It’s an epic winter to be a skier or boarder.
Thanks to a plethora of atmospheric river storms bombing the West Coast, snowfall totals are a record high throughout California’s Sierras and parts of the Rockies. Palisades Tahoe has received 501 inches of snow this year, with plenty more weeks of cold weather left at 8000 feet. This means powder day galore, with professional skiers like Cody Townsend capturing once-in-a-lifetime skiing conditions.
All that snow in the mountains is like a moth to a flame for extreme skiers willing to push the boundaries of adventure.
Naturally, all that deep snowpack in the mountains also means avalanches – the worst nightmare of backcountry skiers.
Last week a 46-year-old skier died in an avalanche in Oregon. The week before, two backcountry skiers died in an avalanche near Durango, Colorado. At the time, the New York Times reported 13 people died this winter due to avalanches in the United States.
Professional skier captures the scary moment he gets caught in a Wyoming avalanche
Owen Leeper, a professional big mountain skier originally from Aspen, Colorado, captured a close encounter with a potentially lethal avalanche.
In mid-February, Leeper was skiing in the Tetons outside Jackson Holy, Wyoming. He “scoped out this chute a few days ago and thought it looked great”, so he went for it and started skiing it. He had previously skied the same chute twice with no issues.
Except this time, the snow on the slope gave out from under him, pulling him into the chute and bouncing him off the rock walls. He tried to deploy an emergency avalanche airbag, but his shoulders were already too deep into the snow.
Leeper popped out his shoulder banging into the rock wall on the way down, yet managed to stay upright and “miraculously” bounced over the chute’s last section of solid rock before landing in the snow.
Leeper and his ski buddy tried to pop his shoulder back in so he could ski down. But with his shoulder completely dislocated, Leeper had to be airlifted off the mountain by Teton County Search and Rescue.
Avalanche GoPro video
Leeper was skiing with a GoPro attached to his helmet, along with a buddy running a drone, when the avalanche happened. He notes on Instagram that he was “feeling lucky right now.”
He also notes the avalanche forecast was moderate for the Tetons on this particular day.
It’s a moment of sheer terror, showing just how powerful and unexpected Mother Nature’s fury can be in the mountains:
He shared the following on Instagram shortly after the incident, noting he also needed stitches:
Roughly 3 hours after popping it out, 3 people in the emergency room were finally able to get my shoulder to go back in.
I am very lucky I didn’t hit my head or break any bones, only bruises, some stitches in my knee and my injured shoulder.
Avalance Drone video:
Leeper also shared a drone view of the avalanche. A wall of snow gives way, battering him around the chute on the scary fall.
It’s the kind of video that will make any skier gasp and thank their guardian angel:
After a couple weeks of rest, Leeper is back on skis again, sharing a video of him skiing fresh deep powder in a storm, along with an update on his recovery. The caption:
Doc said to keep icing my shoulder, think this counts? Good to be back on skis, still gotta be very careful not to fall. Hopefully pt helps and I can avoid surgery.
Can’t keep him down for long. What a legend.