Avalanche survivor's message: 'Look at the risks'

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by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on December 18, 2012 at 11:07 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 19 at 6:44 PM

SEATTLE -- Ten months after he narrowly escaped a deadly avalanche in the backcountry of Stevens Pass, Wenzel Peikert hopes other skiers can learn from his story.

"I just want people to know that, when skiing in a group -- whether it's inbounds, out of bounds, backcountry, side country -- people just need to take a step back and look at the risks," Peikert said. 

Peikert was part of a relatively large group that was backcountry skiing in February when a massive avalanche killed three people -- Chris Rudolph, Jim Jack and Johnny Brenan

"It missed me by 30 to 50 feet, it was a really close call," he said.  "It was like a freight train went over the tails of my skis."

He has since returned to the slopes, but not the backcountry. 

"I might not actually enjoy it as much now, just with the danger," he said. 

The avalanche risk was high that February day.  Looking back, he wonders if the group's incredibly high level of expertise was actually a problem.

"People may not speak up because they feel that another person in the group has more knowledge and would speak up if was dangerous," he said.  "They refer to it as 'expert halo.'"

Peikert think it is good that skiers can access out-of-bounds areas, but as more skiers choose to do that, he wants to make sure they are familiar with the potential dangers. 

"[A] person may evaluate the risk and find that to be an acceptable amount of risk," Peikert said.  "That doesn't mean that someone else would find that to be an acceptable amount of risk."

New York Times sports reporter John Branch interviewed Peikert and other survivors for a massive story on the avalanche.  It should be posted online later this week and will appear in print a few days later. 

The story is so extensive, Branch wrote an e-book, "Snow Fall," which should also be released later in the week.

 

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