Avalanche Tales

Graham Macvoy
Scottish rider Graham Macvoy’s crew was equipped for the day. Along with the full backcountry kit- backpack, beacon, shovel, and probes, between all the riders in Graham’s group they counted 20 years of experience with the Tignes area. That morning in late April Graham called the weather conditions “perfect- blue sky and cold.” He and his crew were lapping the French resort, scouting out lines to film and shoot, enjoying the late season storm that had recently dumped 50 centimeters on the area’s famous freeriding terrain.
The group had a safe and productive morning, bagging a big north face which had been 100% stable. Still, as the day went on, Graham says he noted a significant increase in temperature, and recalls watching as snow melted and rocks started to steam.
It was a few hours past noon as Graham traversed “just off the side of the piste” to the top of a chute he’d been eyeing. Even from above it looked sick- a short chute leading to a cliff band, tapering off from forty feet directly bellow the chute to twenty feet on riders left, where Graham planed to drop. The condition of the snow at that point in the day was a concern- Graham commented to his group that the snow looked “a bit slabby” as he evaluated the line. But with an escape route to the right of the chute’s exit, he felt confident he could handle the situation if something happened.
Strapped in and ready, Graham signaled his crew and dropped in. “It fractured on my first turn,” Graham says. With a snap the snowpack sheared beneath Graham, breaking off 20 inches deep and swallowing his board, sending him tumbling head over tail down the chute. Suddenly out of control, Graham couldn’t make it to his escape route. Even while cartwheeling Grahm knew he had to get into an upright position before he was carried off the 40-foot cliff. He concentrated on getting his feet under him as he was swept down the mountain, hoping like hell he wouldn’t land on the rocks below.
Graham landed in the avalanche debris instead, the impact of which triggered the snow beneath the cliff, causing another avalanche that threatened to suck him under. Starting with the chute, the slope released 164 feet wide, and 1.5 to 3 feet deep all the way across the piste. With such a huge volume of snow cascading down the mountain behind and around him, Graham keep kicking and treading snow to stay afloat of the wave of snow, fighting as hard as he could to not get dragged down.
Perhaps most fortunate of all, Graham had picked a controlled slope to ride- the pitch flattened out 60m after the cliff. Grahams efforts worked, and he found himself burned only to the waist as the slide slowed and stopped. He dug himself out, keenly aware that if the slide the slide hadn’t slowed so quickly, he wouldn’t have had a chance. It wasn’t until watching the video footage of the incident months later that Graham grasped the scale of the slide, and just “how lucky I had been.”
A seasoned rider with an experienced group, Graham still found himself in a rider’s worst nightmare. “Surprisingly enough,” Graham says, “during the slide itself I felt pretty calm and just tried to deal with the situation as best I could by putting my body in the positions which I felt gave me the best chance of coming out unscathed.”
With luck and a quick thinking, Graham came out of the incident without a scratch. But as rider with eight years of experience in the area, the event was a “harsh reminder of how easily and quickly conditions can change.”
Two hours after the slide Graham triggered, Tinges experienced the biggest avalanche ever, claiming the lives of two snowboarders. Both avalanches were attributed to the late spring climate- huge temperature changes throughout the day, and a lack of cooling in the afternoon.
What could he have done? After being involved in such a life-threatening experience, and Graham says he was forced to reckon with two of the “golden les of freeriding:” paying attention to temperature changes and which aspect you are ridings on.
“No matter how long you ride these factors are always important and should never be ignored, no matter how good the line looks. Sometimes it’s best to follow your gut instinct and walk away.”

Sebastian Gogl
“It was one of those sunny days in March, where you hook up with everybody in the park,” recalls Monster Backside Magazine photo editor Sebastian Gogl. Sebastian was at the Fellhorn resort in Germany, hoping to shoot a few sequences in the park for a trick tip. When the rider he was scheduled to shoot didn’t show up, a friend and guide at the resort suggested they go for a run on the north face of the mountain instead, where they might find the last powder of the ending season. The weather was pretty hot, and it hadn’t snowed for over a week- “there was no avalanche danger,” says Sebastian. No one in his party was even thinking there could be a slide.
