A Washington State snowboarder owes his life to a highly experienced skier who dug him out he was buried alive in a tree well of deep snow on an off-beaten path.
Advanced skier Francis Zuber was heading down a clearly out of bounds path on northwestern Washington’s Mt. Baker Ski Area on the first Friday of March, when he became an everyday hero.
Zuber was filming his dangerous descent through treacherously tight evergreens, when he noticed the tip of a board poking out a mound of snow that was packed high and dangerously close to a tree.
“Oh, s–t,” he remarked, and called out to the snowboarder to ask if they were “alright.”
When the Zuber got no answer, he quickly pulled of both skis and used them to pack down a path towards the snowboard.
He immediately started digging furiously with both gloved hands and eventually saw a forearm encased in a teal jacket and black mitten reaching out.
Zuber dug with renewed force, until he was able to free snowboarders entire left arm, which he lifted to gently excavate a man’s face encased in reflective blue ski googles.
He uncovered the area around the man’s lips and and sighed in relief. “Okay, you alright,” he asked.
“Doing good,” Ian Steger replied.
Zuber took off for his pack and returned with a portable shovel. “I’ll get you out of here in a sec,” he told Steger as he furiously dug him out.
“Take your time, man,” the incredibly chill snowboarder told him.
Zuber shared his heroic moment online, along with a warning about the dangers of skiing or snowboarding to close to trees, which are known to be sinkholes of snow.
“Tree wells are real,” he captioned the video on Instagram.
“The mountains don’t care how much skill or experience you have. They don’t even care if you and your ski partners are doing everything right,” he cautioned.
He encouraged his followers to take an avalanche safety course to get trained on what they should do in a similar situation.
“I’m thankful I knew just enough to scrape by and perform a successful rescue,” Zuber concluded. “And always look out for each other out there.”
Both men spoke to Eyewitness News about the terrifying ordeal on Friday. “I caught this little flash of red out of the corner of my eye,” Zuber recalled.
“And I knew it was kind of a weird thing to see because we’re out of bounds. I knew something was wrong. You know, I yelled up to him, and no response.”
Steger said that he had no idea he was being rescued, because he couldn’t hear anything underneath all of the snow.
“He was letting me know he was coming up to me. I didn’t hear any of that,” he noted. “It was complete darkness. I could only hear, you know, the sound of my own breathing.”
According to experts, based on how he was positioned upside down, there’s no way he would have been able to get free without assistance from another person.
“One of the things that I was thinking about while I was down there was like, wow, like, I’m going to die down here and I’m not going to be able to, you know, tell my fiancee how much I love her,” Steger said.