Beautiful day for snowboarding quickly turned terrifying

Chaffin Mitchell
·7 min read

Cracks started to race up the ridgeline releasing thousands of pounds of snow without warning. While he watched the cracks spread past him up the mountain, 25-year-old snowboarder Maurice Kervin looked back over his shoulder to see the slabs of heavy snow racing toward him from all angles at 50 to 60 mph.

Within seconds, the avalanche wiped the ground from under his feet sending him barreling down the mountain in Loveland Pass, Colorado, on Jan. 8.

"I'm lucky to be alive," Kervin told AccuWeather in an interview. "It took quite awhile for me to collect myself. I couldn't stop shaking for like 15, 20 minutes probably."

A wall of snow rushes down a steep mountain amid an avalanche. (Image via aluxum / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Kervin recalled the day he found himself fighting for his life when he said the snow went from zero to 60 in a matter of one to two seconds.

Kervin grew up skiing until he was about 15 or 16 before he transitioned to mainly snowboarding, he said. He's been skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry for a decade and has completed avalanche training.

While in the training, the experienced snowboarder probably did not expect that one day he would need to put what he learned to the test.

It started out like a normal day. Kervin remembers the weather was beautiful and sunny with powdery snow; however, the snow was starting to get a little bit heavier since the sun had been hitting it all day long - which is what he thinks may have helped trigger the avalanche.

"My first reaction when I saw it break below me was, OK maybe we can cut off to the left and stay above this. I quickly watched the cracks go up the ridgeline above me and looked back," Kervin said. "At that point, I noticed that it's breaking all around me up to 50 feet above me."

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At that point, Kervin's options became very limited, but he said there wasn't time to be nervous or panic.

"My first thought was to stay on top and my second thought was: 'Don't break your femur because that's going to make this really difficult.' So basically, I didn't want any lower-body injuries. If my arms got a little bit twisted up or turned, I dislocated my finger a little bit, that's fine, I can still walk out, no problem. But, if I break a leg, we're talking much more serious consequences," Kervin said.

"Basically, the top three feet of snow sitting on top of the base layer of facets, or persistent layer broke loose on me about 30% of the way down off of the ridgeline, fracturing all around me," Kervin said.

Kervin estimated that the avalanche took him approximately 1,000 vertical feet down the mountain, and he managed to barely stay out of the gully, which he said was fortunate given how powerful and forceful the avalanche became. He didn't have much control of his body as he tumbled downhill, but his main focus was staying above the rushing wall of snow.

"I kind of did like a backstroke and tried to keep my feet above the snow. My feet at this point were fairly in the snow, but my knees and up were above the snow," Kervin said.

An avalanche airbag is a life-saving device for backcountry skiers across the globe, and it could be why Kervin is alive today. Research has shown wearing an inflated airbag improved the chance of survival by 50%.

It is designed to make the person wearing it larger so that the individual rises to the surface of the snow. The human body is three times denser than avalanche debris and sinks quickly.

The Halo 28 Jetforce Avalanche Airbag Pack in the Black Diamond booth at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The rushing wall of snow forced Kervin over a cliff. When he felt the cliff ledge hit the bottom of his board, he tried to push off it to stay on top of the snow. When he landed, his feet were free, but he was stuck on a rapid wave of avalanche debris.

"It takes me down to a stop, and then in the video you'll see off to my right in the gully where all the snow is piling up about 20 to 30 feet deep. That was probably the most intense part of the whole thing," he recalled. "When I came to a stop and the whole world is still moving around me and I'm trying to figure out, 'Do I need to get out of here and move or am I in a safe position? Or like what just happened?' And then the world stopped moving and I was able to unstrap and assess what happened," Kervin said.

When it was all said and done, Kervin's friend rushed over to him and gave him a hug. They immediately called 911 to call off the search and rescue response.

"They were already mounting a huge search and rescue response, like literally like one to two minutes after the slide had occurred. We were right on top of calling. There was another avalanche that occurred that same day on Berthoud Pass, which is another pass in Colorado. And there was a flight for life helicopter that was already there; it had dug somebody out," Kervin said.

A rescue helicopter in the mountains. (Image via mazzzur /
iStock / Getty Images Plus)

"[They] got on our radio calls and basically told us that we needed to get out of there right now and that they weren't comfortable with what was above us. And at that point we were already ready to go," Kervin said.

"The adrenaline was still pretty heavy at that point. I noticed the adrenaline kick off halfway through our hike up because all of a sudden legs were dead, body was dead. Didn't want to move. It was just like, 'Okay, I have another 500 vertical to the ridge, we can ski back to the car,'" Kervin said.

Kervin was already recording before the snow slide started - now he's able to rewatch the scariest time of his entire life. The whole video lasted roughly three minutes - 30 seconds of which were Kervin's fight for life.

Every year avalanches kill more than 150 people around the world, according to DoSomething.org.

If you're ever caught in an avalanche, try to stay on top of the snow as much as you can by opening your arms and legs to making yourself as large as possible.

A hand in deep snow reaching for help. (Image via ElinaRyzhenkova /
iStock / Getty Images Plus)

"If you do become buried, there are a couple of techniques that are some people say are vital. I have never had to use them. But one of them is to put your mouth, or your arm over your mouth and try to create an air pocket and take a big breath before you go under the snow and remain calm," Kervin said.

If you remain calm and do not panic, you have a higher chance of surviving under the snow for a longer period of time.

"Also to add to that, another thing they say with your other hand is to put it up as high as you can and try to keep at least your hand or something if you have a ski pole in your hand stick that up so that it's easier to locate where you went under or where you are underneath the snow. If you have just even a hand sticking out that makes it so much easier for everybody else to find you," Kervin said.

Reporting by Lincoln Riddle.

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