Snowboarders are always looking for some fresh gnar to shred and fresh pow to ride. This fella in Big Cottonwood Canyon got a little more than he bargained for though. He had to ride out a full-on avalanche. Big Cottonwood is about 12 miles southeast of Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Mountains. Blake Nielson was up in the mountains with a friend when the avalanche swept him down the mountain. He got it all on camera too.
The pair hiked up to the top of Kessler Peak. Nielson started recording a panoramic video of the snow-covered mountaintops. Though the wind was unusually strong that day, the mountains still seemed serene. Blake Nielson shared the video and his thoughts with KSL TV.
“This was up on the ridge. You can hear it’s pretty windy that day,” he narrated at the beginning of the footage. There’s so much joy to be had in the backcountry. It’s such an incredible experience,” he said. Nielson has a great appreciation for the beauty of the backcountry. But he also respects the dangers that come with exploring it.
Nielson said he’s been exploring slopes outside of typical ski resort runs for more than 5 years. Beyond just snowboarding, he enjoys the mountaineering and route charting aspects of backcountry adventures. He’s read several books on monitoring conditions for signs of an avalanche and taken several educational courses through the Utah Avalanche Center. He also monitors the Avalanche Center’s conditions on a daily basis and stays up to date on the constantly changing conditions. The chances of an avalanche were forecasted to be low to moderate on the day that disaster almost struck.
The Avalanche Was Unexpected By Conditions Forecast
Though Blake Nielson said he felt good about snow conditions that day, he still made sure to conduct frequent snow stability tests along his trek toward the top of Kessler Peak. “Because there have been some other avalanche issues throughout the season — some deep instability issues — we decided to dig a pit about the same aspect of the chute that we were going to ride,” he explained.
They had some concerns about the wind but after several snowpack tests there appeared to be no signs of instability or ice slabs on the surface of the mountain. Nielson said he stomped on a snow cornice below him but couldn’t get it to budge. “We didn’t think there would be an avalanche based on all of the tests and everything we ran,” he said.
Then he dropped down on the slope ready to ride. Not just his board slid down the snowface though. The whole mountain moved. He can be heard yelling out to his friend in the video which was captured from a GoPro camera mounted to his helmet.
The avalanche carried him approximately 300 feet down the mountain past trees and boulders before his momentum finally stopped. The avalanche continued rolling down the mountain for about another 1,000 feet. Though it was a scary situation, Nielson turned out to be completely safe from harm throughout the whole ordeal.
He hopes others can learn a lesson from his mistakes. He warned folks that an avalanche may not be as readily obvious as one would assume, and it’s important to always be prepared. The harrowing experience won’t deter him from future backcountry adventures, he’ll just make sure he continues to take classes, read books, and be prepared for future avalanches.