A short fifteen minute hike later, and Sebastian’s group was at the top of the run, strapping in and stoked. “The snow looked pretty fluffy and actually everybody wanted to go first.” The guide dropped in first, and the snow proved to be good- sprays went up and the group was hollering. Two more riders dropped in before Sebastian, each with the same effect- overhead spraying powder turns, just like “on those cold days in January.” Sebastian dropped into the bowl third, “with the biggest smile ever.” He couldn’t imagine doing a powder line “without my heavy camera backpack- and on a day where I should’ve been taking pictures in the park.”
But before he could take his first did turn “the whole face started sliding, and after 2 or 3 seconds I found myself between huge snow chunks.” Sebastian tried to push himself out to the right side, but there was no end of the avalanche. The slide dragged him over a cliff, and then buried him with snow. “That was the moment when it went totally silent around me, and I said to myself ‘your life isn’t over Basti, keep on fighting and concentrate on being brave!’”
Sebastian was pulled down the mountain, through what he calls “a washing machine with stones and without air.” Suddenly he was in the air again, as the avalanche washed him over a second cliff, breaking his shinbone and covering him again with a massive volume of snow. After a few more seconds, the avalanche came to a stop, with Sebastian luckily near the top. He tried to get his head out first, and the rest of group came up quickly to dig him out.
He was nearly out when a weird feeling overcame his body. Sebastian’s legs went stiff, then his torso, and head and even his lips. He couldn’t move at all and suddenly it felt like tons of weight was pressing on his body. For a few seconds, he couldn’t breathe- “that was the worst moment of my life.” These were the effects of oxygen loss in his blood from being buried by the snow.
The type of terrain prevented the rescue helicopter from landing. The copter had to fly back to the resort and get a basket to pull Sebastian out in. It took over an hour before he was flown out.
Sebastian counts himself lucky to have made through the ordeal alive, and points out the things that saved his life- riding with a group, packing the full kit- beacon, probe, shovel, and first aid kit, and a cell phone with an SOS number.

Wolle Nyvelt
Wolle Nyvelt was filming with Standard Films for the first time, riding the Penken area at his home resort, Mayrhofen Zillertal in Austria with Steve Gruber, their friend Roli, and Standard filmer Tom Day. The group was out to film some backcountry lines on a mountain Wolle and Steve had ridden a bunch- the Wangl.
The foursome traversed and then hiked to the Wangl area. They dropped their first runs at around 11 pm, at which point Wolle says the snow felt “good and safe.” After talking with Tom about what would be good to film, Wolle and Steve picked out some lines on a steeper part of the face.
At the top of his line- a steep chute between two-cliff bands- Wolle found a pocket of wind deposited snow blocking the entry. About ten meters below was a rock Wolle thought would be a safe drop in point. He traversed in from the side to avoid the windblown pocket of snow above, unstrapping to get a better look down the chute. After scoping it out, Wolle radioed to Tom, telling him “I’m ready in 30,” and walked onto the rock to strap in.
Wolle had gotten his front foot strapped in, and was clearing out the snow from his back binding when he heard air releasing from the snow in a big way. “I looked back up and all the snow was breaking apart,” says Wolle. “I looked forward to try and see the rock but it had also disappeared.” Wolle tried to traverse back out of the chute to the safe side, but with only one foot in, he couldn’t make it. With safety just six feet away “my speed was just not enough and the down force of the snow too strong. I was in there and I was fucked, man.”
Wolle tried to swim and stay above the torrent of snow that was pulling him down the chute, out of control. He tumbled over cliffs and rocks, the avalanche packing his mouth full of snow. Wolle remembers using his fingers to clear snow out his mouth twice as he went down the chute.
After a crazy but luckily soft ride down the chute, the slide deposited Wolle at the bottom intact. As the slope fattened out the snow slowed, and Wolle managed to get to his feet and ride, thinking to himself “man, you’re making it out here.” But he couldn’t see through the cloud of debris and was struggling to get up any speed at all in the thick snow. Just a few second later the rest of the slide came down the chute and hit him in the back, burying him. “I felt the avi stop and all the noise was gone in one second- craziness!”
Trying the best he could to stay calm, Wolle concentrated on breathing slower and conserving the air available in the snow around him. Hearing Steve and Tom talking to each other over the radio in that moment helped Wolle not lapse into panic. He focused on their voices, listening as Tom guided Steve down to where he last saw Wolle, directing him where to ride in order prevent setting off any more slides. “After that, I was in a different world, just struggling to get enough air.”
