I have been a member of the Austrian Search and Rescue Team at OS Schröcken and completed a specialized avalanche course in order to become a member of the local and the Schröcken-Warth Avalanche Committee, and it is therefore of great concern to me to report my experience of being caught in an avalanche.
Due to the weather conditions (sustained and sometimes strong Chinook winds) and our concern for the safety of our ski companions, Gerhard S. and I met with Fritz S. (also members of the Avalanche Committee) at the Körbersee Hotel.
After briefly discussing the situation, we decided to ski down on Skiroute 9, located in the Bockstein area, which we considered a crucial area to be tested on skis in order to get a clear picture of the conditions. By chance we ran into the former head of the Avalanche Committee and immediately equipped him with a radio so that he could close the ski route for us.
After checking our 3 transceivers we got into position.
Since I was equipped with an ABS Avalanche Airbag and a ski helmet I entered the crucial area first in order to ski cut the slope and possibly release a slab of snow (this has been practiced for many years).
Nothing happened and the slope seemed fairly safe. Hence Gerhard followed. While he waited at my spot, I skied further down to the left and wanted to stop there, but at that moment the entire slope went 2 meters above me. I tried to turn and ski out of it, but I failed. Immediately after that realization I pulled at my last chance, the avalanche airbag, realizing that I was already being scooped up by the avalanche.
From that moment on I went down with incredible speed, sometimes partly buried under the snow but always able to come up to the surface again. I saw trees coming at me and then I was swept under again by the avalanche. I kept on hitting my head on something hard (rocks, frozen ice chards or similar objects). Thanks to the helmet and avalanche airbag (I am convinced that it didn’t just try to keep me afloat, but also saved me from injuries during the fall) I survived this 250m long avalanche, which went down over steep rocky and forested terrain, relatively unharmed. Only afterwards I realized the kind of forces involved during such an action. I lost my skis, my glasses, my pager in my pant pocket was damaged, the buckles on my ski boots were torn off, even one of my airbags was partly ripped off of the backpack which in turn partly opened and collected snow that was so densely packed that it was hard to remove by hand, all clothing was soaking wet and full of snow.
Thanks to my two friends who immediately started the search and were ale to dig out my lower body. I was only buried up to my hips. For all those who are involved with such organizations please consider this: only perfect equipment, well trained companions and a bit of luck can prevent a worse outcome.
Harald, R., Schröcken