STAR VALLEY, WYO – Andy Thomas has put a sled just about everywhere in the backcountry. He’s put his #104 Polaris atop Snow King more than a few times as well during the World Championship Hill Climb. The 22-year-old was also named RMSHA’s racer of the year in 2017.
All that experience on the snow, all the glory and accolades thrown his way, none of it meant a thing last weekend when he found himself pulling his avi airbag after he found himself being carried away in a slow-moving slide.
Thomas said his first thought was his buddy. He didn’t know if the break he had been caught up in also got him. He was also worried snow above the fracture would come loose as well and completely bury him and his sled. And he couldn’t believe the snow slide in that spot.
“We rode that spot multiple times, hundreds of times. The weekend before it had been rode,” Thomas told Buckrail. “We should have been a little more cautious given the conditions. This wasn’t a bad slide but it was enough to open my eyes.”
Thomas said he deployed the bag out of instinct, just like he’d rehearsed it in his head over and over until it was second nature. He thought riding in trees would be safer than out on an open slopeside.
“You talk to anyone who’s been riding for years and they’ll say even though it seems like trees will hold the snow together better, it’s easy to get complacent and forget anywhere can be dangerous.”
After his buddy showed up and helped him unbury his sled, he and Thomas eventually took the safest line out of the mountains in Star Valley east of Afton and made it home.
Conditions in the backcountry continue to be challenging. Avalanche activity has spiked since recent snow. Thomas debated posting his incident just as previous riders had when they got slid. In the end, he thought it best to warn others and pass along what he learned.
Here is what the sledder posted on Facebook:
I’ve thought a lot about posting this. About the only reason I haven’t is because I don’t want to hear all the people that think they know everything tell me what I did wrong.
But I know that there are some people that could really learn a lot from this. Maybe open your eyes without having to go through it.
I’ve always thought there could be nothing worse than getting in an avalanche but there is. Getting in an avalanche and not knowing if your best friend that you know is following right behind you is buried. Not knowing where anybody is. Not knowing if the top is going to break and bury more than just waste deep.
A few things I’ve learned from this:
1. I will never ride without all of my gear.
2. Radios are also an item that must be carried. We could have easily communicated right after the slide to make sure we were both okay.
3. Keep your family and friends close, and live everyday to the fullest.
4. It will slide in the trees.