Surviving an avalanche - Wolle Nyvelt

In the backcountry knowledge might save your life but avalanches can also hit the pros. Wolle Nyvelt tells you about his scariest backcountry experience.


Photo: Scalp

“If I remember right, it all happened in February 2002. Steve Gruber and me were filming at the Arlberg since two weeks and the conditions were really good. As it got too tracked, we decided to go back to the Zillertal and continue filming in Mayrhofen. It was a beautiful day and the conditions actually pretty safe. It had been nice weather for the last two weeks – the snow was stable and had time enough to settle down. We rode a line at the Wängl, talked to the filmer and sorted out the second run. Tom Day was filming from a mountain across, while Roli, Steve and me were hiking up together. When we arrived at the top, we went for our drop ins. Roli was coming with me and Steve waited further up. The problem with my drop in was the wind, as he had deposited a lot of snow up there.

The chute was proper wide and, after 20 or 30 meters, kind of divided into a tighter one on the left side and a wider one on the right side. The wind drift reached until this fork where I discovered a safe spot, a rock. Through my walkie talkie I told the crew that I will hike through the lower part of the wind drift until I would get to the safe spot to start my run from there. When I reached the rock, I could have a closer look at the run – it looked fantastic, perfect snow and sick features. I was looking forward to shred it! I´m ready in 30 seconds, I said through the walkie talkie. I wanted to make some steps forward and was thinking about my first turn. Five meters away from the rock, I strapped into my front binding and gave the 10 seconds call. I did three or four steps backwards as I wanted to get a little bit more speed for the first turn. I was just a little bit too motivated!

Well, and than it was already too late. I still had only one foot in my bindings when I heard that strange sound of leaking off air and the snow settling down below me. I looked back and saw how the spider net began to spread – big eyes from Roli and the chunks started moving. I tried to get to the safe spot on my heel edge but failed about 1,5 meters before the rock. Than everything went pretty fast – white room, cliff drops and I tried to swim but always got snow into my mouth and had to help me with my fingers to get it out again. When the avalanche slowed down, I got back to my feet and tried to get my balance back on the still sliding snow. My surrounding was still completely white and I couldn´t see anything. I was thinking: „Maybe you are a damn lucky devil!“ But shortly after more snow was coming from the back, rolled through me and buried me approximately one meter under the surface.

Suddenly everything was still and dark – I lost. I tried to move my fingers but it was not possible. You notice immediately that every single exertion costs so much oxygen that the black out is very close. My walkie talkie was still working and I could listen to Tom Day who was instructing Steve and Roli where he had seen me the last time and how they could ride down without causing more snow sliding. My hope was coming back. I tried to stay calm and crept into a small dark room inside my brain and tried to breath. I couldn´t really judge the time but I think I was starting to lose consciousness when I felt a probe at my right forearm. A second later Steve literally pulled me out of the hole on my hair. The helicopter arrived and on the other side of the valley we could see the mountain rescue. I was fine and except form y goggles and my beanie I hadn´t lost anything. I asked Steve to talk to the guys from the mountain rescue as I needed some time for myself and wanted to drink a tea. Probably I didn´t want to talk to them as I knew that I had made some mistakes and underrated as well as disregarded some danger. I was very thankful that Steve, Tom and Roli didn´t make any mistakes and especially Steve was great: He stayed calm, located me very quickly with his beacon and dug me out.

Two days later I went up on the mountain again to have a look at the stub and the avalanche. The stub was way deeper than I had thought it was. I had extremely underrated the wind. I learnt a lot in these days. My friends and our equipment had saved my life. Thänx Steve, Tom and Roli!! Eöh…”

Read more from pros who survived an avalanche, learn how to avoid getting caught in an avalanche and how to handle your equipment in the worst case in the latest Onboard issue (Nr. 96) which comes out January 31 – today! Knowledge can save your life…
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