Lacombe’s Todd Wyatt is lucky to be alive.
Wyatt was a part of group of eight skiers from Red Deer’s Parkland Ski Club who were backcountry skiing in Banff National Park when they were swept up in an avalanche last weekend.
“It was one of the most traumatic things you have gone through whether you were buried or not,” said Wyatt on Tuesday. “It was not fun.”
Wyatt remembers every detail of the horrifying experience.
It was around 4:45 p.m. on Feb.12 when the skiers, who were scattered, were coming out of the valley on its way to the Alpine Club of Canada’s Bow Hut near Lake Louise.
“I heard what sounded like a gunshot,” said Wyatt. “It was a just a loud crack. I looked up and I saw the snow drop. The snow dropped and I just thought this is not happening. Time just stopped for a second. I was right in the line of fire. I tried to turn my skis and try to get turned around to get a bit of a turn. It was on me before I even had a chance to move. I got maybe two steps.”
Wyatt said it dropped from underneath him and took his right leg and swept it from underneath as the snow bowed him over.
Wyatt screamed as he fell because he knew his leg had just “snapped.”
“I yelled as I fell into the snow,” said Wyatt. “I had snow rammed down my throat and down my mouth. I coughed up and spit out all the snow.”
He said the slide continued and he went over a cliff.
“As the slide continued down, it started to slow down,” said Wyatt. “Right when it started to slow I got lifted up from the bottom. I remember just being pushed up. Things got brighter and brighter above me. I was on my back so I could see clearly and got more and more light. At the last minute as things came to a stop, I took a deep breath to try and expand my lungs because I knew it was compressing me and I wanted to make sure I had room to move my chest so I could breathe. As I took that last breath I pushed my right hand in front of me and miraculously I was on the surface.”
Wyatt said he had not choice but to stay calm and focused to stay alive. He has about 20 years of backcountry skiing experience and has taken avalanche training courses.
“You had to keep your head,” he said. “You are at the mercy of the snow. You had no choice. It was go with the flow or fight it and run out of oxygen.”
Once he stopped, he used his hand to signal for help.
His tour leader skied down and dug him out of the snow. Soon he learned there were two others that were buried. Wyatt said he was the worst off between the three of them. The other skiers used beacons to locate the buried skiers.
The group used a satellite phone to contact Parks Canada.
Because of the fading light, the group was forced to spend the night, about 13 or 14 hours, on the mountain in sleeping bags until daylight for a rescue helicopter around 8:30 a.m.
“We just got through the night,” said Wyatt. “It was a long, long night with no sleep. It was uncomfortable night physically and emotionally.”
Help arrived the next morning.
“They put slings under my arms and two of them dragged me with skis on and the other person walked beside me holding up the sleeping bag and dragged me a long way out,” said Wyatt.
He spent two nights in the Banff Mineral Springs Hospital and underwent surgery to fix his leg and ankle.
Now resting home in Lacombe, Wyatt said this has definitely changed his perspective on where he skis and the type of skiing.
“I don’t think everybody in the group has processed the human element of it and how close we were to losing people,” said Wyatt. “I think we are going to deal with our physical injuries. I think it will be hard on the group psychologically because that kind of trauma can trigger all kinds of stuff. You might not feel it until the next time you go up.”