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It's snake eyes as riders roll dice in backcountry

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JACKSON, Wyo. - Three skiers and snowboarders were in the news last week after being in avalanches near ski towns. Two of them lived to tell about it.

The most famous was Jimmy Chin, the climber and photographer who was on the cover of the March issue of Outside Magazine. Chin had just purchased his first helmet the previous day, and he and his companions - a renowned bunch of skiers and riders - had done all the things you're supposed to do.

"We didn't think we were pushing it," Chin told the Jackson Hole News&Guide .

Still, by around 2 p.m., they were heading down a south-facing slope on Shadow Peak, in Grand Teton National Park, provoking wet-snow avalanches ahead of them, in what they believed was a successful effort to abate the threat.

Then it happened. Fifty feet behind Chin, a wet slab broke, nearly a metre high.

Chin kicked off his skis, threw his poles-the advice given people caught in slides, to help keep them at the top. It worked for about 150 metre of the 610-metre slide. Then he started going down and coming up, going down and coming up. When down, he told the newspaper's Angus Thuermer Jr., it felt like 20 tons of wet snow was on top of him. He prayed to end up near the top.

He did - buried to his waist as the concrete-like snow set up. And that's when the second slide hit. "I was pretty sure I was going to get cut in half," China, 37, told the News&Guide . But he wasn't, although his helmet was dented.

Chin told the newspaper he wasn't proud of being caught in the avalanche, but he wasn't going to hide it. "There's always a lot to be learned from incidents like this."

In Colorado, an equally harrowing story unfolded near Loveland Pass, adjacent to the Arapahoe Basin ski area. Again, the victim was no novice. Danny Ferrari, 42, had checked the avalanche forecasts, carried a shovel, beacon and probe, and he knew the area well.

A companion was filming him snowboarding down an area called Devil's Tool when he felt a change in the snowpack. "I pushed down and the whole slope just released," he told the Summit Daily News .

The cement-like snow moved slowly, then picking up speed, slammed him into a tree and knocked him upside down. "Then I was in the washing machine," he said.

When the snow stopped, his head was pointed downhill, his torso twisted and he was completely submerged. He was, however, able to create a small air pocket by eating some of the snow near his face. And he was able to move his arm enough to see the sky. And, by removing his gloves, he was able to start clawing at the snow that had congealed around him.

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