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'My Cousin Saved My Life': South Lake Tahoe Man Reflects On Surviving February Avalanche

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (CBS13) - For experienced skiers Kyle Johnston and his cousin Josh Daiek, President's Day weekend last month on the backcountry slopes got off to a fun start but quickly made a turn for the worse.

On February 12, during one of their late runs near Blue Lakes south of Lake Tahoe, Daiek first went down, triggering an avalanche. He managed to get to an escape route the two had identified beforehand.

When it was Johnston's turn for a run, it came crashing down on him.

"The mountains had another idea and the whole hillside released even more so than before. And, unfortunately, it released above me and on both sides," Johnston said.

The avalanche was breathing down Johnston's neck. He escaped the slide with a split-second decision when he realized the predetermined escape route wasn't an option for him.

But his decision left him going over the edge of a 100-foot cliff.

"There was debris. There were rocks. I pretty much just braced for the worst. I was pretty scared, to say the least," Johnston said.

Johnston blacked out after crashing below. The avalanche then dragged him another 200 yards down the hill. Somehow, his cousin was able to find him.

"He said I was fully buried except for just my hand, like my arm, hand was sticking out," Johnston said.

Daiek dug him out of the snow after Johnston was buried for 5 minutes. His cousin dug the snow out of his mouth and he caught his breath.

Johnston told CBS13 that an estimated 40 minutes passed after the initial 9-1-1 call and he was then flown to a hospital in Reno.

"I had like a small brain bleed. I have five spinal fractures. I broke ribs nine through 12, then I collapsed a lung," Johnston said.

Johnston recovered at the hospital for 11 days and has since returned home. The backcountry skier was grateful to have walked away from something that many other backcountry skiers don't.

"I feel incredibly fortunate to be where I am, to be able to walk, talk, breathe," Johnston said.

His message to anyone else looking to test the uncharted mountains: Be prepared and know the risks.

"Getting the knowledge, getting the know-how and just being with someone that you trust. And that's the reality of it. My cousin saved my life," Johnston said.

Johnston is still recovering and is grateful for the community reaching out to him wishing him well. He's hoping to get back on the slopes again sooner rather than later.

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