Skier doesn’t want to repeat ‘scary experience’
Matt Nelson, 36, was skiing Second Creek on New Year’s Day with his friend when he triggered an avalanche and was buried to his neck.
Nelson remembers being in the slide and that his one conscious decision was to not fight it, “for fear that I’d get turned around because then I’d be in trouble,” he said in an interview this week. “I protected my head when I came to a stop.”
The injuries he sustained from the accident include a fractured left arm, pulverized elbow that required surgery to reconstruct, and crack ribs. He had no internal injuries.
“That is the luck part,” he said. “I was airborne for a few seconds and shot over a rock.”
He knows how lucky he is to be here today.
Nelson lives in Fraser and has been backcountry skier for 13 years. He has lived in the valley on and off since 1999, originally moving here after college in the Midwest. He is married and has a 6-month old son.
Nelson started skiing at Berthoud Pass Ski Area, and up until the accident skied mostly backcountry. He likes to ski early in the morning before work and family commitments.
Like many skiers, he started going into the backcountry with like-minded skiers who wanted to get away from the crowds. He learned the skills to be safe in the backcountry from books and friends.
That day in January, Nelson knew about the consequences.
“Chris and I know that area very well, we had an idea of what the consequences are,” he said. “I always assumed that an avalanche could happen, and we knew what Plan B was.”
He knew that they were skiing in a weaker part and that there was wind load.
Brian Lazar works at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Now, 37, he was in a small avalanche and was partially buried at 19.
There are different reactions to getting caught in an avalanche, he said. “People react differently to these types of events. Some people know that they made a mistake and try to learn more, and make more thought-out decisions.”
There are three typical reactions to being involved in an avalanche according to Lazar:
• You are traumatized and give it up.
• It barely registers and you go again.
• You reassess and get more educated.
“It’s a very personal response in an avalanche,” he said.
Lazar decided to get more educated and training.
“I better appreciate the awareness and risk. Over time I have become more conservative.”
He also found a mentor and learned everything he could about backcountry skiing and safety. Additionally, he has a family now and doesn’t take as many risks.
Regarding Nelson’s accident, Lazar said, “Chris (Matt’s skiing partner that day) did everything right.”
Both skiers carried the proper equipment and Nelson’s partner reacted quickly to dig him out him.
Looking back on that day, Nelson said he knows there is a progression to a ski season.
“Early, things are tender and avalanche prone until snow builds up and temperatures warm.”
He is not in a hurry to get back out there. “If I do, it will be in the areas that are side-country that get a lot of traffic. It was a scary experience, one I don’t want to have again.
“Do I want to avoid the backcountry? I suspect the latter (reassessing skills and learning more),” he said. “I love the hiking as much as the downhill skiing, and being in the outdoors without a hundred people is much of the attraction. Time will tell.”
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