Sam Jones, a 31-year-old Front Range resident, rode out an avalanche in Quandary Couloir on Saturday. He credits the deployment of his backpack airbag with his survival.
"I have a new humble respect for what a little slide can do," Jones said in retrospect. "On the walk out, I felt a deep sense of guilt because I knew I got away with something I shouldn't have. We should have been off that mountain an hour earlier and I should not have been so far ahead of the other two members of my group. I'll be taking the rest of the (ski) season to pause and reflect and I think the best way to honor the mountain giving me safe passage is to only return when I'm humble and ready and only after I've received more formal avalanche education."
The three men climbed 14er Quandary Peak and began making turns in the steep draw around mid-day. Jones published video of the experience from his helmet-mounted camera. He triggered the airbag seconds after the snow surface cracked and broke free underneath his snowboard. The sound of the compressed-gas cartridge filling the airbag can be heard as Jones sits down and accepts his fate.
"The airbag was crucial in keeping me above the snow," Jones said. "I could feel the tension between my snowboard getting sucked under and my bag providing buoyancy."
Jones was thankful the unplanned part of his descent did take him over "terrain traps" like rocks or cliffs which could have resulted in serious injury or even burial - as happened that same morning about 10 miles away. There, a 31-year-old solo skier triggered an avalanche near the ridge top on the eastern side of Bald Mountain, a 13,690-foot peak on the outskirts of of Breckenridge which is known to locals as "Baldy." There skier was buried by the slide. Searchers, notified by the skier's girlfriend of his failure to return from the outing, located the skier's body at 11 p.m.
Knowing this, Jones expressed regret over several of his decisions.
"We started out the descent while watching each other ride to points of safety so we could have eyes on each other in case something like this happened," he stated. "They are a little less experienced and and were going slow for my taste and so I broke free from the group to enjoy linking turns and going fast. It took them about 10 minutes to get to me and the whole incident was unwitnessed by them. I was also so far ahead that if something were to happen to the other two, I would not have been able to assist. When they came down, they were quite shocked and confused to see my airbag deployed. ... We carefully rode to safety and were pretty solemn about the whole thing."
"While I am very grateful," Jones added. "I'm also deeply guilty and ashamed making some very errant judgements."
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