‘I felt bizarrely emotionless and wondered for a moment what death would be like’
James Mort was skiing with friends in Switzerland on an overcast day, happy to be where he was. Then, within two seconds, his friend bellows “AVALANCHE!” and everything changes.
As the cameraman (hot James) orients himself after getting hit by a small torrent of snow, he immediately cries out, “Where’s James?”
From the filmer’s perspective, it seemed like a minor tumble, but as the five-minute video unfolds, we’re sucked into a harrowing and frantic search for a skier who was there one minute then...gone.
The two friends, initially clueless as to where James was amid a vastness of white snow, are quick to take action and move with purpose to locate their friend.
In Europe, avalanche control by ski patrol is far less common than it is at stateside resorts. Knowing this, the trio came equipped with shovels and probes (though not beacons, from the looks of things).
Remarkably, James is able to stick his pole out of the feet of snow covering him, which is just enough for the attentive filmer to catch notice and begin the race to save his friend. Seeing the rescue from this perspective is harrowing and nerve-racking, but pales in comparison to what James experienced in his predicament.
After getting swept away by hundreds of tons of snow, he’s completely smothered and disoriented, all the while in complete darkness and possibly unable to hear. He may still have his pole, but he’s got no sense of his orientation – a frantic struggle could send him deeper under the snow. It would behoove him to extend his pole skyward, but he’d likely have no sense if it’s protruding in a direction visible to his friends or just deeper into the snow.
Fortunately, James was rescued, owing his life to his extremely capable friends, as well as some good fortune.
He recounts the entire experience in vivid detail on this Tumblr post. His recollections and account might be as exciting and frightening as the video itself. Here’s an excerpt, but the entire post isn’t too long and certainly worth a read out of interest or education:
As the snow piled higher and higher, It became darker and darker until I was surrounded by an eerie black silence, broken only by the sound of my slow breathing and racing heartbeat.
“Okay” I thought to myself;
I had a shovel and probe in my backpack and I was wearing a transceiver, however, the others were only carrying a shovel and probe. I was convinced that they would not find me in time. Unable to move I focused on slowing my breathing, relaxing and conserving oxygen. I felt bizarrely emotionless and wondered for a moment what death would be like. Then I remembered that I was reaching upwards with my left arm, ski pole still attached. I tried to wiggle my hand and I felt a ‘pop’ as the top 5cm of the pole broke the surface of the snow. Suddenly emotion flooded through me as I realised that Andrew, Dan and Leonard would be able to locate me under the snow if they saw the tip of the pole. However I still forced myself to remain calm as I sat in wait.
Doesn’t sound like a pleasant way to meet your end, does it?
A more recent photo of James suggests it will take a lot more than a snowslide to kill the Aussie’s spirit.
If you’re an expert skier unfamiliar with avalanche rescue and survival protocol: get familiar before you go out again. Here’s a video outlining some of the techniques, but really – take a class and learn through practice with an instructor.