The next thing Wolle remembers is feeling a probe hitting him in the arm, and the sounds of people talking. Steve and Tom first uncovered Wolle’s head and then pulled him out. Overhead was the “whump” of a helicopter, and on the ground a snowcat and search and rescue party were approaching. “For me it looked like a move scene,” says Wolle. “They were really quick, and big respect for the for sure.” Shaken but uninjured, Wolle had Steve deal with the rescue crew while he went down to the lodge to “get my mind chilled.”
“The next few days I thought about it over and over again,” says Wolle. “Without my friends, beacons, shovels and probes I would not have had chance. Endless thanks to those guys!”
After a hanging out at his home for a day, Wolle went back up the Wangl, and looked at the entry of the chute and the avalanche crown.
“I knew I made a big mistake by ignoring that windstash of snow, and thinking I could get around it. It is hard to say NO when you see a beautiful thing you want to ride, but sometime you have to!”


It was a cold mid-winter day when Josh Thompson and a friend decided to hike just out of bounds on Hemispheres at his local resort, Mt.Baker Ski area. Recent storms had dropped a couple feet of new snow, dry, fluffy and deep. The weather was breaking and under overcast skies, the visibility just good enough “for a quick little jaunt outside the rope lines.”
With the full backcountry kit- beacons, shovels, and probes, the two set out on their short hike. Just a few minutes into the bootpack, the sun broke though the clouds, and Josh could see everything- “untracked pow with beer part of the face.
At the top of his line- a steep chute between two-cliff bands- Wolle found a pocket of wind deposited snow blocking the entry. About ten meters below was a rock Wolle thought would be a safe drop in point. He traversed in from the side to avoid the windblown pocket of snow above, unstrapping to get a better look down the chute. After scoping it out, Wolle radioed to Tom, telling him “I’m ready in 30,” and walked onto the rock to strap in.
Wolle had gotten his front foot strapped in, and was clearing out the snow from his back binding when he heard air releasing from the snow in a big way. “I looked back up and all the snow was breaking apart,” says Wolle. “I looked forward to try and see the rock but it had also disappeared.” Wolle tried to traverse back out of the chute to the safe side, but with only one foot in, he couldn’t make it. With safety just six feet away “my speed was just not enough and the down force of the snow too strong. I was in there and I was fucked, man.”
Wolle tried to swim and stay above the torrent of snow that was pulling him down the chute, out of control. He tumbled over cliffs and rocks, the avalanche packing his mouth full of snow. Wolle remembers using his fingers to clear snow out his mouth twice as he went down the chute.
After a crazy but luckily soft ride down the chute, the slide deposited Wolle at the bottom intact. As the slope fattened out the snow slowed, and Wolle managed to get to his feet and ride, thinking to himself “man, you’re making it out here.” But he couldn’t see through the cloud of debris and was struggling to get up any speed at all in the thick snow. Just a few second later the rest of the slide came down the chute and hit him in the back, burying him. “I felt the avi stop and all the noise was gone in one second- craziness!”
Trying the best he could to stay calm, Wolle concentrated on breathing slower and conserving the air available in the snow around him. Hearing Steve and Tom talking to each other over the radio in that moment helped Wolle not lapse into panic. He focused on their voices, listening as Tom guided Steve down to where he last saw Wolle, directing him where to ride in order prevent setting off any more slides. “After that, I was in a different world, just struggling to get enough air.”
The next thing Wolle remembers is feeling a probe hitting him in the arm, and the sounds of people talking. Steve and Tom first uncovered Wolle’s head and then pulled him out. Overhead was the “whump” of a helicopter, and on the ground a snowcat and search and rescue party were approaching. “For me it looked like a move scene,” says Wolle. “They were really quick, and big respect for the for sure.” Shaken but uninjured, Wolle had Steve deal with the rescue crew while he went down to the lodge to “get my mind chilled.”
“The next few days I thought about it over and over again,” says Wolle. “Without my friends, beacons, shovels and probes I would not have had chance. Endless thanks to those guys!”
