Squaw Valley employee recalls being swept up in avalanche
A big, overnight snowstorm created a lot of work for Marty Boline on March 2 at Squaw Valley. But after he spent a good chunk of the morning clearing a road on the upper mountain with a Sno-Cat, it was time to take a break.
So the 16-year employee of Squaw Valley, who is married with two children, eventually parked the machine and rode a lift down the mountain to take a break and go eat lunch.
After lunch, he headed to his lift maintenance shop. His job generally consists of working on chairlifts, doing pre-operational checks, looking at machinery, ramp conditions, and addressing any issues he comes across.
As part of his job, he skis down the mountain in order to examine equipment and conditions along the way. So in the early afternoon, he booted up and headed down the mountain.
He took one lap on KT-22, and then figured he might as well take another lap before attending to other duties. He went to the east side of Olympic (Oly) Lady chairlift.
Boline said he wanted to check everything out, and examine the lift because it was subject to heavy wind. He then came across three lift operations supervisors, who were skiing together.
So Boline decided to see where they were going.
‘I saw the whole face just bubble and break up’
“We continued down and we got underneath Oly Lady, and I was the first one to drop in. You know, this one main chute that goes down into there off the shoulder, and I went right a little bit,” he said.
There were tracks from other skiers, so Boline wasn’t worried about his line. But then everything changed for the man who has been skiing at Squaw Valley for 20 years.
Boline said he came in to ski his line “and I saw the whole face just bubble and break up. I knew it was a big avalanche at that point.”
He said he didn’t have any speed, so he couldn’t shoot across and get to a safe point.
“I knew that option wasn’t available for me, so there’s two pine trees like 10 feet below me; at that point I have not moved yet. I was just watching everything start to break apart, and then when it took me I had to go about 10 feet and put my skis sideways and braced myself across these two little pine trees. And it stopped me,” Boline said.
But the snow was thick and heavy, and just took off in front of him. He said suddenly one of the trees bent down, and he got shot out.
The weight of the snow on his shoulders forced him to his chest “and that’s when I realized how deep it really was. It was so much snow moving down,” he said.
Boline said he then started to think about his family, as he was carried down the mountain at a rate of speed he estimated at 25 mph.
“I thought about my kids and my wife. ‘Am I never going to seem them again? … I’m not going to die here,’” he said.
‘I didn’t want to pass out’
As he was riding down a layer of ice, Boline said he felt a hard impact on his right leg and knew at that moment his femur had been broken.
He eventually ended up buried in a basin. After he stopped moving, Boline said he did body checks. He knew his leg was broken, but said he could feel his toes, spine, neck and head.
“I know where I am at this point. So I start thrashing around a little bit … I didn’t want to freak out because I knew I only had so much oxygen and I’m not sure if my left leg was buried or if I broke it free,” Boline said.
“But I realized I was able to move it, so I did like circles with my leg. I realized my left leg was full out … and it hurt.”
Boline was wearing orange boots, so his hope was that maybe patrollers would find him that way and dig him out. While buried in the snow, he was able to control his breathing and wrestle one of his arms free from a ski pole strap
He then started to claw at the snow around his head, which was fully buried.
“But I knew I wasn’t that deep, so that was a good thing … so I just scratched away. It was hard, obviously … I was pretty close, so I took a break. I was getting a little bit better air … I didn’t want to pass out. That was my biggest fear,” Boline said.
He also was wearing a beacon, so Boline was hopeful somebody was going to find him. So as his breathing became easier, he was then able to move snow around his head and finally get it free.
“I could see exactly where I was,” he said.
‘I was so glad someone was there’
Boline then tried to claw at his radio in his chest pocket. He got it to the point where he could hear radio chatter, but as he was messing with the device he saw ski patrol coming down the mountain doing an avalanche beacon sweep.
So he started yelling for help as loud as he could. He’d wait a few seconds, and then yell again.
“And I’m like ‘Oh my god. These guys are going to pass me and they’re not going to see me.’ Because they’re coming down on the other side of the clump of trees I was in and I was like … ‘damn it they’re not going to pass me.’”
But then his circumstances took a turn for the better. One of the patrollers heard him, and said to keep yelling so he could be located.
“He came around. I saw him and I was so glad someone was there,” Boline said.
He then let a patroller know that he was with three other people, all of whom he identified, at the time the avalanche occurred around 1:40 p.m. As it turned out, they were all fine.
Boline said it seemed like forever for his body to be wrested from the snow by rescuers. His spine, neck and other areas of his body were checked out before he was moved and put on a sled.
He realized how badly his leg was broken when someone was digging around his face and saw his boot.
“I’m like, ‘What?’ And I look, and my boot’s like right here just above my shoulder here and … I swear I wiggled my toes and it felt like they were down underneath me … that was the weirdest feeling,” Boline said.
He said when he was moved he was grabbed by the shoulders and pulled back onto the sled. At that point, he said his right leg went back to where it wanted to be.
“It was so much pain. I’ve never felt something like that before. And they put me in traction at that point, and it definitely helped,” Boline said.
He was then taken down the mountain, and transported by ambulance to Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee. He underwent multiple surgeries, and spent nearly a week in the hospital before he was released.
Boline’s road to recovery is going to be long. He must spend the next 6-8 weeks in a wheelchair, and cannot put any weight on his left leg, which suffered multiple fractures.
His wife, Christine, said her husband likely survived the ordeal because of his physical condition and the training he’s undergone while an employee at Squaw Valley.
“It is honestly a true miracle,” she said.
Staff writer Wyatt Haupt Jr. can be reached at 530-550-2652 or via email at email@example.com.