Avalanche!


“It’s a neat day for a crosscountry tour to Clear Falls!” exclaimed Randy.

“The snow’s great,” agreed his older brother Tom.

“Looks good to me,” said Randy’s friend Boyd.

Turning back to their car they pulled their skis and poles from the trunk. “I’m glad we waxed our skis last night,” said Randy. “Did you wax for powder conditions, Boyd?”

“Yeah, mine are doing great,” said Boyd as he tested them on the light, powdery snow.

Tom bent over to adjust his bindings and secure his gaiters. The colored tubes of sturdy nylon around his ankles would help keep snow out of his shoes.

Boyd handed canteens and day packs to Tom and Randy. They had packed matches in waterproof containers, goggles, a small candle, compass, pocketknife, extra mittens and socks, snack food, and a small first-aid kit.

“Every time I go on an all-day outing I pack all this stuff,” said Boyd disgustedly, “but I’ve never had to use it.”

“In this kind of terrain and weather, it’s not safe to take chances,” said Tom emphatically. “It’s clear and sunny now, but we have to be ready to meet any kind of trouble.”

Boyd nodded. “Which way to Clear Falls? This is my first time in this area.”

“We’ll cross this field and head toward Twin Peak. The falls are at the base of the peak. It’ll take us about three hours to get there,” explained Tom.

The three boys set out, their skis gliding smoothly and quietly. After traveling uphill for a couple of hours, they rested by a snow-covered stream. “It sure is peaceful here,” said Boyd as he sat on a bark-stripped log.

Tom reached into his pack and pulled out a plastic bag. “Who wants some gorp?”

“I do!” said Randy and Boyd together.

“What did you put in it this time?” asked Randy.

“Raisins, peanuts, coconut, dried fruits, and bits of candy,” replied Tom.

They ate a couple of handfuls of gorp, sipped the cold water from their canteens, and relaxed a few minutes. “Are you guys ready to go?” asked Boyd anxiously.

The others nodded. Then they all put on their skis, checked the bindings, and set off toward Clear Falls.

After skiing a short distance, they stopped abruptly when Tom said, “Look! There’s a skier heading this way.”

“I wonder where his partner is,” said Randy. “It’s not safe to ski alone.”

“Hello!” called Boyd.

The man looked at them in surprise and skied toward them. “I didn’t know there was anybody else in this area. I’m heading toward Summit Ridge by way of Left Gully.”

But the gulley’s a common avalanche trail, Tom thought. “You can see the sunballs rolling down the slopes from here. There’s a lot of loose snow because of the afternoon sun. It wouldn’t take much to set off an avalanche,” he cautioned.

“Why don’t you come with us?” asked Boyd. “We’re heading for Clear Falls.”

“It’s a neat place,” added Randy.

“Thanks, but I’m going to stick to my route,” said the man, and he skied away.

“What are we going to do?” asked Randy. “We can’t force him to stay away from Summit Ridge.”

The boys reluctantly turned away from the retreating skier. But as they moved forward slowly, they kept glancing over their shoulders toward Summit Ridge, trying to keep the foolish skier in sight. His bright orange day pack looked like a small dot against the white snow. “He’s almost in the middle of Left Gully,” said Randy quietly.

Just then they heard a roaring sound from the direction of Summit Ridge and knew what was happening before they even turned around. “Avalanche!” whispered Boyd hoarsely.

Although no one mentioned it, they knew their own lives could be in danger from other slides that might be set off from the main slide. While Randy tried to watch and listen for secondary slides, Tom and Boyd turned back toward the main avalanche. Its initial force spent, the snow billowed high into the air as it swept into Left Gully.

After several seconds, Boyd yelled, “I see some orange on the north side of the gully!”

Three pairs of eyes strained as they tried to follow the orange spot sweeping downward—sometimes on top of the snow and sometimes below its surface.

“It’s stopping!” they all cried together.

“Remember where you think the orange stopped. I think it’s safe enough to check now,” directed Tom.

The boys skied quickly toward Left Gully, and in less than five minutes they reached the avalanche trail. Breathing heavily, Randy gasped, “I hope the man made an air space for breathing when he went under.”

“It’s a good thing the snow is light and powdery instead of wet and slushy. The air space won’t seal as quickly. Take your hands out of your pole straps. If another avalanche starts, we don’t want anything to drag us under. If we get caught, try to stay on your back and keep an uphill swimming motion,” said Tom. “Boyd, where did you see him last?”

“To the right where that pine tree stood.”

They glanced at the splintered remains of the tree. The avalanche had bent or shattered everything in its path. “Where did you see him last, Randy?”

“About ten feet below where Boyd saw him.”

“The same area where I saw him,” replied Tom. “Let’s start there. Turn your poles upside down so we can probe.”

They quickly removed their skis and began searching for the buried skier.

“How long has it been?” Tom asked, breaking the silence.

“Almost nine minutes since the avalanche began,” answered Boyd.

They shouted, then listened carefully as they searched, hoping to hear a noise from the buried man.

“I found a ski!” called Boyd excitedly.

Several minutes went by as the boys searched slightly uphill.

“I’ve found him!” Boyd said as he pointed to a gloved hand he had uncovered in the snow.

The boys dug frantically to uncover the skier.

“Is he alive?” asked Randy when Tom uncovered the man’s face.

Tom quickly checked. “He’s breathing OK. Looks like he made an air pocket. He has a bad cut on his head, though.”

“No sign of compound fractures,” said Boyd.

Tom bandaged the victim’s head wound while Boyd and Randy quickly treated him for frostbite and shock.

The man began to rouse and tried to lift his head. “Oh! My head,” he groaned. He looked at the three boys in surprise, then relief. “How did you find me?” he asked weakly.

“We’ll tell you later. Right now, we need to find out how badly you’re hurt,” said Tom.

After more questioning and checking, the boys were satisfied that the man wasn’t too badly injured. “Looks like we’ll be able to get you out of here ourselves,” said Randy. “It would take four or five hours for a rescue party to reach you.”

Tom glanced around warily. “We’ll have to get out of the area as soon as possible. Another avalanche could start anytime.”

The boys hastily constructed a stretcher from their ski poles and jackets and carefully started down the snowy trail. Several hours later, after slow and difficult travel, they finally reached their car.

“We’ll soon have you taken care of,” said Tom. “I’ll bet this has been a pretty painful trip for you.”

“It has. But it would have served me right if you’d left me up there in that snow hole when I didn’t pay any attention to your warning about an avalanche. I’m grateful to you, boys.”

“I can’t believe it’s still Saturday,” said Boyd. “So much has happened since morning.”

“It’s a Saturday we’ll never forget,” Randy added.

“And neither will I,” said the injured skier quietly. “Thanks to you.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Snow