After a hanging out at his home for a day, Wolle went back up the Wangl, and looked at the entry of the chute and the avalanche crown.
“I knew I made a big mistake by ignoring that windstash of snow, and thinking I could get around it. It is hard to say NO when you see a beautiful thing you want to ride, but sometime you have to!”


It was a cold mid-winter day when Josh Thompson and a friend decided to hike just out of bounds on Hemispheres at his local resort, Mt.Baker Ski area. Recent storms had dropped a couple feet of new snow, dry, fluffy and deep. The weather was breaking and under overcast skies, the visibility just good enough “for a quick little jaunt outside the rope lines.”
With the full backcountry kit- beacons, shovels, and probes, the two set out on their short hike. Just a few minutes into the bootpack, the sun broke though the clouds, and Josh could see everything- “untracked pow with beautiful light as far as the eye could see.” Josh says “temptation got he better of us,” and the duo changed their plans, hiking instead out onto the Shuksan arm, an expanse of wide open bowls- steep, full of cliff bands, and “right across form the top of chair eight in plain view of everyone else, including ski patrol.” Josh reasoned that he knew the area well enough too deal with any mishaps, plus there were other riders already out there.
Looking back, Josh knew things were dicey, but says “staring at all the pristine snow, it was easy to come up with any kind of rational just to get out there.” Once the two got above their lines “butterflies started stirring in my stomach,” and Josh no longer felt sure about their decision. As he slipped into position, the grey sky closed back in on the sun, and suddenly Josh was in the flat light, perched above a steep face with cliff exposure. “I was in vertigo,” says Josh. “I seriously couldn’t see a damn thing.”
The two talked about hiking out- Josh needed to see to negotiate his line, and just being out there was putting them at risk. But from where he had already hiked to, it was a long hike back up the face, and further still back to the ski area. As Josh stood there, his friend decided to go for it and dropped in. Josh watched him go, but he quickly disappeared over the fall line and out of view. Shortly he appeared out of the bottom, unscathed and yelling back up that it was good to go.
Josh still wanted to hike out, but now his riding partner was at the bottom. “I looked across the valley and saw ski patrol standing on point watching me,” says Josh. “I was scared. I knew the conditions were bad. What was I doing up there?”
As Josh dropped in “linking turns to oblivion,” he could hear onlookers cheering from the top of Chair Eight. “It was when those cheers turned to screams the I noticed everything around me break into a giant jigsaw puzzle.” The slope had snapped under his feet, sheering off to a depth of two feet. “My heart dropped. It’s a feeling that I can’t describe and never want to feel again.” Josh pointed it. He couldn’t see anything in the dismal lighting conditions, but knew he had to get out off the slope, fast.
He traversed hard to the left, knowing the avalanche path would follow the fall line, down the valley to the right. In his state of panic he forgot about the huge chunks of cornice debris that lay to the left of his line, right where he was riding. He hit one of those snow boulders going jacket-flapping fast, sending him cartwheeeling through the air.
“I landed on my stomach, head down in deep snow. As I struggled to get to my feet I looked up just in time to see this massive white wave come barreling down on me.” Josh’s stomach dropped for the second time in just a few minutes. “There was that feeling again- this is where I’m going to die.” Josh took a huge gulp of air and covered his face right before the avalanche hit him and tossed him like a rag doll.
Josh kept pawing the snow away form his face as he was swept into and under the snow, trying to keep an air pocket open, but the snow was way too dry. “I held my breath for dear life. I knew if I inhaled, all I was going to get were a lungs full of powder and I was going to suffocate.” As the slide slowed to a stop, Josh knew he couldn’t hold his breath anymore. He was in a panic, thrashing around to get a pocket for his face when his hand broke through to the surface, and he was able to free his face. After a few gasps, he was able to unbury himself in a few minutes.
Josh didn’t wait around long. There were still riders up above waiting to drop in, and to possibly trigger another slide. He collected his gear, regrouped with his partner and rode away fast.
“I was not only in a state of shock and very grateful to be alive, but I was thou roughly embarrassed and ashamed. I knew better.” Josh has always been pretty cautious in the backcountry, but admits that over the years he became careless. Especially at their local resorts, riders can get too comfortable, and forgo the considerations they take into account elsewhere.
