It was one of those mind-numbing moments that etches itself into a memory like nothing else, and it happened while 17-year-old Matt Walsh was out for a snowboarding expedition in Wyoming with his brother Michael, 19.
Matt had just jumped onto his snowboard Feb. 8 on a slope called Polecat Bench when he heard the pop-pop-pop and saw cracks opening in the snowfield beneath his feet.
He flew down the slope on his board, apparently only inches ahead of the massive wave of snow. But at the bottom, he lost the race.
“It hit me with a lot of force. I knew I was getting buried. I just couldn’t believe that could happen where we were. I remember it hitting my back and feeling it going around me and getting deeper and deeper. I had no idea how deep I was, but I figured I was probably too deep to get out with the equipment we had.”
He ended up in a sitting position three feet under the surface of the avalanche, snow already hardening to ice around him. He could move one arm, a little.
He knew it would take a miracle.
And it happened.
The details were posted by AG News, a website of Assemblies of God churches, which number nearly 13,000 in the United States.
It was literally one of those one-in-a-million chance events that saved him, or divine intervention.
Matt was moving his arm back and forth, taking a handful of snow at a time, trying to dig into the compacting snow above him.
He’d take the hardening snow and packed it into a small air pocket by his face.
Meanwhile, his brother, Michael, had flung himself backward when the snow broke to not get caught. Then he had run down the slope after his brother.
“The only thing I knew to do was cry out to God and ask, ‘What should I do – call search and rescue or go find him?’” he told AG News. “God spoke to me, ‘go find your brother.’ I followed His orders, I didn’t think about it, I ran down the hill and chunks of snow the size of my truck were still coming down around me.”
Matt further recounted what the family believes is a miracle:
“‘The heel of [Mike's] boot actually sank into where I had been digging and I could see it,’ Matt said. ‘I called out, ‘Mike, I’m fine, Mike I’m fine.”
Michael said: “I stopped yelling for a second, and I heard Matt. I looked down and there was this little tiny hole about the size of a baseball in the snow. I started digging frantically in the snow.”
Michael’s boot, in a snowslide of tens of thousands of square feet, had hit on the exact four-inch square spot that Matt had been clawing at from underneath.
“When I found him, I broke down and cried,” Michael told AG News. “I was so happy – the fear and heartache I just experienced were gone!”
It took Michael half an hour to dig enough snow to release his brother.
AG News reported about the Feb. 8 events involving ”
Michael and Matt, the sons of Pastor Mike and Becky Walsh of My Glad Tidings Assembly in Powell, Wy., say that during the entire rescue process, portions of the hill kept collapsing, yet the rivers of snow didn’t come their way.
The next day, however, when they returned to show their family where Michael had dug Matt out of the avalanche, there was no sign of the hole. The rest of the ridge had collapsed, burying the area under several feet of additional snow and debris.
The back story makes it even more astounding. Becky, the boys’ mother, was four months pregnant with Matt when she arrived home from church and started to bleed.
AG News reported she recalled a doctor telling her over the phone that she was having a miscarriage. But her husband brought over some youth group members, and they prayed.
“One of the kids then prophesied, ‘You’re not going to lose that baby because God’s going to do great things with him,’” she said.
The bleeding stopped and Matt was full-term and healthy.
“My brother definitely has a calling on his life,” Michael told AG News. “He leads worship, leads in youth group and is so talented. … I didn’t want to see that go to waste – because he’s going to do something great for God!”
Seventeen people have died in avalanches across the United States already this winter, 11 of them just in the last few weeks, as snowstorm after snowstorm has moved across ridges and peaks.
One national report said there have been many more who have been victims but have survived, sometimes with broken bones or other injuries.
Experts say the heavy snowfall across the region, with windstorms, has created high dangers. New layers of heavy snow have been dumped on older, weak layers of snow.
“It’s like putting a brick on top of a pile of potato chips,” Bruce Tremper of the U.S. Forest Service’s Utah Avalanche Center said in a report by Fox News.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which tracks national statistics, said recently avalanches have been larger than any in the past two decades.