30-year-old Andrea Binning learnt to ski in Australia when she was four, and is now one of the world’s top freeskiers. Her breakthrough came in 2000 when she won the World Extreme in Valdez, Alaska. Since then, she’s been snapped up by sponsors Red Bull, Völkl and Roxy and has podiumed at the best freeskiing contests in the world. She lives in Chamonix with her boyfriend and fellow ski pro Stian.
The day of the avalanche, Andrea Binning writes…
It was April 22, 2006, and I was in Canada, near Mt Waddington, British Columbia’s highest peak, filming with big bang productions. There were four of us riders: me, Phil Meier
from Switzerland, Bryce Philips from Canada and Stian Hagen, my boyfriend from Norway.
We’d based ourselves on the Astral Star, a 120ft boat moored at Knight Inlet, and had everything we needed on board. The heli was parked up on the front so we were ready to go skiing at any time. It was the set up for the ultimate ski trip. From the boat, we watched 1.5 metres of snow fall in one week and then waited out a high pressure storm. In the weeks prior, we’d skied several days in the zone and the terrain that we saw was incredible. There was one particular face that blew us all away. We called it “bryce land” and when it was time, we would head straight there.
When the storm finally cleared it was o
ur last chance to get the shots we wanted, so we flew directly to bryce land totally psyched about skiing it. On our first run we skied next
to the face to check the conditions and the snow stability, and then went to the bottom to scope our lines. Stian got first pick as it was his birthday and then we threw down rock,
paper, scissors for the next three lines. The heli dropped us off in position. I was down as the third skier to drop in. Birthday boy Stian dropped in first and then Phil. They both
released small avalanches at the same altitude in the lower sections of their runs, and radioed up to me to take care lower down where it was now a little unstable.
I dropped in, did one turn and the entire spine released. The face that originally looked like powder heaven turned into jigsaw pieces. My skis were pointed to the right, so I tried to ski out of the slide, but the force was too great and, as much as I fought, I could not get out. I tried to straight line out and got as far as I could, but then the avalanche took me and I started cartwheeling at high speed down the face. My cartwheels got so fast that I wasn’t touching the snow too often. As the face got steeper I just kept picking up speed. Surprisingly, I relaxed and just tried to go with it. It was a strange feeling, but I think I had accepted my fate.
When it finally stopped I was buried up to my waist. At that moment I was so relieved that everything had stopped moving and it had all ended. I still had my poles but I had lost
both my skis. I could hear Stian radioing up to me to see if I was ok. It took me some time to respond, I think I was in a little shock. I could feel my left knee had been pulled
during the slide so I knew that my day of skiing was over. The guide came to me quickly, and then I flew off in the heli. Stian was very happy to see me in one piece, I can tell you. Watching me tumble down a huge face is not something he wants to see again, especially on his Birthday.
Back in Europe, I found out I had torn the ACL in my knee and was operated on very quickly. Despite all the rehabilitation and hard work I’ve put into my recovery, looking
back to that day, I realise it was a lucky escape and I’m just glad to be alive.