5280 associate editor Patrick Doyle recently interviewed Klimet about his near outdoor disaster.

“We shouldn’t have been out there. It was early November 1998 at the Telluride Ski Area before it opened up [for the season]. It was 3:05 p.m., and the sun was setting at 5:30 or so. My buddy had forgotten his boots, so we had to go back and get them, and then we had a problem with his skis’ climbing skins, so we got a late start.

There had been a big blizzard, 36 inches of snow. Unbeknownst to us, the patrollers had rolled the ski area with a Sno-Cat, so we had about three feet of snow on top of a very slick surface. When my buddy cut across the top, the slope ripped, and there was nothing I could do. I said a prayer and thought, ‘Here comes the white room.’

To my luck, I got snagged up on some smaller trees on the way down, which kept me on top of the snow. Then I went over two cliffs, a 30-footer and a 70-footer. When everything stopped, I wiggled around and was able to break through the surface of the snow. I ended up only six inches deep, and horizontal. I was able to get my backpack off–I had a beacon, shovel, and probe–and was able to self-excavate, so I just waited for my buddy to come down and help me out.

I had broken ribs and was coughing up blood, and my right leg was pretty much toast at the knee. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. But I’m still here.”

Simon Trautman, of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, evaluates Rob Klimek’s avalanche survival smarts.

What he did right

  • Had a partner and was carrying a beacon, probe, and shovel.

What he did wrong

  • Avalanches generally are caused by a bed surface, a weak layer, and a cohesive slab of snow on a steep slope. In this case, all three were probably easily identifiable.
  • Skiers love premier slopes, but most of them happen to be steep enough to avalanche under the right conditions–many people don’t realize how fragile they are or how much work goes into keeping them safe.
  • When skiing in avalanche terrain, people must ski one at a time, from “safe spot” to “safe spot.” It sounds like Rob’s friend skied on top of him, triggering the avalanche.