A North Vancouver senior who survived being buried alive by an avalanche on Cypress Mountain says he thought he was going to die under the crushing weight of snow.
Zdenik Manhal, 67, and a friend were backcountry skiing when they triggered an avalanche last month.
The senior said for about 10 seconds he was still skiing and then "the snow shattered completely." He careened over a cliff and was buried under metres of snow.
The longtime skier said it was like "everything was in concrete," and he was completely unable to move, "even [a] finger."
"My initial feeling was being very sad, because I said 'I'm going to die,'" he told CTV Vancouver in an exclusive interview.
He suffered a shattered leg, broken pelvis, three broken ribs and multiple bruises.
Manhal didn't know that his friend Jan had found him using a beacon and probe and was working furiously to free him.
"They were very long minutes and then suddenly… the light is coming," he said.
Five backcountry skiers from Squamish also helped his friend dig him out.
The Good Samaritans used camp stoves to keep the stuck skier warm. They also cut boughs off nearby trees and turned them into a makeshift floor – and used their own backpacks and clothing to try to insulate him and keep him warm.
"Two guys just lay on each side of my body and constantly talked to me," he said.
One of the Squamish skiers made their way to an area with cellphone service and called 911 and North Shore Rescue. The badly injured skier was airlifted out of Tony Baker Gully by long-line off the mountain by searchers a short time later.
Search Leader Mike Danks told CTV Vancouver that the avalanche victim is fortunate to have been helped by such well-prepared backcountry skiers. He also credited Manhal and his skiing partner for being well-equipped and prepared.
“If this guy did not have his transceiver on and have a friend with him that could locate him, he would not be around today, that’s for sure,” he said on March 4.
Manhal describes himself as "very lucky," but says he won't give up on skiing. He's been hitting the slopes for more than six decades, most of it off the beaten path.
"I'm hoping to be skiing again next season," he said, adding that he plans on being "much more careful."
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Shannon Paterson