A Survivor Opens Up About The Avalanche That Took Her Fiance's Life
Mountain Sledder | On 20, Jan 2016
Image: Diny Harrison/Canadian Avalanche Association
Tracey Telford opened up recently on social media about the January 5, 1994 avalanche that took her fiance’s life and nearly her own near Ymir, BC, in a plea to other riders to get the education and gear necessary to ride safe in the mountains.
The harrowing recount of events should be read by anyone who rides in the mountains. Telford’s states, ” I KNOW if we had had beacons I would have saved his life.”
Telford’s hope in sharing is that someone, somewhere will be inspired enough to get the knowledge and gear required to ride safe, and not have to endure what she has.
Thanks for sharing, Tracey.
Telford posted the following on social media:
“I often wondered why some people in the same accident live & others die….Sometimes, I think it’s crazy that I somehow beat the odds & survived an avalanche while my fiance, Butch did not. As my machine was being lifted & moved by the thundering wave of snow I wondered what to do, I had just waved him to ‘get going fast’ grabbed the handles to hang on and heard the word “swim” somewhere above my head. I looked back to where he was and he was gone & the waves were bigger and faster….I chose not to let go of my machine, it was buried and the snow that felt like extra thick cement settled around my chest. I sat there listening to the heavy silence, waiting for him to call my name, yet knowing deep inside that I would never hear his voice again….I called & called and called to him…..I dug the rest of my body out & set out to search, crawled across to where I had seen him last, crawled around in the dark all over the mass. Went back to where he had been and dug a 6ft + hole, it was so deep….I heard a noise and my heart pounded with a false hope that it was his sled, but now I was stuck in this hole, clawing at the sides to get up and out, I realized that i needed ‘steps’ in it to get to the surface, built them and got out. The silence, once again overwhelming, I realized the ‘noise’ was another avalanche & I was just lucky enough that it did not drop on me as I was deep in that hole…..I have often thought of that hole as my grave, I dug my own grave that night. And no, no one knew where we were…..I had only my hands to dig with, I kept calm and when I got too hot I took the neck warmer and other things off but shoved them inside my other gear to be sure not to lose them, as I knew it was going to be a long night & long hike out. I dug many other holes, not so big…eventually sat on the edge of it and said my ‘goodbyes’ (a word I have not used since) hiked out 5+miles, got help & led them back in. Butch was found, with one hand 2 inches from the surface, his machine on top of him at the bottom of the avalanche, an area that when I considered searching made my stomach knot up & so I never went there…..he had no ice mask, which means that the wind was knocked out of him and he never took another breath….I wonder if he heard me calling him………I wonder if I had a shovel if I would have dug more holes….I KNOW if I had had a probe I would have covered the entire area and found him. I KNOW if we had had beacons I would have saved his life….he wasn’t that far away OR buried deep** I don’t really wonder so much anymore, he was called to do greater things & I was meant to be here. I have fun memories & love in my heart, gratitude for being given the little bit of time we had.** Seems to me there is more snow this year, probably not but uggghhh its been snowing every frikn day lol, man sometimes I just hate winter, I wish it would rain but thats what caused the poor riding conditions that we never should have been out in….Do you have a beacon, probe, shovel, inflatable vest, knowledge of how to lay a grid ….do you know CPR…..do your friends…..I would hope that everyone I know does….it actually can happen to you. **sharing in hopes of touching some one some where enough to inspire them to ride safer** I had NO idea my story would be shared SO many times, I am overwhelmed with gratitude! I appreciate all of you who choose to ‘be the light’ for your family & friends!! ** the heli could not fly, too foggy, I had to wait for a police dog (incredible to see them work) he found Butch in less than a minute! One of Butches best friends was an EMT & did CPR for 5+miles on him, on a toboggan being pulled by a sled I watched them ‘shock’ him 3 times on the way to a hospital 30 mi out…I have since become an EMT heart emoticon#avalanchesurvivor #avalanche #sledding #snowmobiling”
The following facts about the event come from Avalanche Accidents in Canada, Volume 4: 1984-1996.
Oscar Creek near Ymir, BC
5 January 1994
•one snowmobiler killed
•no rescue gear
On January 5th, after a day of snowmobiling, two riders were coming down the Oscar Creek logging road. Shortly after 17:00 they encountered an avalanche deposit on the road and left the road to go down around it. After they returned to the road, the first rider, Butch, began “high-marking”, turning up onto the cut block above the road and back onto the road.
A prominent layer of surface hoar had formed over Christmas 1993 throughout the Interior Ranges of British Columbia. At Kootenay Pass, 26cm of snow fell on the surface hoar from December 29th to 31st and another 49cm in the first five days of 1994. Snowfall and winds were light on January 5th .
The second rider began to follow the first when she noticed the snow starting to move. “I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t move because there was so much snow. I couldn’t see Butch anymore. The snow was starting to bury my machine and my leg… I pulled my leg out and the snow kept coming. I tried to stand on top of my machine to stay above the machine… Then everything stopped moving and it became really still.”
The second rider shut off her machine and went ahead to where she had last seen Butch. “I dug many holes with my bare hands, one six feet deep and in the area I had seen him last… and none at the bottom of the avalanche where he was later found under only two feet of snow.” She decided to go for help. “The avalanche seemed so big it would take forever to find him.” She dug out her machine but could not get it out of the hole. About 30-45 minutes after the avalanche, she began to walk 8km down the road to get help.
The RCMP and a search dog arrived on the scene four hours later. The dog located the victim’s body pinned under his machine which was covered by 40cm of snow (Fig. 5.11).
The 45cm slab failed on the layer of surface hoar that was buried December 29th . The 10m wide slab ran down the logging cut and over the road, depositing 200-240cm of snow. The size 2.5 avalanche started on a 38° north-facing slope at an elevation of 1600 m. The next day investigators found a very easy shovel shear and a rutschblock 2 score on the surface hoar, indicating very unstable conditions.
Telford’s original post can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/tracey.telford.940/posts/10153932394419884?pnref=story
Avalanche Accidents in Canada, Volume 4: 1984-1996 is a Canadian Avalanche Association publication, authored by Bruce Jamieson and Torsten Geldsetzer, that documents the facts of historic avalanche incidents in the hope that backcountry users can learn from past incidents to avoid future ones. Information from it is posted with permission. Image by Diny Harrison.
The document can be found here:
SAR Managers frequently dispatch a small initial strike-team to respond rapidly via helicopter, which resolves most responses within a short period of time. This rapid-deployment unit will include an avalanche technician, a medical responder, and an avalanche search dog team or other expertise.
Sledders on social media have inevitably been subject to a barrage of comments along the lines of: ‘Such and such a brand sled sucks.’ Or, ‘Should have bought a [insert brand here].’ Here are 5 reasons why ‘your sled sucks’ comments are lame, and why we should all move on!
Despite breaking two sled parts in one weekend—forcing me to spend more than 10 extra hours on the road—I don’t feel too upset about it. I smile, reflecting on the non-stop action of the past few days. It seems like the most memorable experiences are never the ones that go smoothly, and doing anything worthwhile always requires you to go above and beyond.