Skier survives backcountry avalanche by jumping off 100-foot cliff


LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KTXL) – A California skier has a harrowing tale to tell after surviving an avalanche.

Kyle Johnston was on a regular backcountry outing last month in the Tahoe region, where avalanches are common.

“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.

But the Friday that kicked off President’s Day weekend was different.

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

But that quickly changed for the 34-year-old skier.

“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, and it could have been longer if not for the help of his cousin.

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

Johnson suffered a punctured lung, concussion, five broken vertebrae, several broken ribs and a minor brain bleed. He was flown in a helicopter to the hospital, where he spent 12 days.

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

Johnson, an experienced skier, said he is grateful he lived and cautions people about backcountry skiing.

“Having the skills, knowing where 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. “The mountains, they are not forgiving sometimes, but I was lucky that they were very forgiving for me.”

Johnson said it will take some time, but he plans to return to backcountry skiing once he makes a full recovery.

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