SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Maurice Kervin feels at home in Colorado's backcountry but he's also keenly aware of the dangers. He's spent 65 days snowboarding so far this season but Friday is a day he won't forget anytime soon.
"Friday was beautiful. It was golden. We had actually been planning all week to ski this line," said Kervin.
What started off as a beautiful day would soon turn into a close call. Kervin and his friends had been watching the avalanche forecast all week, they knew the risk but they also felt like conditions were improving.
"At the beginning of the day everyone was actually really excited that the [avalanche danger level] had actually gone down and things had been getting better, and everybody was really stoked that we were going to be able to go do this," said Kervin. He wasn't as sure about the forecast, adding, "I was very concerned. I was like, 'I don’t know guys.'"
Kervin and his buddy started their two-hour hike toward a spot called No Name near Loveland Pass. He said they continued to survey conditions along the way and tested patches of snow for stability. Although their tests didn't show any signs of instability, he remembers feeling slightly nervous right before dropping in.
"I remember before I dropped in and before my buddy skied down to his viewing point, telling him, 'I don’t know man. I’m kind of nervous about this run, and if it goes it’s probably going to go big,'" said Kervin.
Kervin says he probably made it a third of the way down the mountain when his camera captured the moment everything changed.
"I cut into a thin patch of snow in some cliff bands, and at that point, it released below me and the whole slab started to go underneath me. So in my video, you’ll see that I look up and around and I watch the snow start coming down from above me," said Kervin.
The avalanche happened incredibly fast and he was soon swept off his feet. When he felt his body starting to get pulled under the snow, he deployed the avalanche airbag in his backpack.
“So I freed my hands, I pulled the bag and I started to do backstroke and kick my feet up to stay on top of the snow, basically just to make yourself as big and less dense as possible," said Kervin.
Kervin said he was carried about 1,000 feet before he came to a stop on top of the snow. In the video you can hear his air bag fill up and then seconds later, his board hits a large rock where Kervin said he went over a cliff.
"I was very calm through the whole thing. I think that’s very important thing to be in such a situation. Often times when people panic they make poor decisions or don’t make any decisions at all," said Kervin.
He made it out fairly unscathed, aside from a dislocated finger. Kervin believes the airbag and his training likely saved his life. He's been skiing and riding in the backcountry for about 10 years and completed a Level 1 safety course through the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education.
“Just knowing how to respond and react in that terrain personally helped me make the right decision when everything kind of fell apart," said Kervin.
The close call hasn't deterred Kervin from shredding new lines. He was skiing again the very next day but he wants his story to be a cautionary tale for others who might be venturing into the backcountry, some for the first time.
KMGH previously reported that Summit County Rescue Group is seeing a dramatic increase in calls for help. Kervin called 911 to report the avalanche but did not need assistance from the rescue team.
"I knew what we were doing, and I knew what the possibilities were, and the possibilities that I had feared came true," said Kervin.
This story was originally published by Liz Gelardi at KMGH.