If angel can slide why not Slide mtn. read below

LAKE PLACID - A pair of backcountry telemark skiers survived an avalanche Saturday on Wright Peak without any serious injuries, despite one of the men sliding more than 600 feet.

Glens Falls resident Ian Measeck and Vergennes, Vt. resident Jamie McNeill triggered the avalanche at about noon on what is known as Angel Slides, two bare strips on the northeastern side of the 4,580-foot Wright Peak in the Eastern High Peaks. The entire length of the larger Angel Slide, which is about 300 feet wide and 1,200 feet long, went down the mountain and piled snow and debris at the base, exceeding 20 feet deep in spots.

An avalanche killed one skier and injured five others on Angel Slides in February 2000 in what is believed to be the only fatal avalanche in the Adirondacks. The slides received their unofficial name after that incident.

This time, the skiers had ascended about one-third of the slide using skins - fabric attached to the ski bottoms - when they sensed the snowpack could be unstable. They heard several faint noises indicating the snow was settling, before hearing a very clear sound that the snow might slide.

"We heard a 'whoomf,'" Measeck said. "I looked at him. He looked at me. We were both like, 'All right, I'm not too sure about this. Let's get someplace safer and dig another pit and kind of reassess.' Moments after we had said that, I noticed spindrift out of the corner of my eye to the left and looked up, and the whole thing had let loose."

The force of the avalanche drove the 30-year-old Measeck more than 600 feet down the slide, burying him to his neck near the base of the slide. The 25-year-old McNeill travelled about 300 feet before he was pinned to a tree stump and buried up to his chest. Both men were able to dig themselves out.

"I stopped, miraculously, face out of the snow," Measeck said. "I was back down, and my arms were pinned. I was able to free my left hand. And then it took me a while to undo my pack straps, but I got out, switched my beacon to receive and dug my shovel and my probe out, and proceeded up the slide to look for my friend."

Measeck and McNeill received some bruises and cuts but came away relatively unscathed, considering they both could have lost their lives due to the force of the avalanche or by being buried. Neither received medical attention.

"We're banged up a bit but no serious injuries," Measeck said. "I have some pretty big bruises. I bit a pretty big-sized hole, gash in my tongue (and have an) abrasion on my forehead."

Late last week, the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks received nearly two feet of snow at about 2,500 feet, creating a deep, heavy snow pack on Saturday, Forest Ranger Jim Giglinto said. That deep layer of heavy snow on top of a weak layer near its base created prime conditions for avalanches. The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued an avalanche warning Monday for the backcountry, specifically on steep, open slopes. The DEC was required to rescue the skiers, but did do an investigation of the incident.

The Angel Slides are popular with backcountry skiers, in part because of their accessibility. They are between three and four miles from the Adirondak Loj trailhead and are visible from Marcy Dam.

The men arrived at the base of the larger slide at about 11:30 a.m. There they dug an avalanche test pit about three to four feet deep, said McNeill, who is originally from Warrensburg. They found no weak layers and determined it was safe to go forward. Both men had the proper gear for being in avalanche terrain, though neither had formal training to use it. Both had skied slides in the past.

The men then started ascending the larger slide, heading for the thin one on the right when viewed from Marcy Dam. McNeill was about 20 feet ahead of Measeck when the snow slid.

"It's so powerful that even the simplest things like trying to get your hands up near your face are so difficult because there's so much force there," McNeill said. "It was just really scary. I knew as soon as it hit (that) obviously we're both in it, and we're both possibly buried, and no one is out here to help us."

Both men turned downhill once the avalanche started. Measeck wound up relatively horizontal and on his back with his feet downhill and his head uphill. When McNeill stopped, he was also on his back but his legs were wrapped around the tree stump and his head was downhill.

"I don't know if I hit it and glanced off of it or my legs just caught on it and I stopped there," said McNeill, who lost one ski in the process. "It was so chaotic I can't really tell."

There were about 10 inches of snow on his chest and two feet on his legs. His face wasn't covered so he was able to breathe, even as the last snow moved down the mountain.

"There was a top layer of snow as everything was slowing down that was sliding over my face, but when it all finally stopped, I was able to just kind of shake that off and get the snow off my face and then eventually get one arm out and dig myself out," McNeill said.

Although relieved to find himself alive, McNeill was concerned his friend may have been completely buried.

"Once the avalanche stopped, I thought, 'Where's Ian?' And I started screaming for him," McNeill said. "And I didn't hear any response at all."

Then Measeck, who was also calling for McNeill, arrived. He immediately began helping his friend dig out of the snow.

"Each one thought the other was buried somewhere until I finally heard him," McNeill said. "Then he heard me, and then - huge, huge relief."

Measeck said he felt "pretty blessed" to have survived the avalanche.

"I'm not going anywhere near a slide until I know more," Measeck said. "It's unfortunate that this is the way that I had my 'wake-up' call. At least we walked away from it."

Jesse Williams of Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides dug a test pit on the adjacent slide last Friday and found the snow pack was still unstable. You can watch his video here:

John Okner Photography