Tahoe skier survives backcountry avalanche by jumping off 100-foot cliff

Local News

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KTXL) – Avalanches are common in the Tahoe region and most people never live to share their experiences, but a Tahoe skier lived through an avalanche last month.

It was a regular back country outing for Tahoe skier Kyle Johnston.

“We have been in these mountains and these zones dozens of times,” Johnston said, referring to the mountains near the Blue Lakes just south of Lake Tahoe.

The Friday that kicked off President’s Day weekend was unlike any other.

“Started with some familiar terrain and tested the snow and we were feeling good about it,” Johnson recalled.

The 34-year-old was in for a rude awaking.

“Due to the way the avalanche broke, it broke above me and not below me. I just got really lucky, simply put. Where it was taking me, if I had gone with it, was taking me to where I felt a really bad outcome,” Johnson said.

Instead Johnson jumped off a 100-foot cliff.

“Once I landed, I knocked out and was unconscious. Then I got buried by all the snow that was behind,” Johnson explained.

He was buried for five minutes. If it wasn’t for the help of his cousin it would have been longer.

“He thankfully was able to find my hand that was sticking out, but I wasn’t completely buried,” Johnson said.

Johnson wasn’t so lucky on the injury front. He suffered a punctured lung, concussion, five broken vertebrae, several broken ribs and a minor brain bleed. He was taken to the hospital on a helicopter and spent 12 days hospitalized.

“I got really lucky. I don’t know how to say it,” Johnson said.

The experienced skier was able to live through something not many are able to. He says he is grateful and appreciates what he has, and he cautions people to only go backcountry skiing if you’re ready to put your life in someone’s hands.

“Having the skills, knowing where are you are at, knowing how to be prepared and plan for the worst. Simply put, my cousin being prepared and his knowledge and experience in the mountains saved my life,” Johnson said.

A second chance not many are able to get.

“The mountains, they are not forgiving sometimes, but I was lucky that they were very for giving for me,” Johnson said.

Johnson says it will take some time before he makes a full recovery, but this experience isn’t stopping him from backcountry skiing, and will be back out once he makes a full recovery.

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