Avalanche Recovery: Month Three, Fifteen To Go

Avalanche Recovery: Month Three, Fifteen To Go

Page Type Page Type: Article
Activities Activities: Skiing

What Went Down...

What happened? There I was living out my dream. I was skiing the intimidating Thunderbird Couloir that stands watch over the Colorado desert valley hamlet called Grand Junction. My St. Patrick's Day adventure was going great. Off the summit by noon was happening.

I felt so strong climbing more than 5,000 feet up. Skiing down I tore strong, confident turns on the icy crust coating the “T-bird.” Then the icy layer cracked open with a loud roar. I was immediately swallowed face down into a violent, swirling and stinging mass of snow. I swam to get upright as the avalanche rumbled down 500 feet of the steep northwest face of the Grand Mesa. I was miraculously spit out before the last 50-foot drop could bury me 20-feet under. A tree saved me from flopping over more rocky terrain.
Thunderbird From aboveSatellite image showing hte bird from above.

I laid with legs swelling until search and rescue rappelled me to a helicopter ride to St. Mary's Hospital. My broken legs were salvaged by 21 titanium screws, full-length femur and tibia rods, two fibula plates, and two left patella fixators.


Three months later, the pain ebbs and flows between dull reminders to sharp tinges and tweaks. My strength is gradually returning. Muscle spasms wake me out of the roaring avalanche that rips through all of my senses. My body constantly reminds me that I'm lucky to have survived the violence.

I spent a month in the hospital, mostly battling the waterproof bedding and resultant heat and waking night sweats. Two weeks of physical therapy were focused on improving range of motion; my stiff knees refused to bend back more than 70 degrees. It was assumed that part of the limitation was mental blockage. Thrashed muscles on strike, refusing to cooperate out of fear of being thrown back into harm's way. The anguish of recovering and healing from my strange avalanche disaster has been more painful than the quick and dirty deed that caused it.
Laying in waitHow I looked on scene.

Every night I rub my scraggy, knotted-up legs before I can nod off to rest. I wake to tears almost every morning to rickety-stiffness that racks every cell south of my hips — hips that I'm really lucky didn't crack, too.

Few in my medical circle want to let me in on the reality that the bones will heal, but the avalanche gave my body and specifically my leg muscles a traumatic thrashing they won't soon forget. It seems the surgery itself added burden.


A 24-hour bug put me back in the hospital for five days to fight a serious infection over Memorial weekend. It set me back to the point of not being able to even stand. Beyond the setback, I'm expected to take it easy for up to a year and a half, and slowly return to as close to normal as an unfinished Steve Austin (Bionic Man).
Daddy BrokenBefore and After image of my right tibia and fibula. Dr. Dolecki is pleasantly humble yet is an exceedingly talented surgeon. I'm very lucky to have been in his care.

My multiple leg fractures are in “ossification”; calcifying functionally but growing irregularly outside the confines of bone structure. It's those wiry, frayed ropes and wicked knots that used to be my quads and calf muscles that pain me as much as broken and bruised bones. I didn't know bones could bruise? My literally black-and-blue joints are textbook examples of skeletal contusion (my attempt at medical jargon).


On the bright side I'm alive. I needed to slow down and enjoy life and family anyway, and realize how fragile life can be. Life is especially fragile flying down a 500-foot cliff-studded, forested slope in a whirling mass of snow hurling over ledges at terminal avalanche speed, slamming trees, boulders and eating pine needle debris instead of air.

I fought death to swim upward and stay upright. My legs (better than my head and vitals) took the blows and now they're paying me back, with interest. Years. But I'm alive, damnit.

The sad thing is, when I look at the astro-bills that it cost to save me and make me whole, it's almost as frightening to a kid fleeing from Clifton Village North as being swallowed by that avalanche.

If I didn't have insurance, a great wife, strong family and amazing always-there friends, I might wish I weren't around. My dreams would have been flattened in the least. And yet I wake every morning, hoping and trying to make life a little better in the small ways that I can.

Thank you to all for being there with me when I needed it the most. Philosophy aside, when the boots hit the ground, beyond my own family, I live in a great and caring community and I'm ever thankful for that.
Grand Capitol of the WestGrand Capitol of the West. Grand Junction, Colorado. My home.
Erosion Never Ends A Good Flight


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 20

96avs01 - Jul 11, 2010 3:12 am - Hasn't voted


your recovery continues to be a success!

On a side note, do you feel an ABS pack would have helped or significantly changed the outcome?



seth@LOKI - Jul 13, 2010 10:51 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Hope Floats

Thanks for your note. Yes, I think an ABS pack would have helped me in this situation. Everyone that ventures into avalanche prone terrain should carry an ABS pack, shovel, beacon, probe and safe outerwear and equipment, and know how to use them.

My motto to this point has generally been to avoid avy conditions entirely. the north facing trees on the slopes of Grand Mesa are famously stable. I don't usually go into the high peaks of Colorado until the display a very firm, solid "sidewalk" stable snow pack by late May through mid-June / July. The opportunity to have enough snow to ski the Thunderbird above Grand Junction is a rare opportunity that may not happen for years at a time. The indicators for most of Colorado showed low danger that day. There was a thirteen-hour freeze that prior evening at ten-thousand feet on Grand Mesa. I am however always leery of west facing slopes that receive late and lasting sun hit. We were skiing on thin layer of firm crusty-crunchy snow. I just happened to ski into a deep soft bowl of sugar-like snow and it gave way. The firm layer on top initially pushed me face first down-slope and I was amazed at how fast the slide was moving immediately. It felt like about 60 miles per hour within 3 seconds. I swam and fought toward the surface the duration of the 450 foot long slide. I felt like I was upright but never saw daylight until I was out of the slide. I was in the air three times and then was "spit" out when the slide hit a "berm" near the bottom of the slide path. Had I not been spit out, I would have gone in the air one last time and to either side and likely would have hit rocks and then been buried. I think an ABS pack would have helped me, and more-so would help most unlucky or dense adventurers who get caught in larger volume avalanches float to or near the top of the slide. In my particular case the terrain was so rough and the slide so violent and fast that I'm not certain what would have happened differently.

