Almost a Perfect Day in the Backcountry on Donner Summit

It was almost a perfect day, with a little bit of dangerous moments in between on the backcountry slopes of Donner Summit. Finally, it has started to feel a little more like winter in the Lake Tahoe area.  It snowed over 2 feet in many areas covering up many of those gruesome rocks and stumps that we have been running into unexpectedly all year.  I woke up early Friday morning and went out to shoot photos with Grant Barta creator of the Tahoe Mountain Report (tahoemountainreport.com) and a crew of sick skiers out to Sugar Bowl and it was the definitely one of the best days of the year so far.

We started out with a few runs around the Sugar Bowl Resort and it was pretty skowered and wind blown in many places, so within an hour we decided to go do a lake run.  I was sort of nervous because of the icy slopes that were underneath the new layer of snow, but everything seemed stable enough as well as not too prone to avalanches.  As we hiked around Mount Judah I started to realize that no one had been back to the lake run yet from this previous storm, and I knew that it was going to be an amazing morning of fresh tracks and fun cliffs to jump off of.

After jumping off of a series of cliffs I decided to try the flip that is pictured in this post.  As soon as I came off I realized that I did not throw the flip hard enough and realized I was going to under-rotate into the deep powder below.  I landed with my mouth open and my mouth was instantly stuffed with snow and suddenly I realized I couldn’t breathe and I was stuck in the snow and couldn’t move.  Grant and the crew were fifty feet down the hill, so as I struggled trying to get out of the snow while I couldn’t breathe I was comforted a little bit by the fact that people knew where I was as opposed to being in an avalanche or something like that.  However, the snow was too deep for someone to try and hike up and help me, and as I realize this I tried creating an air pocket of snow with my hand, but my mouth kept filling up with snow again.  At this point I realized I needed to do something before I couldn’t breathe anymore, so I used this as inspiration to move my body as hard as I possibly could until I could get my body out of being stuck in the quicksand like snow.  As I came up I breathed in the biggest gasp of air I could and it was a huge relief, but super intense.

When I was in High School I went through avalanche training every year and I learned that you have 15 minutes to be rescued before things get very critical.  After experiencing this situation I believe that time should be cut in half because I was only stuck in the snow for 1 minute and that was enough to get really really scary.  Remember, be careful out there in the backcountry and wear all of the appropriate backcountry gear including a beacon, shovel, and probe at the very minimum because it can get really dangerous really quick.

Other than that, about one hour later we had arrived back into the resort, and I jumped off a 45 foot cliff and landed it better than any cliff I have jumped this year.  The first photo in this post is of the flip where I got stuck, and the second is a picture that I took of the beauty of being on a lake run where this amazing day occurred.  This is truly a wonderful place.

View from Lake Run on Friday

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