Avalanche Aware: Survivor Shares Backcountry Lessons

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A mass of snow that’s sliding, tumbling or flowing down an inclined surface — that’s an avalanche, and its season is here. We spoke with JT Holmes, a local extreme skier — and avalanche survivor —  on how to avoid avalanche dangers.

Extreme skier JT Holmes has two main rules for avoiding avalanche dangers: Have a great team with you, and never be complacent.

He recommends that all skiers, even those not planning to go into the back country, pay attention to the snow pack, the weather, the temperature and other conditions. He checks websites and avalanche conditions just to be aware of the mountain.

Locally, www.sierraavalanchecenter.org is an excellent resource for avalanche conditions, classes and weather, Holmes says.

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On the gear side, Holmes said all backcountry skiers should have a beacon they know how to use, a shovel and a probe at all times and quickly accessible. 

“They need to be quick on the draw, because when it matters, it really matters,” Holmes says. “Seconds count. It can be the difference between zero injury and brain injury, or alive and dead.”

On Jan. 14, 2016, Holmes was caught in an avalanche that buried him under three feet of snow.

“I remember the whole experience of being buried in an avalanche vividly, except for the four minutes or so that I was unconscious,” Holmes says.

Holmes is also the director of B.A.S.I.C.S., a program of the High Fives Foundation designed to promote safety and awareness through world-class fundamentals coaching. The foundation was formed by aspiring competitive freelance skier Roy Tuscany, who suffered a life-altering spinal cord injury and regained his ability to walk through therapy at the Renown Rehabilitation Hospital.

RELATED:  High Fives: Athlete Gives Back After Life-Changing Injury

In 2002, Holmes, a University of Nevada, Reno grad, was awarded a certificate of heroism from the governor of Alaska for saving the life of an avalanche victim.

Holmes has also been featured on CBS 60 minutes for his two-time ski-BASE jumping descent down the Eiger, a mountain in the Swiss Alps. Holmes also performs stunt jumping for movies, including Transformers 3.

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