"The most surprising thing was how calm I stayed" – Maine skier buried up to his neck in rare in-bounds avalanche

An avalanche
The man is lucky to be alive after heavy snow and high winds brought unusual avalanche conditions to the northeast (Image credit: Gwendal Le Bourvellec / EyeEm)

New England saw some spectacular snowfall for the region last week, with some ski resorts receiving a whopping 24 inches, but the combination of heavy snow and 30 mph winds also meant unstable snowpack, which very nearly spelled disaster for one skier. A man was buried up to his neck during an in-bounds avalanche at Maine's Sugarloaf Mountain on Sunday.

Skier Nathan Sanborn hit the resort to enjoy the epic conditions, which he describes in a Facebook post as delivering "Utah-like powder and a bluebird day to enjoy it."

During his second run of the day, he says he dropped into a chute off Skyline drive that he's been skiing for years. He noted the area was wind-scoured, but decided to send it anyway. It wasn't until he came out of the narrow chute that the snow beneath him started moving.

"Deep snow which once moving pitched me forward and carried me about 20 feet with large slabs breaking over me as we went," recalls Sanborn, who reveals he was skiing alone as his skiing partner had decided to skip the chute. 

Sanborn was carried for about 30 feet in the slide, which was about 50 feet wide according to reporting by News Center Maine. However,  he says he managed to remain calm and credits that to his survival.

"The most surprising thing – well, other than finding myself in a slide in the first place – was how calm I stayed about the whole thing. I definitely had the thought “oh shit this is NOT good!” But as I started sliding face first downhill I also immediately realized I should try to get face up and get an arm up and I’m very thankful for that."

Posted by nsanborn on 

Sanborn was able to swipe snow away from his face, pop his skis off and text for help, however only moments later skier Nik Kruger, who was out on the resort celebration this 27th birthday, dropping in behind him and dug him out.

"I just started digging snow as fast as I could to get him out of there," says Kruger.

Incredibly, both skiers went on to enjoy a full day of skiing after the incident, but Sanborn says he's learned a few lessons.

"The biggest is never to think an avalanche can’t get you. In bounds. At an east coast resort. In a spot within the trees where you’ve skied countless times before."

In-bounds avalanches are very unusual, but this season we've already reported on a deadly in-bounds avalanche in Tahoe and two skiers who were caught in a slide at a Washington resort.

With winter showing no signs of letting up in many places, Sanborn advises other skiers to avoid skiing lines alone where you might not be found. He also says he regrets not bringing a whistle  and encourages skiers not to tuck your phone deep inside your base layers or in your ski pants pocket; instead stash it somewhere you can easily reach it, like the chest pocket of your ski jacket.

While avalanche safety training isn't required for resort skiing, it's a good idea if you plan on seeking out powder stashes, and you should always carry an avalanche beacon.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.