On January 20, 2003, Ken Wylie was leading a group of seven guests on a backcountry ski trip from the Durrand Glacier chalet north of Revelstoke.
They were following lead guide Ruedi Begliner and 12 other skiers up La Traviata couloir on Tumbledown Mountain. One by one, the lead group criss-crossed the steep slope, cresting the top to the gentler slopes above.
Wylie started to cross, calling his group to follow his lead. That’s when he heard the whumpf — the dreadful sound of the snowpack collapsing. A series of three avalanches were triggered, burying 13 people, some almost three metres deep. Wylie spent 30 minutes under the snow until he was dug out, mostly unharmed. Seven others weren’t so lucky and died in the avalanche.
The avalanche is the subject of Buried, a new book about the avalanche by Wylie. The book looks back at the tragic slide, the events leading up to it, and the seven lessons Wylie took away from the avalanche.
“This book was not necessarily written by choice,” he told an overflow crowd at a reading at the Revelstoke library on Sunday.
Wylie began working on the book in 2010 after health issues and other personal problems caused him to collapse in his home office with “unbelievable back pain.” He decided then and there he needed to tell his story.
The title of the book not only reflects Wylie being physically buried by the snow, but also mentally buried by the aftermath of the avalanche and his inability to come to grips with what happened, and his own role in the tragedy.
“It’s not the entire truth,” he said. “It’s what I experienced. I try to be as honest as I can about my contribution to the tragedy.”
For years, he said, he tried to absolve himself of responsibility, but he realized his own weaknesses — his inability to stand up to a dominating lead guide — played a role as well. “The dynamic between Ruedi and I, in my estimation is what caused the tragedy,” he said. “I was profoundly intimidated by Ruedi, and that was my contribution.”
(Beglinger, according to Wylie, didn’t want the book published.)
Wylie said he had a terrible feeling about going up La Traviata, but he was afraid to speak his mind, to get on the radio and tell Beglinger he was going somewhere else.
Writing the book was a way for Wylie to deal with the tragedy. He pulls from other stories in his life to shed light on the lessons he learned from the avalanche.
“How was I going to make this something useful for myself?” he said. “The answer was taking personal responsibility… It’s about personal expansion, development and growing.”
Wylie is still guiding these days. He is the founder of Mountains for Growth, a non-profit that uses adventure in mountain and wilderness for personal and team development.
Buried, by Ken Wylie, was published by Rocky Mountain Books. It is available for sale at Grizzly Books.