TAOS, New Mexico — Justin Spain was frantic. His friend had just been buried by an avalanche skiing the backcountry. He needed help finding him. My partner John Haiducek and I, headed out for our own backcountry adventure, went to work.
We did our best to stay calm but quickly made a number of mistakes. I dropped my poles to concentrate on using the beacon, so I fell flat on my face when I tried to climb toward the avalanche field. It cost me time.
I also made the error of telling Haiducek to join the search. I didn’t realize the avalanche path was narrow enough to cover alone. Instead of doubling up, Haiducek needed to get his avalanche probe and shovel out so he’d be ready to pinpoint and dig. Efficiency is key and every moment counts.
Even with our mistakes, we found the guy in about 15 minutes. He’d live, but barely. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, an avalanche victim rescued within 15 minutes has a 90 percent chance of survival. Beyond that and the odds grow increasingly slim.