MCCALL -- A Lewiston snowmobiler says he is lucky to be alive after he was buried in an avalanche over the weekend. 26-year-old Dusty Eller was snowmobiling with a group of riders around the Duck Lake area near McCall.
Initially, Eller was snowmobiling in a low-elevation area, but eventually he and his group moved up to higher elevations to ride. He says some more experienced riders had just noticed some warning signs and were going to have everyone come down, but Eller was up for one last run.
"The avalanche broke 200 feet or more to my left," Eller said. "The whole group of people I had that were with me, they were at the bottom of the hill. They looked over to see it coming down, and when they looked back, I wasn't there anymore."
Eller tells KTVB he was caught in the avalanche and knocked 150 to 200 feet down the steep snowy hill.
Snowmobiler: 'I had no air to breathe'
"When I was laying there, I could feel the snow condensing on top of me, just kind of giving a 'kush, kush, kush' sound, and I knew that there was nothing I could do. It was so wet and heavy that I couldn't move. I knew it was out of my hands. I just needed to survive as long as possible," Eller said. "I was probably awake for 45 seconds to a minute before I was going in and out of consciousness. The last thing I remember is basically panting like a dog because I had no air to breathe."
Thankfully, Eller was wearing an avalanche beacon and because of that members of his snowmobile team were able to find him and dig him out after a few minutes.
"They said I was motionless for three minutes after they had me uncovered. My face was blue. They were getting ready to start doing CPR," Eller said.
Eventually, Eller says he was able to start moving and was able to communicate to his rescuers that he was okay and had no broken bones.
"I stood up and looked around and couldn't believe how many people were around me. There was people everywhere: Digging, praying, crying, everything," Eller said.
Eller says he and his brother have plans to take an avalanche class in January, but this experience gave him a tough lesson earlier than he'd planned. He says Team 57's beacons, probes and shovels saved his life.
"For how bad everything went, it couldn't have went any better," Eller said. "Without that beacon on, I wouldn't be talking to you right now."
Expert avalanche advice from ski patrol
Brad Acker, Patrol Director for 705 Backcountry Ski Patrol and a member of Idaho Mountain Search and Rescue, says those three pieces of equipment (beacons, probes and shovels) are essential for those recreating in back and high country areas. He says while it's early in the season, incidents like Eller's are reminders of how dangerous early snow can be.
"At the beginning of the season like this, avalanche danger can run pretty high because we have a shallow snow pack, and it can tend to be very unstable," Acker said. "So when we get a lot of new snow like we did in the last weekend is when avalanche dangers really start to escalate."
In addition to emergency equipment, Acker recommends taking a slope inclinometer to check the steepness of terrain.
"Most avalanches occur at a slop angle of 37 degrees, but they can occur as low as the mid-20s and into the upper 40s, so those are the slopes someone would want to stay off of if they want to recreate and not be involved at all in an avalanche," Acker said.
Resources for winter sports and recreation
To check avalanche conditions before heading out on a trip, Acker suggests the following websites: