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Backcountry skiers share their story after getting caught in two spring avalanches

Ryan McClure was helping fellow skier, Connor Ryan, after he got caught in an initial slide when a second avalanche started.
Posted at 6:56 AM, May 08, 2023

SAN JUAN COUNTY — Two weeks ago, Ryan McClure, Connor Ryan, and two other friends started planning a late spring backcountry ski trip in the San Juans.

"We had this dreamy line picked out on this mountain called King Solomon," said Ryan. The group had checked the avalanche forecast and scouted the area before committing to the plan.

The night before, the group said there had been several inches of snowfall in the mountains.

"We'd been assessing the snowpack on the way up, but the conditions that I found were just very different from what I had expected," said Ryan, who dropped in first, and got caught in an avalanche.

Spring avalanches are typically slower-moving and shallow. Ryan described the avalanche he got stuck in as a mid-winter avalanche with dry snow moving at a high rate of speed.

He was able to get on top of the snow and was not seriously hurt. He was stuck without his skis, so McClure slowly made his way down to help.

"I made a small ski cut, trying to test the reactivity and the slope, it didn't budge," said McClure before he started moving down the mountain, "I kind of looked up above me, and the whole thing started moving. And it very quickly got out of hand."

McClure was caught in a second, larger avalanche. He was wearing a smart-watch at the time that detected he had slid 1,600 feet and hit a max speed of 50MPH.

"I remember specifically being airborne for a long enough time to go, 'Wow, I'm still in the air,'" he remembered.

When he came crashing down, his leg hit part of the mountain, breaking his femur.

"I was buried about to my chest here. The only thing I could see was my femur sticking out of my leg," said McClure.

Ryan carefully made his way down to help McClure. He was able to tourniquet McClure's leg to stop the bleeding and the group was able to call for help using their GPS & satellite communicator, heavily recommended for anyone in the backcountry, and called Silverton Medical Rescue.

McClure was eventually flown to a hospital. He's had three surgeries so far and is home recovering with his family.

"The injury is a compounded distal femur fracture with a complete rupture of the quadricep tendon and patellar tendon," said McClure.

He said doctors tell him he should be able to start trying to walk again in about six months.

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The two are grateful to the rescue crews, the training they've gone through, and each other.

"My partners, they were so incredibly strong and smart. They did so much good work to get me down to where Silverton Medical Rescue could take over," said McClure.

"You need to be prepared to this level, if you really want to dedicate time to spending, you know, your life in the mountains, especially the backcountry," said Ryan.

The two plan to continue skiing, McClure as soon as he's able, but they do caution anyone heading out into the backcountry to be prepared for the worst even if you've done your homework.

"A different appreciation for the mountains and how real, raw, dangerous, and fulfilling they are," said McClure.

McClure is unable to work while he recovers from his injuries. His partner has launched a GoFundMe effort to raise money to cover his care while he's out of work but the couple also plans to donate 10% of [the] funds raised to Siverton Medical Rescue. Click here if you'd like to support their fundraiser.