A Reminder to Stay Humble

Anna Backcountry 1

Written by: Anna Bernard

I come to face-to-face with the trunk of a tree and with fresh powder nearly up to my neck. Utter silence surrounds me and I slowly rework the logistics that led me here. I am alone, concussed and half-buried in snow, in unmarked terrain. I yell for the people I was skiing with. I yell for anyone. No one comes, and after this I don’t recall much, just the overwhelming thought:

I need to get out of here. I am getting out of here.

It started as a bluebird day in Summit County, Colorado. With only one run under my belt that morning, I already knew this was by far the most powder I have ever snowboarded in my life. Arapahoe Basin had been closed for several days due to the immense snowfall, and I was over the moon to be riding the fresh powder the day that A Basin had opened back up.

For the second run, my friends led me to the backside of the resort, dropping into a double-black diamond that danced close to the ridgeline that separates the resort from the backcountry. I was immediately separated from my group. They waited at the treeline as I dug myself out of the powder and attempted to gain controlled momentum in the untouched snow (I’m convinced this doesn’t exist in conditions like these).

Entering the trees, I once again was separated from the guys I was riding with instantly, and attempted to stick to the route I had thought they went on. I clearly chose wrong, but only realized the fact after I hit a tree head-on and woke up in a tree well, neck-deep in snow. I immediately unbuckled from my board and attempted to dig myself out, first with my arms, then with my board, and then with my entire 5’2″ being. It took far longer than anticipated and I was undoubtedly dripping sweat. I waited for someone to find me. I tried to contact the people I was with but my phone died shortly after the attempt.

I need to get out of here. I am getting out of here.

Photo taken by Anna Bernard, 2017.

Photo taken by Anna Bernard, 2017.

I don’t remember much after deciding to leave. I remember the eery silence, I remember feeling the smallest I’ve ever felt. I remember hiking through snow that came up to my hips. I remember having trouble breathing. I remember seeing Mother Nature in her truest form; unyielding, frighteningly beautiful, and unforgiving. She was never to be controlled and I remember thinking how foolish it can be of humanity to assume otherwise.

It took two hours for me to return. I reached a lift on the backside of the resort where my friend greeted me and I failed to recognize his face, my condition and everything else that occurred around me. They took me to the lift hut where my vitals were checked. Ski Patrol unzipped my jacket to find snow packed into every last bit of my mittens, jacket, and pants. I registered nothing. My words were slow and slurred, my movement was not in my control.

I was eventually put into a neck brace, hooked up to an oxygen tank and strapped to a sled (all of which I was told I fought bluntly against). With my new set up and limited mobility, patrol guided my sled onto the lift, which took us to the front side of the mountain. From there I was sledded down to the base of the mountain.

By this time, I had gained more consciousness, could move my neck and recall basic facts that assured patrol and my friends that I was on the mend. That evening, and the following days, consisted of more physical and emotional recovery than I could have anticipated. My body was so depleted from having exerted such an intense amount of energy for a lengthy duration, as well as my mind, which had completely shut off (“survival mode” is what patrol called it). Yet the thought that resonated most was how humble I felt.

Enjoying fresh powder weeks later  in Whistler, Canada. Photo taken by Blake Wiehe, 2017.

Enjoying fresh powder weeks later in Whistler, Canada. Photo taken by Blake Wiehe, 2017.

It was humbling for too many reasons to count. The experience was a reminder of the things taken for granted and for the pure naivety that we unknowingly carry at times. It was humbling to be reminded of my skill, and to understand that perhaps I shouldn’t jump into new terrain after the largest snowfall I’ve witnessed, despite how comfortable I have felt on my home mountain. It was a blunt reminder to stick with your group. Though in this case, I was the slowest, I should not have been left behind, regardless of how incredible the snow was for more experienced riders.

But more than that, I was humbled to view Mother Nature in her rawness, and to better understand her beauty and her strength. We do not own her, and we definitely do not control her. It is easy to forget how powerful she is, and at times, how unforgiving she can be. It was humbling to see her in this way, to be so alone with her. It was humbling that I got the chance to make it home at the end of the day, because too many do not get that chance. To be face-to-face with a force like Mother Nature is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, and something that will keep me grounded and humbled in the days to come.

Featured image: Riding A-Basin earlier in the season. Photo taken by Blake Wiehe, 2017.