Ryan Phillips | On 17, Jan 2017
Oregon rider Ryan Phillips shares a lucky escape from an avalanche, and describes what it feels like to have the rug pulled out from underneath you on an otherwise perfect day. Video footage by Scott Fraser, Jackalope Media. — MS
The word around here was that Winter 2016 was the best winter since 2008.
With so much snow, you might automatically think that there had been tons of avalanches, but for the most part, the snowpack had been fairly stable. There were a couple of days when everything was sliding, but we took that as an easy warning to stay out of dangerous zones.
However, this day caught me off-guard. I totally underestimated the wind slab and a weak layer about three feet down.
It looked to be a promising day—bluebird and a good buddy in town to film. It started off like any other day this winter—feeding the cows for a couple hours (if everything goes right) and then heading up to the mountain, only a short 30-minute drive away. We headed up to Little Eagle Meadows and everything was running smoothly. There were high hopes of banging out a sequence of good shots, so we headed to my favorite cliff band and began to scope it out. There were at least three different drops we could shoot and conditions seemed good.
Once we had our money shots scoped out, we headed to the big bowl to get a couple of warm-up runs in and make sure the drone was ready to roll. The sun was in-and-out of the clouds, so my first cornice drop into the bowl wasn’t great. I couldn’t see well enough to get the speed I wanted. As I climbed out of the bowl my thoughts were already on the next drop and how I was going to out-do the previous jump. I got back to the top and my film guy gave me a nod—he was good to go.
So I dropped in.
At first, things seemed normal. I cleared my last drop, but as I neared the bottom of the bowl, a wave formed in front of me. Instantly I pinned it and bounced over the wave.
But the magnitude of the slide really gutted me. This one took me off guard and it was the biggest slide I have ever been in. I was lucky to be out in front of it and ride it out, especially since the miscommunication with my buddy meant that he didn’t have eyes on me. I was so rattled that I wasn’t sure anything was safe—I definitely didn’t feel like sending it anymore. It made me sick to my stomach to see the avalanche, the force of it.
I needed to gather my nerves, so we took a moment to look at the aftermath and calculate the risk of continuing. The light was changing and I was so shaken up that we knew it was a good time to switch zones.
Every day on snow is different, and not always what you expect—I never stop learning.