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Surviving an Avalanche

Aired March 5, 2003 - 11:42   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: January 20th was a frightening and unfortunately a deadly day for a group of skiers in the Canadian Rockies. A thunderous wall of snow buried 13 back country adventurers, and seven of them did not make it out alive. Among the dead, four-time world champion Craig Kelly, a man who was quite familiar with those kinds of conditions, or at least hiking up those mountain slopes like that. So you wonder how powerful nature must be if it can do in a man like that.
Well, Even Weselake was one of those outdoorsmen who was trapped in that huge snowball, and his dramatic story of survival appears in the latest issue of the magazine "Men's Journal." It hits the stands on March 11th, and Evan Weselake joins us this morning from Calgary, Alberta.

Evan, I've got to tell you, it is very good to see you with us here this morning.

How are you these days? From reading that article, it seemed like you're still having a tough time even thinking about what happened that day?

EVAN WESELAKE, AVALANCHE SURVIVOR: Yeah, certainly I am. When I first read the article, I couldn't get through the whole thing, had a few shakes.

HARRIS: How did you write it? I mean, it seemed as though it would have been even tougher to write it than to read it.

WESELAKE: It was more like I was telling the story to a friend. That's how I thought about it, and that's how I approached it from the beginning. Mike Kradowski (ph) who is the author, in fact, really just helped me edit it.

HARRIS: Now, let's talk about what you did that day, and show the picture that's in the "Men's Journal" magazine. This is what you all -- this is the kind of thing you were doing. This is not an actual photo, but this the kind of hike that you have to take up a mountain like that in those mountains out there in Canada to get to the location. That's a typical hike there?

WESELAKE: That's pretty typical. You're using your skis as your method of climbing the mountain.

HARRIS: And as you're doing that, you write that you were in single file motioning there, in formation rather, because it's easier to step in each other's footsteps, and you actually saw the crack open up at the beginning of the landslide is that, correct?

WESELAKE: Yes, I did. Well, at first I thought it would just be a little bit of snow moving across my boots, it's not uncommon to have a slough, a couple inches of snow but when the world starts moving past your vision, when all of you is going sideways down the mountain, you know right away, this is going to be really bad, and you yell as loud as you can.

HARRIS: Are you trained for something like that? Is there any way at all could you train for something like that?

WESELAKE: You talk about it a lot and try to imagine those scenarios when you're talking to other people, but to train for it, no, I don't think that's possible.

HARRIS: So what do you do? You said something about trying to get big. What do you mean by that?

WESELAKE: Well, an avalanche when it's moving takes on the properties of fluid. It's like a river, and something that's big, something that is like a starfish won't be buried as easily as something small, like in the fetal position, so you're sticking your legs out, you're sticking your arms out, you're clawing at anything and everything to get to the top.

HARRIS: And you still got stuck. As a matter of fact, I read that even when they were digging you out, at one point, you only had your forearm stuck, and you still couldn't get your arm out.

WESELAKE: It had to be dug free; you're encased in snow.

HARRIS: You talk a lot about your friend Naomi, and you sound as though you felt guilty that she didn't make it and you did.

WESELAKE: I don't know if I'd use the word "guilt." I think there is a point when I got free of the snow that I had a really difficult decision, do I search for this person immediately close to me, turned out to be Jean Luc, or do I run across this debris field and try to find Naomi? And that's probably the most difficult decision I made that day.

HARRIS: That's phenomenal, and I can't imagine being put in a position to make that kind of decision.

WESELAKE: I don't recommend it to anyone.

HARRIS: I go out and play golf with my buddies. I can't imagine going out on a recreational even and losing seven friends in one day. Does that make you not want to go back on the mountain?

WESELAKE: Well, I haven't been back yet. I look forward to going back next year, specially to Selcurk (ph) Mountain Experience. I think it's a great place. I trust Rudy implicitly. And I love being there. It's beautiful. If I didn't go back, I might as well have been one of the people lost. But it will take sometime to get used to that again. HARRIS: What do you think was it about you that made it possible for you to survive? I've read you actually practiced yoga. Do you think that's what helped you?

WESELAKE: I think that helped me to slow my body down and relax once it all came to a stop, yes, indeed, relaxing all your muscles and saving any oxygen that you can is imperative, because that's how people die in an avalanche.

HARRIS: Evan Weselake, again, we're very glad to see you, and we wish you the very best, and we hope that you're able to get on with your skiing again and get on with the rest of your life, as well. And we also want to pay tribute and remember your friends you lost on that mountain. And here now are the names of those that did not make it off that mountain.


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