Billings Man Remembers Being Caught in Avalanche - News, Sports and Weather

Billings Man Remembers Being Caught in Avalanche

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The Gallatin National Forest is currently at a high level for avalanche danger. People have been reported trapped and some killed. KULR-8 sat down with a man who remembered very vividly, the day he got caught up in an avalanche.

Scott Olson had been riding snowmobiles for years before he got caught in an avalanche on January 27, 2002 in Cooke City. Olson said he felt invincible before the avalanche that almost took his life. "Nothing was ever going to happen to me," Olson recalled thinking before the 2002 avalanche. He was riding snowmobiles with some friends when the avalanche started.

The day he got into the avalanche, he says Cooke City had just gotten a bunch of new snow. He told KULR-8 that he was following a few friends up some tracks. "As I come around this corner, it was really cloudy out and the sun broke. And I thought "Oh, that's weird." I'm not kidding, it was all snow, that came over this ridge." He said he couldn't go left because of the mountain and he couldn't go right because of some trees. He said he knew the area well enough that he figured he could get out. "I made it through the most part to those trees, but basically right when I got there, the avalanche hit me from the side and it kind of just washed me into the trees." Olson explained that his snowmobile then tipped upside down. He was able to catch the handle bars and hold on. "I'm thinking, "I'm in the safest place in the world." And this avalanche is literally rolling under my feet, and all of a sudden my grips broke." He fell into the trees snapping his leg. Even after that, the avalanche was still underneath Olson. He explained he was able to get his leg off the tree, but that's when, he fell into the avalanche. He said, "You're supposed to swim, you're supposed to fight, you're supposed to do everything you can to live. And I was doing everything I could other than the fact the tree wouldn't let you."  Eventually Olson came to a rest. "I went to move and I couldn't. The snow froze around me. It didn't crush me, it just froze around me." He said he tried to expand his diaphram, but when he tried to breath, his diaphram was already in. While he had hope someone would find him before running out of air, Olson said it really started setting in that he couldn't breathe. "This is it. We're done. If my friends can't get me out, we're done." Olson told KULR-8, 10 minutes later, he was found, but had no pulse and he was completely blue. Olson was revived soon after being found. He calls the experience humbling.

According to Olson, there are different severities of avalanches. He said the kind he got caught in was a powder slide, which means there was too much new snow on top of a bad layer of snow, "If there was a good avalanche to be in, as far as getting hit with it and getting hurt, the powder slide, I guess is the better one. It's a lighter snow. It's easier to deal with, evening just swimming. Had these trees not messed with me as I was going down the avalanche, I probably could've stayed on top."

While Olson still goes out on his snowmobile, he does take things that will help him if he ever gets caught in another avalanche. He along with many others have airbags. "It just makes you big, it's a volume thing. Had I had that in '02 when this happened, I still would've broken my leg, there's no doubt because it was immediate. The minute I fell off the snowmobile, my leg was around the tree. But, once I got going, had I pulled that, chances are I would've never really went down in the snow very deep." He said after everything ended, he doesn't think it would have been hard for his friends to locate him, if he had been in the air bag. Olson suggests not just snowmobilers, but skiers and snowboarders should also get airbags. Another thing Olson and his friends learned that nearly fateful day, was to always have a shovel on your body. "If your friend goes down, and your shovel is in your bike or your sled, your sled is somewhere else, or your bike is somewhere else. It's not going to do you any good to get your friend out, unless your shovel is right behind you."

Olson calls Cooke City the deadliest, or at least one of the deadliest towns, because of avalanches, in the world.

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