“This definitely put me into check and opened my eyes,” Josh says. “It’s so easy to make excuses for going out when you know you shouldn’t. This is what kills people. Had the fracture been a little deeper, I may not have been able to get my face out as quickly as I had.”




iful light as far as the eye could see.” Josh says “temptation got he better of us,” and the duo changed their plans, hiking instead out onto the Shuksan arm, an expanse of wide open bowls- steep, full of cliff bands, and “right across form the top of chair eight in plain view of everyone else, including ski patrol.” Josh reasoned that he knew the area well enough too deal with any mishaps, plus there were other riders already out there.
Looking back, Josh knew things were dicey, but says “staring at all the pristine snow, it was easy to come up with any kind of rational just to get out there.” Once the two got above their lines “butterflies started stirring in my stomach,” and Josh no longer felt sure about their decision. As he slipped into position, the grey sky closed back in on the sun, and suddenly Josh was in the flat light, perched above a steep face with cliff exposure. “I was in vertigo,” says Josh. “I seriously couldn’t see a damn thing.”
The two talked about hiking out- Josh needed to see to negotiate his line, and just being out there was putting them at risk. But from where he had already hiked to, it was a long hike back up the face, and further still back to the ski area. As Josh stood there, his friend decided to go for it and dropped in. Josh watched him go, but he quickly disappeared over the fall line and out of view. Shortly he appeared out of the bottom, unscathed and yelling back up that it was good to go.
Josh still wanted to hike out, but now his riding partner was at the bottom. “I looked across the valley and saw ski patrol standing on point watching me,” says Josh. “I was scared. I knew the conditions were bad. What was I doing up there?”
As Josh dropped in “linking turns to oblivion,” he could hear onlookers cheering from the top of Chair Eight. “It was when those cheers turned to screams the I noticed everything around me break into a giant jigsaw puzzle.” The slope had snapped under his feet, sheering off to a depth of two feet. “My heart dropped. It’s a feeling that I can’t describe and never want to feel again.” Josh pointed it. He couldn’t see anything in the dismal lighting conditions, but knew he had to get out off the slope, fast.
He traversed hard to the left, knowing the avalanche path would follow the fall line, down the valley to the right. In his state of panic he forgot about the huge chunks of cornice debris that lay to the left of his line, right where he was riding. He hit one of those snow boulders going jacket-flapping fast, sending him cartwheeeling through the air.
“I landed on my stomach, head down in deep snow. As I struggled to get to my feet I looked up just in time to see this massive white wave come barreling down on me.” Josh’s stomach dropped for the second time in just a few minutes. “There was that feeling again- this is where I’m going to die.” Josh took a huge gulp of air and covered his face right before the avalanche hit him and tossed him like a rag doll.
Josh kept pawing the snow away form his face as he was swept into and under the snow, trying to keep an air pocket open, but the snow was way too dry. “I held my breath for dear life. I knew if I inhaled, all I was going to get were a lungs full of powder and I was going to suffocate.” As the slide slowed to a stop, Josh knew he couldn’t hold his breath anymore. He was in a panic, thrashing around to get a pocket for his face when his hand broke through to the surface, and he was able to free his face. After a few gasps, he was able to unbury himself in a few minutes.
Josh didn’t wait around long. There were still riders up above waiting to drop in, and to possibly trigger another slide. He collected his gear, regrouped with his partner and rode away fast.
“I was not only in a state of shock and very grateful to be alive, but I was thou roughly embarrassed and ashamed. I knew better.” Josh has always been pretty cautious in the backcountry, but admits that over the years he became careless. Especially at their local resorts, riders can get too comfortable, and forgo the considerations they take into account elsewhere.
“This definitely put me into check and opened my eyes,” Josh says. “It’s so easy to make excuses for going out when you know you shouldn’t. This is what kills people. Had the fracture been a little deeper, I may not have been able to get my face out as quickly as I had.”




became careless. Especially at their local resorts, riders can get too comfortable, and forgo the considerations they take into account elsewhere.
“This definitely put me into check and opened my eyes,” Josh says. “It’s so easy to make excuses for going out when you know you shouldn’t. This is what kills people. Had the fracture been a little deeper, I may not have been able to get my face out as quickly as I had.”