A skier was carving through fresh powder atop Mount Baker in Washington last month when he caught a glimpse of something out of place amid the pines and the snow: the underside of a snowboard. Despite the snowboard, there was no snowboarder in sight.
Francis Zuber of New York has been credited with exploring further and ultimately exhuming Ian Steger of Washington state — the man who now recognizes him as a brother.
Zuber had been skiing Mount Baker with a partner on March 3 when he serendipitously came across a snowboarder buried full-length in a tree well.
"I only caught a glimpse of his board but it was enough to get my attention," Zuber wrote on YouTube.
Steger had been with another group, reportedly all experienced and equipped with with proper avalanche gear and radios.
Steger told KATU-TV, "What happened is when we went into the trees, they were so narrow that we all found our own avenues and lanes. The one I chose happened to be the one that had a big tree well in it, a hole that I fell into."
Although he had a radio, he was unable to reach it after being swallowed up by the snowy void.
"I was gonna die on my own mountain in an area I’ve ridden hundreds of times," said Steger.
The video of the encounter captured by Zuber's GoPro camera shows the skier zip past a blur of red after navigating through a throng of trees. He stops and can be heard saying, "Whoa. Oh sh**. ... Are you all right?"
Steger, suspended in darkness under several feet of snow, has no idea help is coming.
"He’s yelling out asking if I’m okay, if I can hear him. I can’t see. I can’t hear or see anything," Steger recalled.
Zuber ditches his skis, walks up the slope to Steger's feet, and begins frantically digging.
His tunneling efforts prove successful: Several feet down, Zuber discovers a pair of mitts and arms, fortunately still attached to Steger. However, with the snowboarder's head still engulfed in snow, he is living on borrowed time.
Running short on breath himself, Zuber continues scooping snow until finally he scrapes snow off Steger's visor and mouth.
"Okay, you're good. You're good. I gotcha," says Zuber. "You okay? Can you breathe?"
"Oh yeah," answers Steger.
Zuber tells Steger, no longer suffocating, "We're both gonna catch our breath for a sec, then I'll dig you out."
Steger thanked his rescuer, who proceeded to assemble his shovel and dig him out of the mountainside.
Tree well rescue at Mt. Bakerwww.youtube.com
Mount Baker CEO Gwyn Howat said that watching the footage of Steger's rescue and Zuber's methodical approach was "super gratifying."
Howat noted that the supermajority of persons who get trapped in tree wells or deep snow cannot ultimately get themselves out without help.
Zuber wrote in an Instagram post, "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."
"I'm thankful I knew just enough to scrape by and perform a successful rescue," he added.
In an April 1 post, Steger indicated he had since resumed boarding, now alongside a new friend: "Grateful to be back on the mountain and to get a day in with my new brother [Francis Zuber]."
Steger underscored his appreciation for Zuber's help, adding that there "are no words to express" his gratitude.
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