesn’t believe there’s much they could have done to prevent the accident. But he cautioned against going into the backcountry without an experienced person.

He said everyone is “elated” that Crouch is OK — including Crouch himself.

“I don’t know if, at the beginning, he knew how lucky he was. But now I think it’s sunk in. He’s also a very confident and skilled kid. I know he’ll be back,” he said.

Campos said Crouch was released from Vancouver General Hospital on Friday, and has made his way home to California to start his recovery.

Crouch has competed in three X Games and was also part of the 2017 U.S. surfing team that won gold at the I.S.A. World Junior Surfing Championships in Japan.

His talent agency said Crouch is not ready to speak with media and is focused on recovering.

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