For 4 minutes and 28 seconds, the only sign of life is a dying man's rushed breathing and quiet whimpering. The screen, filled with an eerie, bluish hue, is frozen solid. Seconds tick by agonizingly slow. Then, when it's nearly impossible to watch anymore, a bright flash of light appears and a face comes into view.
The above scene didn't come from next winter's Hollywood thriller. Instead it is part of an 8 minute and 42 second film online showing the harrowing reality of being caught in an avalanche from a skier's helmet camera.
A Very Real Danger.
Exploring the backcountry during wintertime always carries an element of risk. More than 35 people died from avalanches in the United States during the 2009-10-winter season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in Boulder, Colorado. The number was the second highest in recorded history since 1950.
"Skiing in the backcountry can be dangerous," Assistant Director of Colorado Avalanche Information Center Brian Lazar told OnTheSnow by phone from his office. "Avalanche danger varies from day-to-day and season-to-season, but it does exist."
Lazar went on to talk about how skiers could keep themselves safe in the backcountry.
"At a minimum, if you're going out into the backcountry, you should take a level one avalanche course," Lazar said."Lots of people are aware of the risk they take when going in the backcountry, but not as many accept the risk, which are two very different things."
Just this season, a nonprofit multi-media arm of the Annenberg Foundation created a series of videos hoping to save lives and educate skiers about the dangers of backcountry skiing. The three videos show a live rescue with K-9 recue dogs, safety tips for snowmobilers, and how forecasting avalanches is done.
"I learned that being buried alive in an avalanche is one of the slowest, most excruciating experiences someone can go through," founder and avalanche test dummy Charlie Annenberg said. "I was supposed to be buried for 15 to 20 minutes, but ended up being buried for 55. When I got pulled out I was shivering and had mild hypothermia. If it was a real avalanche I would have been dead."
Annenberg wanted to make sure he took the exercise seriously so he buried himself for the video. Two K-9 rescue dogs helped in the search and were a key reason Annenberg wanted to shoot the video.
"I really wanted to champion the selfless acts of others," Annenberg stressed. "And ski patrollers and their dogs are really the sheriffs of the mountain and need to be recognized."
The videos also feature a dizzying array of stats and harsh realities of avalanches.
"You're buried alive and you're trapped as if being in a coffin, except the snow is like concrete. People need to take avalanches seriously if they plan to enjoy the backcountry."
The keys to being prepared in the backcountry, say avalanche experts, is always being aware of your surroundings and making sure you have the proper level of experience and training for what you're attempting to do.
"At a minimum, people should always carry a probe, avalanche beacon, and shovel," Lazar stressed. "They also should take a moment to check out the daily avalanche forecast before heading out."
Finally Lazar urges people to take an avalanche course to familiarize themselves with the techniques of using avalanche beacons and reading slopes for potential slides.
"The introductory 3-day course teaches backcountry management and that would cover a lot of avalanche safety. Everyone should take it if they want to explore the backcountry."
For more information check out your local avalanche forecasting office, and make sure to view the videos below. They aren't necessarily easy to watch, but if you plan to play out-of-bounds they may save your life.
Videos courtesy of Explore.org.
An inside look at the Jackson Hole Avalanche Research Center
Jackson Hole search and rescue perform a live avalanche rescue drill.
Snowmobiling in the Backcountry