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British Dad Shares Terrifying Moment His Son Was Buried By Snow While Skiing

by : Emily Brown on : 25 Mar 2020 11:03

A British father has shared a terrifying video of his son getting buried under five feet of snow while skiing as a warning about safety on the slopes. 

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Gillon Campbell and his family are no strangers to skiing, and regularly get out onto the slopes of Chamonix Mont-Blanc, France, at weekends and during school holidays.

Fox, 11, is part of an advanced freeride ski club specialising in off-piste skiing, which involves skiing on unmarked slopes that have not been specifically prepared for skiers. The club trains members how to ski off-piste, about the risks of skiing off-piste, and how to respond to an accident.

11-year-old Fox skiing11-year-old Fox skiingGillon Campbell

After getting into skiing when he was just four years old, Fox is now very experienced. However, no matter how talented you may be, safety is still paramount.

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This became particularly evident for Fox and his family on December 28, when they headed out in an area of Chamonix called Le Tour. There had been a fresh snowfall of about 20-30cm, and the family decided to cut from the piste they were on, down a powder field and then cut back onto the piste below.

Gillon Campbell and sonGillon Campbell and sonGillon Campbell

Recalling the outing, Gillon told UNILAD:

After we skied the gentle powder slope, we had to ski through a short gully to get back to the piste. While in the gully, Fox’s brother stopped. Fox encouraged him to keep moving, I then stopped and waited, and Fox skied on past me.

He wasn’t going very quickly so I wasn’t worried he would get too far ahead, and he’s also a very experienced skier.

Gillon was confused when he made it to the piste and realised Fox wasn’t waiting for him, but he assumed he’d gone on ahead to meet his mother. It turned out that wasn’t the case, and after failing to find his son at the ski lift Gillon decided to head back to where he’d last seen Fox.

11-year-old boy who fell into dark hole while skiing11-year-old boy who fell into dark hole while skiingGillon Campbell

Thankfully, both Gillon and Fox were carrying transceivers; a device that emits a pulsed radio signal that can be received by another transceiver. The concerned father sent out a signal, and realised Fox must have been buried.

While skiing through the gully, Fox had gone around a shallow bend and fallen into a deep hole in the snow. The vibration of his fall triggered a small slide of snow from the slope above, and as he tried to escape the snow slid down the the gully wall and covered him, leaving him trapped. He’d shouted for help, but his family couldn’t hear him.

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Recalling how he felt when he figured out Fox’s whereabouts, Gillon said:

[I was] sick to my stomach. I was in total shock. You have to remember I’d not seen this happen, so it was hard to imagine he could be under the snow, but the transceiver was telling me someone was just 3.8m away and no one was nearby at the time.

So someone had to be under the snow. I was in total panic.

Fox skiing before falling into dark holeFox skiing before falling into dark holeGillon Campbell

The father sprung into action and screamed for help. As a responsible off-piste skiier, Gillon carries a backpack with avalanche rescue equipment that includes a shovel and a 2.5-metre probe.

Unfortunately he’d left his phone at home, so with no way of contacting anyone for help he knew he had to do everything he could to rescue his son. He followed the transceiver to locate the spot where Fox was buried and used the probe to try and locate him. Gillon managed to hit something on his first attempt, so he got out his shovel and began to dig.

Gillon recalled:

I held the metal shovel, which was freezing, and just dug like my life depended on it. Even while digging there was a doubt in my mind… but a couple of minutes into digging I hit something and saw [Fox’s] florescent Black Crows ski pole in the snow and realised all my worst nightmares had come true.

He was under the snow; there was now no doubt. At that point I started talking, telling him how much I loved him and that I was coming to help.

Father digging son out of hole under snowFather digging son out of hole under snow La Chamoniarde/Gillon Campbell

By the time Gillon reached Fox, he had been buried for 29 minutes. Spending more than 15 minutes buried under snow can dramatically reduce the chances of survival, but thankfully Fox survived his ordeal.

After uncovering Fox’s head, Gillon was able to get the attention of other skiiers who came to help and contacted staff. It took another 20 minutes until Fox was completely free, and Gillon gave him some hot chocolate to help deal with the cold and shock while the medical team checked him over.

Dad digging son out of snow after he was buriedDad digging son out of snow after he was buriedGillon Campbell
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Incredibly, Fox quickly recovered and he was back skiing the following day. He and his father have since collaborated with La Chamoniarde, the mountain safety and awareness organisation in France, to share the scary footage caught by Fox’s headcam and warn people of the risks of skiing off-piste.

La Chamoniarde explains:

Beware of a false sense of security when skiing close to the piste! Only open and marked pistes are secured.

Even skiing close to the piste, is not on-piste, therefore you are off-piste. Skiing off-piste carries many risks including avalanches, icy or hard snow, rocky outcrops, cliffs and holes… none of which are signposted! There are no signs to find your bearings, and no one to alert the ski-patrol.

To ski off-piste, you need to know more than just how to ski! You must be aware of the dangers, that way you know how to avoid them.

Dad digging son out of snow after he was buriedDad digging son out of snow after he was buriedGillon Campbell

Gillon said it was a series of unfortunate events that led to Fox being buried; not only was Fox unable to ski around the hole in the gully, but his fall triggered a mini avalanche and his father was looking in another direction and therefore missed the incident.

However, he added that as unlucky as they were, accidents ‘occur all the time in the off-piste’, so skiiers need to be vigilant and prepared.

11-year-old boy with rescuers after being buried by snow11-year-old boy with rescuers after being buried by snowGillon Campbell

Gillon urges anyone who is interested in off-piste skiing to take a course to learn how to do so, and encouraged regular practise with rescue equipment. He also advised skiiers to always carry the appropriate equipment, including walkie-talkies, as well as being vigilant and aware.

He added:

I see so many people skiing off-piste with no backpack and clearly little awareness of the risks. Each year there are many tragic accidents. I’m grateful we were so lucky and I hope others will learn from our experience and ski responsibly off-piste.

If Fox had not been carrying a transceiver he would not have been found in time. And imagine if I had been in this situation and not had the equipment or known how to use it to rescue him. I would have felt helpless and the guilt would have been unbearable.

Hopefully skiiers will learn from Fox and Gillon’s experience, and will ensure they are always prepared when skiing off-piste.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Life, France, La Chamoniarde, Off-Piste, rescue, Skiing

Credits

La Chamoniarde/YouTube
  1. La Chamoniarde/YouTube

    Close to the piste is still off-piste !