Avalanche Buries Snowboarder Alive
“All of a sudden everything starts to let go, the ledge and everything,” says Michael Walsh. “By this time I, you know, had lost my sight of Matt. And the cloud of snow was so big I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.”
Michael Walsh and his younger brother Matt thought they had found the perfect spot for backcountry snowboarding in Wyoming. The mountain bowl had an overhanging snowdrift and deep powder. They parked Michael’s truck and climbed to the steepest point.
“It’s kind of just a cliff basically, a snow cliff that builds up with all the wind,” says Michael. “And as it blows, it just kind of curls and curls and curls and just builds up a big ledge. Well, we were sitting right on the edge of it. The original plan was we were both going to go down at the same time, I don’t know why I changed the plan. He was already strapped in and I had one binding strapped in at this time. And I looked over at him and said, ‘Hey Matt, What are you waiting for?’”
His brother Matt jumped off the ledge and hit the slope below, triggering a massive avalanche.
Michael says, “All I hear is pop, pop, pop. The whole bowl lets go. And it sounds like a freight train running right over me.”
Matt slid hundreds of feet down the mountain caught in the avalanche. As he hit the bottom, the wall of snow behind him hit hard, burying him under three feet of heavy packed snow. Michael looked on helplessly.
“As soon as the smoke clears—no sign of him. Nothing,” says Michael. “There’s just rocks and sagebrush and dirt kicked—ripped up out of the ground on top of the snow. To see him disappear like that and I couldn’t stop it, that was very hard because I try to protect my brother as much as possible.”
Michael had a decision to make, run to his truck to call search and rescue or try and find his brother on his own.
“If I went and looked first, there was no way I was getting back up that hill by myself to call search and rescue again.” Michael says. “And so I just cried out to God and said ‘God, what do I do?’ And I heard Him just as loud as you’re talking to me, you know. ‘Go find your brother.’ I’d never heard God speak to me like that before and that was—it rocked me.”
He ran down the hill frantically calling his brother’s name.
“As soon as I get onto the slide area where it all settled, it’s just destruction. No sign of him. I’m looking for a hat, a tip of his board, a hand, something sticking out of the snow. Nothing,” says Michael. “And then I start to second guess myself. You know, was that really God telling me to go find my brother? And I just realized there’s no way I’m going to find him, nothing, no sign of him. Then I finally came to a point where I just kind of like gave up. I know it sounds terrible to give up but there was nothing to see.”
Matt lay buried deep in the snow, unable to move and also running out of hope.
Matt remembers, “Right when I realized that I was buried, and there was no—there was no way I was moving my body, I was certain I was going to die. At that point I had given up on trying to get out. I knew I was going to die.”
But as he lay there praying, he says he felt God’s presence with him.
“And the peace I felt in that moment was—it was amazing. It was –I would say it was Him with me in the moment,” says Matt. “So I was ready. I knew where I was going. I wasn’t scared.”
Then, he heard God speak to him and remind him of a prophecy given to Matt’s mother when she nearly miscarried him as a baby—that the baby would not die but live, and God would do great things through his life.
“The hope—when He spoke to me I had hope. It was like okay, this isn’t it, you know. He’s going to rescue me from this. He’s going to save me. It’s not going to stop here, you know,” recalls Matt. “He’s still got a plan for my life and a purpose for my life and he’s still going to use me in a mighty way.”
Matt says hope propelled him to action. He had an air pocket near his face and he was able to dig one arm towards the surface. Meanwhile, Michael stood directly above him, unaware of his location.
“Pretty much I’m about to fall to my knees and just lose all hope in it,” says Michael. “So I just yell one more time, ‘Matt!’ Its like—the wind’s blowing 60 mph. So when you’re wearing a hood and a hat, you can’t hear very well. Well, everything goes dead silent. And I just hear, ‘Mike, I’m fine.’ There’s no way I should have heard him with that wind blowing. Now I’m thinking I’m crazy. You know, I’m like, where are you? He said, ‘The hole.’ Well, I turn and I take a step back and I look under my left foot right before I set down, I see a hole about the size of a baseball in the snow. I just kept digging and kept digging. I dug another foot. And I could see the Oakley symbol on his jacket that I had just bought him like a week before that. And I dug to his face and I could see his face that he was still alive and okay. I started crying like a baby. I was just, I mean, I was so happy but so scared all at the same time.”
He spent the next half hour digging Matt out of what could have been a snowy grave. They say it was only by God’s grace that they made it out alive.
Michael says, “He led me right to the spot where Matt was. I mean, I didn’t know where he was. I had no idea which direction he was. The way it swept him, you know. And to lead me dead center on top of him, that’s not coincidence. God met me there and was standing there and held my hand all the way down that and kept me safe and him safe.”
Matt says, “I think I survived because God has a bigger plan for my life. He, you know, He has big things in store for me. I don’t think that He was going to let that be foiled by an avalanche. I think that He –He wasn’t—it wasn’t His will. That’s what I think. I’m definitely very thankful, you know, that God would--that God would rescue me from this. That He would work it out in a way that –that we both come out okay.”
“It was definitely the scariest thing I’ve ever had happen to me in my life,” Michael says. “I mean, watching my best friend and thinking he’s dead and there’s no way I’m ever going to find him. And then, you know, having the Lord just meet me there on that hill and be there with me the whole time. He was there. And He hears your prayers in your time of need.”