Curtis Johnson, 52, captured harrowing video from a helmet-mounted camera of spinning in a sea of white powder during a sledding trip with three friends near Blue Lake, between Sicamous and Revelstoke, late last month.
The seasoned sledder was carrying all the right equipment and had read the snow conditions, but that fell short of keeping him out of trouble.
"It hit me so fast," said the Sicamous native in an interview. "All I knew was that I was tumbling because it was dark and then light and then dark and then light.
"It really shows you how much power those avalanches have because that wasn't even a big one."
The video shows Johnson rocketing up a steep, tree-lined slope when the snow immediately ahead gives way and engulfs both him and his machine.
"I saw the avalanche coming and all I thought was I'm going to jump and swim," said Johnson, describing how he tried to leap from his sled to keep from getting hit or dragged down by his 200-kilogram machine.
Moments later the camera is still.
Johnson said most of his body was cemented in place by the heavy snow, but that he was able to use his left arm to dig an air hole in front of his face.
"I was just kind of scared," said Johnson, who works as a welding supervisor in Sicamous and began sledding in the mountains nearly 15 years ago.
"I was breathing super hard and I had a balaclava over my face. I figured I'd be OK but it's hard to tell your mind that."
Within three minutes his friends — all seasoned snowmobilers as well — had used their snow shovels to free him.
After digging out his snowmobile and breaking for a quick bite of lunch, Johnson was back on the slopes for another hour before calling it a day.
"I kind of felt wimpy after doing that," he said, laughing, though he added that he was "a little more wary of the hills."
Johnson said he now plans on buying an avalanche bag, a backpack that inflates during a snow slide and lowers the chances of being buried.
Otherwise, he said there is nothing he would do differently and he is looking forward to the rest of the snowmobiling season.
His advice to other sledders: take an avalanche course, carry a beacon and a probe and do not sled when conditions are bad.
More than 10 people are killed on average every season in avalanche-related deaths in B.C., according to a report from the province's corners service, the majority of those are snowmobilers.
So far this season three of the four people who have died in avalanches were on snowmobiles, said a spokeswoman for the coroners service.
— Written by Geordon Omand
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