On opening day at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in 2014, Trevor Hamre got into some trouble on a treed run between Bubbly and Euphoria. The incident foreshadowed a much greater ordeal that would take place on opening day a year later, one that could have cost him his life under different circumstances.
Because of that experience, Hamre was determined to avoid that area on opening day of the 2015-2016 season, which took place on November 28th, 2015. It’s a run that he calls one of his favourites and a secret shared among locals, but perfect opening day conditions can make even the most experienced boarders and skiers make decisions they might otherwise avoid.
In 2014, Hamre got his board stuck under a log.
In 2015, his entire body found an empty pocket deep in the snow, his head completely buried and his legs and board above him.
After completing a pair of top to bottom runs through Bowl Over, Hamre decided he’d go for one last lap, this time into Crystal Bowl. It was around 11 o’clock and he was riding alone, aiming to be home with his wife, Kuljit Jaswal, and their three-year-old son Bruenor, by lunchtime. Partway down the run, Hamre’s board hit an underlying log and he went airborne.
“I cartwheeled forward into the snow instead of hitting the top level of snow… it was just lightly covered,” he recalled.
Multiple trees had fallen sideways, causing a build up of snow on the tree branches.
“When I hit the snow, it didn’t have any resistance. I went straight into this hole and slid right under two logs,” Hamre said.
His face smashed against one log and he quickly tasted blood, but his situation was far more severe than that. Initially, it was a struggle just to breathe.
“I was fully buried over my head. I was literally pulling snow out of my mouth,” he said.
“I got pretty frantic, moved the snow off my face and it kept falling on my face, falling in my mouth.”
Fortunately the trees were perpendicular to his chest and head and there was empty space to his right and left.
“I dug out my legs with my hands until I got to a point where I could see light along my left leg, and then I knew I had air. I really calmed down after that,” Hamre said.
Pinned under the logs, with snow crashing down to his stomach, chest and face every time he moved his board, Hamre soon realized there was nothing he could do to get himself out.
After about 30 minutes of being trapped, Hamre had to fight for his life once again when a skier or snowboarder — oblivious to the situation happening a few feet below — sprayed snow into the hole, covering Hamre’s face with snow for the second time.
“Probably a foot and a half of snow fell into the hole and that was another really frantic moment,” he said.
He managed to remove the snow once again. By this time, the empty space beside him was full and packed in with snow.
“For the rest of the day, it was a big struggle on whether to even try to get out, because I was bringing more snow down near my face every time,” Hamre said.
For the next several hours, all Hamre could do was wait, hope and scream for help, his situation becoming increasingly desperate as the afternoon wore on.
“Every three breaths I screamed, for five hours,” he said. “My head was six feet under and I didn’t think anybody could hear me… I knew it was so muffled that it would have to be somebody really close.”
Having worked at the resort for five years, he also knew that ski patrollers wouldn’t sweep the area at the end of the day and that few skiers and snowboarders would be taking this run, which is inbounds but not particularly well-travelled.
“The only people that would have been in there are expert local skiers,” Hamre said.
He shivered, partly from fear and partly from the cold.
“My plan was to stay alive as long as I could but I really accepted that I wasn’t probably going to make it… I thought I was dead.”
Hamre thought about a lot of things while he was trapped. He thought about his family and wished that he had been teaching Bruenor how to ski that morning. He also reflected on life itself.
He thought about “that whole community versus individual dichotomy. From skiing on my own to enjoying life on my own versus with others. That went through my head constantly.”
He thought that it would be a re-affirming action one way or the other, whether he saved himself or whether someone else saved him. If somebody else saved him, it would show him that he needed community and family in his life even more than he already believed.
At 4 p.m, just as his wife Kuljit Jaswal was preparing to call the resort and alert them of her overdue husband, Hamre was rescued.
A Kicking Horse employee (who declined to be interviewed for this story) was snowboarding past when he stopped for a break and Hamre’s cries were, at long last, heard.
“I just kept yelling and then he responded… I was so happy. I was elated.”
Ski patrollers were quickly called to the scene and after half an hour of digging, Hamre was finally free.
Hamre recognizes just how fortunate he is to have survived his ordeal and expressed his full gratitude for all who were involved in his rescue.
“In the end, I’m so happy. I was just so blessed. I didn’t despair in the hole, I had my wits about me. I didn’t cry. I was pretty accepting.”
The tears did flow later that day when Hamre was finally able to make it home to his family.
“That was pretty emotional,” he recalled.
As for snowboarding, Hamre says his experience won’t deter him, but it will make him take extra precautions, especially when thinking about skiing in trees.
He hopes that his tale will serve as a caution to the rest of the skiing and snowboarding community.
“I just hope that people wear whistles, take cell phones, ride with buddies. These are the things that I did wrong,” Hamre said.
In the immediate future, Hamre says he plans to spend some time with his son at the resort and teach him how to ski. “I’ll probably spend the whole weekend on the bunny hill, but I’m okay with that,” he laughed.