I make Loki gear that has built in mitts, neck-gaiters, extra storage and summit pack options. I have used Loki jackets carrying nothing but liner gloves for seven years. A minor testament: my brother and I summited Denali with the mitts retaining more heat than separate lose-able gloves and forgettable neck-gaiter/face protection sealing out -35 below temps. Our gear cost the same, is the same quality or better than our competitors, at the most can save your fingers and face and in the least are extremely efficient and convenient. It has yet to take a real hold in the market, though. Loki is gradually getting respect and excellent growth despite the times. it's tough and justifiably takes time to be a trusted gear manufacturer in the outdoor sphere. I think that ABS + BCA's Snowpulse make sense. The justifiable expense and extra heft may serve as barrier to all but the absolutely dedicated and / or well heeled back country adventurer. My FINAL WORD: For those that live on or choose to visit the fracture line of snow-riding, compared to dying a cold lonely death and leaving your loved-ones in pain, the price and weight of an Airbag enabled pack is "dead-on" .


phlipdascrip - Jul 11, 2010 8:53 am - Voted 10/10

Thanks for sharing

your story. Reminds one to be careful out there. Hope you'll have a speedy recovery!


rdmc - Jul 11, 2010 12:42 pm - Hasn't voted

Thank God you are alive!

Wow, what an experience to live through.
May you be blessed with a speedy recovery.


mtnturf - Jul 11, 2010 11:26 pm - Hasn't voted


Your xrays of your leg is insane man. Keep up the good work on your road to recovery. The mountains will be there for you when you're back.


PAROFES - Jul 12, 2010 9:47 am - Voted 10/10


That was bad luck....i wish you a great recovery.
Long way to be new again, but i'm sure you won't give up!

Good luck man!

Greetins from Brazil.



seth@LOKI - Jan 29, 2011 1:02 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Man,,,

I noticed I didn't thank you for kind comments... Obragado!

Augie Medina

Augie Medina - Jul 12, 2010 2:02 pm - Voted 10/10


You've got that on your side. Sometimes that's hard to combine with patience.


seth@LOKI - Jul 13, 2010 9:12 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Youth

agreed- thanks for reading.


Mlasky - Jul 12, 2010 11:00 pm - Voted 10/10


You are lucky to be with us to live that dream again, or another dream, however it works out for you. Wishes for a quality recovery, however long that takes to get back to whole. regards


sicnarnar - Jul 13, 2010 8:01 am - Hasn't voted


Thanks for sharing. Godspeed on the recovery.


Noondueler - Jul 16, 2010 7:27 pm - Voted 10/10

Good read!

Maybe you could use the down time to do some more writing.


seth@LOKI - Jul 30, 2010 3:45 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Good read!

Thanks Nooner. As for writing, I am in process of submitting Nat Geo an article about John Otto and the 100 year celebration of his founding the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction CO. My main passion is Loki. www.lokigear.com if you get a chance to see it, we make very useful gear for high output cold place.

Zzyzx - Jul 17, 2010 1:20 am - Hasn't voted

Thanks for sharing

Best wishes to you Seth for a complete recovery. I'm glad you're alive and have a good family support, that's what matters most.


seth@LOKI - Jul 30, 2010 3:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Thanks for sharing

thank you and nice interview. very touching.


Kaylypso - Jul 21, 2010 2:30 pm - Hasn't voted

Way to survive!

And I'm sure you're gonna thrive, with a great outlook and loving family. I wish you many more great outdoor experiences, I know that's in your future.


seth@LOKI - Jul 30, 2010 3:53 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Way to survive!

Thank you Kay. I'm very lucky too. I'm so enjoying my son right now. My wife and son were my magnets to resist dying. I love them so.


AlliedBiscuit - Oct 23, 2010 1:35 pm - Hasn't voted


As bad as this trip turned out, I find myself even more inspired to explore the west face of the mesa knowing that others share dreams of shredding these characters that overlook the valley all winter. Not sure what you think about this but if you ever have the urge to go back there, or anywhere on the grand mesa for that matter, count me in!

Best wishes on your recovery.


seth@LOKI - Nov 9, 2010 1:26 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: inspired for hard snow

I was think about it this morning, with the nice hit of fresh snow and all. In hindsight, I think the safest time to ski up there would be a few days after a storm, with constant cold to keep the sun from loosening the the layers. I won't be ready til next year this time,IF I survive my recovery. It has been seriously sucky. The SWAN has been skied, and is shelterd enough from south and west exposure than I think its safer. farther to reach but safer. I would camp halfway up too, or, if you could go really light, camp on top, then ski wicked early in the AM, right at dawn. he Swan, is steep but is managable part of the cliffs. The notch where Rapid creek drops in is steep to but can be skied. It is almos t straight south exposure though.


cimadisasso - Feb 24, 2011 7:29 am - Hasn't voted

way to survive

I have read the article only today.

Horrible accident!

Bes wishes on your recovery.

(I sent you a PM)

Viewing: 1-20 of 20



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.