Young Comox Valley skier caught in avalanche thought he might die

A COMMAND CENTRE at Raven Lodge on Mount Washington directed the rescue operation for four men caught in an avalanche. - CTV Vancouver Island
A COMMAND CENTRE at Raven Lodge on Mount Washington directed the rescue operation for four men caught in an avalanche.
— image credit: CTV Vancouver Island

Andrew Stickney admitted for a few moments while caught in an avalanche Tuesday afternoon in Strathcona Provincial Park, he might not make it out alive.

"I knew right away I was in an avalanche," he noted to The Record in a phone interview from his hospital room. "My mood went from thinking maybe I was going to die to really happy (when rescuers arrived)."

The experienced 18-year-old skier, who works at a local ski shop in the Valley, suffered a broken tibia in four spots as he and three of his friends were caught in the avalanche Tuesday afternoon near Moat and Circlet lakes near Mount Washington — outside Mount Washington Alpine Resort.

Stickney was the only one injured in the incident.

He said he knew immediately he was in trouble when the massive pile of snow hit.

"I looked up at my buddy and I knew I was going down," he explained. "It just buried me down the hill.

"It was a bunch of white powder; it was really deep and I couldn't see anything. I fell off a 25-foot cliff, hit a tree and knew right away I was hurt. I felt my leg snap in multiple places."

The well-prepared skiers used a cellphone to call for help, and members of 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron assisted members of Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue (CVGSAR) to search for the stranded men, whose ages range from 18 to 30.

CVGSAR, based out of Raven Lodge at Mount Washington, reached them around 10 p.m., and stabilized Stickney, who was in chest-deep snow lying at the base of the cliff.

He said he felt "really good, definitely relieved" when rescuers reached him, and he was getting cold prior to personnel giving him warm water and blankets.

A Cormorant helicopter lowered two search and rescue technicians (SAR Techs) 170 feet to begin the extraction.

"The conditions were very turbulent, and visibility was low,” said Capt. Blair Turner, first officer of the Cormorant. “The winds were approximately 50 km/h, which made the hoists challenging.”

Even as they were rescuing Stickney, conditions were challenging, noted SAR Tech Sgt. Dan Verret.

"As we worked to put the patient in a litter, we were frequently hit by chunks of snow falling from the trees that had been left by the avalanche’s path," he added.

Stickney was flown to CFB Comox, where he was transferred by ambulance in stable condition at 3:20 a.m. Wednesday.

Despite the broken leg and muscle damage, Stickney said the incident won't keep him off the slopes.

"I definitely want to get back to skiing; it truly is my life," he added. "I am just really happy me and my friends are alive."

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