Skier reveals the terrifying moment she was buried in deadly avalanche at Palisades Tahoe after falling 200 feet down mountain

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A woman who escaped with her life after being buried by an avalanche has been speaking of the terrifying ordeal after she fell 200 feet down a mountain at Palisades Tahoe in California on Wednesday.

Janet He and Joseph Lu had been skiing down one of the steepest expert runs – KT22 – but the pair wanted to be one of the first out in the snow with the slopes having just opened for the season.

Suddenly, the avalanche came out of nowhere and sent Janet tumbling down the mountain, quickly burying her under several feet of compact snow. 

‘The snow is already moving my feet, took me away and swept me off the mountain,’ Janet said, noting how she had been unable to breathe.

‘Am I going to die here?’ she wondered.

Janet He, left, has spoken of her harrowing experience of surviving an avalanche at Palisades Tahoe in California on Wednesday after she was buried in the snow

Footage captured the dramatic moment rescuers frantically tried to save Janet He who was trapped under a massive avalanche in Palisades Tahoe

Footage captured the dramatic moment rescuers frantically tried to save Janet He who was trapped under a massive avalanche in Palisades Tahoe

Dozens of people out on the slopes could be seen helping to pull Janet to safety

Dozens of people out on the slopes could be seen helping to pull Janet to safety 

Once Janet was freed from the snow, she took a photo with the skier who saved her life

Once Janet was freed from the snow, she took a photo with the skier who saved her life

‘I couldn’t pull myself up because the snow was so heavy on top of me,’ Janet said to CBS News. ‘I was buried, my face buried in the snow. I’m lucky I had the face mask, I had some air in the face mask.

‘I [told] myself to calm down, don’t panic. If I panic, I use more air,’ Janet said.

The avalanche roared through a section of expert trails at a California ski resort near Lake Tahoe as a major storm with snow and gusty winds moved into the region, authorities said.

The avalanche occurred about 9.30am and prompted Palisades Tahoe to close as search crews combed the area under the K-22 lift, which 30 minutes earlier had opened for the first time this season. 

It serves ‘black diamond’ runs for skilled skiers and snowboarders. 

Janet’s husband managed to remain on the surfaced as the avalanche occurred.  

'I couldn't pull myself up because the snow was so heavy on top of me,' Janet said. 'I was buried, my face buried in the snow. I'm lucky I had the face mask, I had some air in the mask.'

‘I couldn’t pull myself up because the snow was so heavy on top of me,’ Janet said. ‘I was buried, my face buried in the snow. I’m lucky I had the face mask, I had some air in the mask.’

Panicked skiers could be seen rushing to find Janet He who had been swept 200ft down the mountain and buried underneath the snow

Panicked skiers could be seen rushing to find Janet He who had been swept 200ft down the mountain and buried underneath the snow

‘The avalanche happened just behind me – and I don’t see her. I’m yelling and yelling. When I realized what may happen, it really struck me. I was using my ski pole frantically punching everywhere and yelling her name,’ Joseph Lu said.

While Janet was still buried tight in the snow, she could hear voices up above and yelled for help. Her cries were met by another skier who helped to dig her out.

‘He says, “No worries, I got you”,’ Janet said. ‘I think that’s the best thing I ever heard in my life. I survived. I could walk. It’s okay, I can walk down.’

Incredibly the pair escaped without injury and walked down the mountain unscathed. It is only days later they are realizing just how close to death they both came.

Even so, the experience has not put them off skiing and have plans to hit the slopes once again next week. 

‘The risk is inherent,’ Joseph explained. ‘We all know. We just need to respect the mountain, respect the risks associated.’

‘You realize time and life, how treasured it is,’ he added.

The red circle on this resort map highlights the location of Wednesday morning's avalanche

The red circle on this resort map highlights the location of Wednesday morning’s avalanche

San Francisco resident Kenneth Kidd, 66, was identified as the fatal victim of Wednesday’s avalanche, which also injured three Australian skiers. 

One person suffered a lower leg injury and two others were treated for unspecified injuries and released, officials said.

The death was the first U.S. avalanche fatality of the season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which monitors incidents across the country.

Palisades, the site for the 1960 Winter Olympics, is on the western side of Lake Tahoe, about 40 miles from Reno, Nevada. 

Winds at the top of Palisades resort (8,000 feet) were gusting between 31 mph and 38 mph at the time of the avalanche. 

Dan Lavely, 67, of Reno is a season pass holder at Palisades and skied mostly at Alpine Meadows on Monday when there was very little snow and the KT-22 lift was closed. 

The KT-22 run along the side of the lift is where the giant slalom was held during the 1960 Olympics, he said.

‘Really good skiers love it because it’s really steep,’ he said. ‘I remember when I was really young I was skiing around there. I fell over and slid like two-thirds of the way down the mountain. There was no way to stop because it’s just so steep.’

The resort, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, spans more than 6,000 skiable acres and averages 450 inches of snowfall each season

The resort, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, spans more than 6,000 skiable acres and averages 450 inches of snowfall each season

The death was the first U.S. avalanche fatality of the season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which monitors incidents across the country

The death was the first U.S. avalanche fatality of the season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which monitors incidents across the country 

A 2020 avalanche at Alpine Meadows killed one skier and seriously injured another a day after a major storm. Another avalanche at the resort in March 1982 killed seven people, including several employees. 

Placer County Sheriff’s Office said the avalanche spread 450 feet in length and 10 feet deep.

‘The avalanche caused one fatality and one injury. No further missing persons have been reported,’ they said.

Three other skiers skiers sustained non-life-threatening injuries and were released after initial treatment, according to the resort. Among them was an individual who sustained a lower leg injury.

Two others were caught in the slide but were helped by other guests, resort staff said.

Weather forecaster Mark Sponsler, who was staying at the resort, said ‘multiple’ people were buried by the avalanche, which happened within minutes of the KT-22 slope opening for the first time this winter.

He and his wife arrived at the Palisades base area in Olympic Valley to ski on Wednesday morning.

‘Apparently the first group of skiers up the lift skied down in the bowl under the lift, triggering a massive avalanche that spanned the width of the entire bowl,’ he wrote on Instagram.



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