29 January 2017
Everything happens for a reason.
It is honestly as simple as that. We don’t always know what that reason is, but I believe that there is meaning to everything, somewhere down the line. Whilst my avalanche experience was unplanned and a tough one to deal with for some time, it changed everything. It’s 16 years ago this week since that fateful day and thinking about it on the anniversary still makes my heart skip a beat.
Having made the group decision to head up the mountain in a whiteout to tackle some off-piste skiing and boarding, in spite of the resort being shut down due to poor weather, we took a local guide and headed up in the lift, which had be opened especially for us – the only ones crazy enough to attempt tackling the mountain in such conditions.
I hadn’t felt great about it all morning, to be honest. For some reason, I felt the urge to call my then girlfriend, now wonderful wife, Gail. I told her I loved her and she very sternly told me to turn around, to come back down and have a vin chaud and put bravado to one side. Regardless, I continued.
As we traversed between peaks and along a flat section one at a time, I went second to last and as one of the skiers behind me caught me up on my snowboard, he playfully knocked me over as he overtook me. I picked myself up and took off my snowboard dusting myself down as I hurled abuse.
A split second later there was a crack – a sound I didn’t remember hearing for some years. It’s only afterwards when I have dug deep recounting the experience that bits and pieces come back to me. I think the sheer terror of the ordeal has blanked certain elements of the experience.
Oblivious to what was coming down the mountain, I waved to my team who were all in the distance waving frantically, warning me of an avalanche that was heading my way.
I didn’t see it coming and that was that. After being dragged and pulled, tossed and turned like nothing I can fully explain, all I knew is that it was futile fighting it and self-preservation had already kicked in. I consciously relaxed knowing at some point I’d need to take an almighty last breath.
I was right and I was suddenly sucked underneath taking a lasting look up to the blue-grey sky as the lights went out.
I was buried under eight feet of snow, conscious that I was trapped without air in the pitch darkness of the moment.
There’s no way to describe that moment, it’s hard to think about and it’s even harder to write about it, even after all these years. But I believe it’s healthy to reflect and remind myself just how lucky I was.
I am grateful every day for the guys who were on the trip with me. If you’re going to find yourself caught in an avalanche, make sure you’re travelling with an incredibly fit group, with a thoracic heart surgeon and a casualty doctor! What are the chances! They dug me out – with bare hands and a tiny shovel – and the two doctors in the group brought me back to life.
On reflection what seemed like a significant accident actually became the necessary catalyst for me to change so many things about myself that just weren’t good enough.
I am a long way away from that dark, ice-cold tomb on Pic Blanc, yet I remember it as if it were yesterday. It still remains a fierce driver and force for motivation and not a day goes by when I don’t thank God, for the air I breathe, for my life and for the friends I have around me now.
Deep below the surface of the snow that day, aware that I was suffocating, my last physical memory was the heat of my lips fighting for air as I drifted away thinking of Gail and of close friends and family, knowing I was never going to see them again. It’s hard to explain how that feels. The loss of one person is tough; the loss of everyone was an impossible feeling to deal with.
I never expected to wake up from that experience so when I did, I knew I had to make some significant changes and do things differently.
Today my life is very different, I am very different.
I went on a voyage of discovery and learned that life is a great deal more interesting and fun than I’d realised. It’s also far simpler than I could ever have imagined.
With four beautiful daughters, an extraordinary wife, an incredible family, wonderful friends and a fabulous business full of inspirational people; it is safe to say that this accident no longer feels like an accident, more of an intervention, something that happened for a reason.
Either way, I am very much alive and passionate about the journey we are on and all the people we can help along the way.
You don’t need an avalanche to realise just how precious every minute of every day is. Get up right now! Go and give someone a hug, pick up the phone and call your mum, tell someone how beautiful they look. These are the only things that matter. How we make others feel.
Master this and you guarantee yourself and those around you a happy and lasting life.