What It Feels Like to Fall Eighty Feet and Survive

One problem with risk-assessment in the mountains - or any chaotic environment, for that matter - is that you can never know how close you might have come to total disaster. Example: you're clicked into your skis, standing at the top of a powder-laden bowl somewhere in the backcountry surrounding Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It's early January, the avalanche conditions seem stable, but you are aware that there might be lingering depth-hoar caused by some early-season dustings of snow. Do you drop in? It comes down to a very simple decision. Jumping off the small wind-lip and arching into your first turn, the force of your body weight on the fifty-degree slope might trigger a rippling fracture line, as the frail bonds to the weak layer hiding two feet below the surface suddenly shear, and a slab avalanche envelopes you. Or, maybe the impact of your body weight was not strong enough to trigger anything at all. You could have the best run of your life. Maybe it was just ten pounds of pressure that made the difference. You'll never know.
Steve House, America's leading alpine climber, recently survived one such moment of sudden, game-changing peril while on a training climb, the North Face of Mount Temple in the Canadian Rockies. Over the course of a technical "winter-mixed" ascent like the one Steve was on, one must assess the integrity of literally thousands of different hand holds and pick placements - should a single one break, the consequences could be deadly. Lucky for Steve and his partner, Bruce Miller, the worst didn't quite happen. Lucky for the rest of us, Steve's raw first person account of surviving the fall that should have killed him is a gripping read - and a fair reminder that you will never know how much you've truly gotten away with.