Skier lucky to be alive after avalanche at Thredbo

Trapped in the pitch dark beneath a mountain of snow, Sydney skier Mike Grace screamed out to his childhood friend but went unheard.

The only thing he could remember from watching documentaries about avalanches was that he needed to breathe slowly or he would run out of air.

The 36-year-old from Narrabeen triggered an avalanche and was trapped beneath nearly three metres of snow for about an hour when he veered off course while skiing at Thredbo on Sunday. 

He found himself unable to see or move, with only a small pocket of space in front of his mouth allowing him to breath. 

It was the exact same place where rescuers had found a young male skier dead days after he went missing in 1998, according to ski patrol manager David Kuhn.

''I couldn't even move a finger, I was locked into position. I freaked out right then. I started hyperventilating, yelling out. It was terrifying,'' Mr Grace said.

Above ground his friend Nicholas Bennett, from Bondi, who had snowboarded down the slope first, was frantically digging in the snow and couldn't hear his cries for help.

''At that point I didn't know how deep he was. I went into shock, really, and then just started digging him out. I was screaming at the same time. My throat was like, I swear I could feel and taste blood,'' Mr Bennett, 35, said.

Mike Grace in Thredbo before he became trapped.

Mike Grace in Thredbo before he became trapped.

Snow boarder Nicholas Bennett who saved his friend Mike Grace.

Snow boarder Nicholas Bennett who saved his friend Mike Grace.

The pair, who were experienced skiers and had travelled to snowfields around the world, had rushed down to Thredbo excited by the heavy snowfall over the past week.

Looking for a challenge, they ignored warning signs and crossed under ropes to reach an unofficial run known as ''Hipcheck'', when the slope gave way. 

Mr Bennett led the way and when he stopped and turned around, he saw the face of the slope fall and his friend swallowed by snow. 

Convinced he must have been crushed to death or was suffocating and with no battery on his mobile phone, he rushed to get help.

In the complete silence that followed his departure, Mr Grace said that between waves of panic attacks he started thinking about his wife, survival documentaries and the seven-year-old child who died after being buried by snow in Victoria last week.

''I thought I was dead,'' he said. ''The only thing I remembered from past footage and stuff of people getting caught in avalanches is you've got to preserve your oxygen because you've got a minimum of it.''

When the team of ski patrollers who went in search of him struck something solid with their probe and then after further digging found the top of a beanie, they were ''expecting the worst''. 

For Mr Grace, the bruise caused by the sharp jab of the probe was the best he ever received. He was removed from the snow very cold, but uninjured. 

Mr Kuhn said avalanches often occur in the valley and snow ''fills up like sand in an hourglass''. 

Although the area is close to popular slopes for beginners, it has always been blocked off to skiers because it is too dangerous.

Staff trigger avalanches on the slopes available to the public most mornings after snow falls, but leave this particular one untouched. 

Mr Kuhn said the men undoubtedly triggered the avalanche and their story should be taken as a warning to all skiers who want to deviate from set trails.

He said in the past week he had seen more people travel out of bounds than ever before due to good snow dumps recently. 

''The standard comment is 'I've been skiing here for 20 years' but once they are out in those sort of areas, people forget they are not controlled.''

As for the pair who learnt that lesson the hard way, they are shaken up but not deterred from ''chasing powder''.

They are planning to head back to Thredbo at the end of the month to celebrate Mr Grace's 36th birthday.

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