CODY — As Anthony Kluesner became buried under the snow, he strained under its weight, unable to breathe, move or see.
“I’ve had avalanche training and stuff, and they give you a scenario to do in your head,” said Kluesner of Meeteetse. “I had a checklist in my head ... but honestly, I didn’t have time to go through all those steps because it happened so fast.
“It was just a 'pray as we go' and hopefully we don’t have a bad situation.”
On Feb. 25, Kluesner, 22, was snowmobiling near Mount Abundance near Cooke City when he got caught inside an avalanche.
“It was probably one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” he said, “just going through that and not being able to move.”
Though he has been snowmobiling since he could walk, it was his first time experiencing an avalanche.
His plan was a simple one that Saturday morning: go snowmobiling with some friends who had come to visit.
“Cooke City had gotten over 20 inches of new snow and that’s every snowmobiler’s dream, to go ride fresh powder and tear it up,” Kluesner said.
And, he was very familiar with the terrain, having snowmobiled in Cooke City five or six times this year already.
“I just hit the wrong spot at the wrong time,” he said.
Kluesner was headed downhill, trying to get his snowmobile stopped.
“And the next thing I know I just feel a lot of weight on me,” he said. “My heart was pounding and my body was shaking.”
As the snow packed around him, he reached for his avalanche pack, which contained a beacon light, probe and shovel, but he couldn’t move.
The next thing he tried to do was swim out of the snow.
“But nothing really worked because of all the snow,” he said. “The next thing to do was just hope for the best.”
Kluesner said he believes maintaining his grip on the snowmobile saved his life.
At the beginning of the avalanche, Kluesner’s snowmobile flipped, lying on top of him in the snow and wedged his legs between the handlebars.
“I believe that’s what pulled me out of the snow,” he said.
He ended up waist deep in snow, with his friends having to dig him out.
“The people that were around me were on me within a minute. They had the training and the right equipment and the right tools,” Kluesner said. “Fortunately, they didn’t have to do a search for me ... they were able to pull the sled off of me and get my legs dug out.”
He walked away with only a few bumps and bruises.
“I couldn’t be more thankful,” he said. “If it would have went any other way, it probably wouldn’t have been a good deal for me.”
But, the trauma from that day remains.
“It’s still to this day a shock to me,” Kleusner said. “I still don’t have the whole scenario processed ... I think about what could have gone wrong. What could have gone differently.”
Having already gotten level 1 avalanche training, Kluesner said the experience has motivated him to get more advanced instruction.
His recommendation for other snowmobilers is to get the necessary training.
“My advice for anyone that’s ever going to go out in backcountry snowmobiling, just take the time and go get the training,” he said. “Know how to use your equipment.”
Kluesner said he’ll get back on a snowmobile.
“It’s going to be a few more days before I even think about getting on a snowmobile. It just scared the heck out of me,” he said. “But it’s still one of my favorite things to do.
“It’s the passion for being out in the mountains and being able to explore new areas and play in the fresh snow and getting away from reality.”
His focus now will be on advocating for avalanche safety and training.
“Even if it’s tracked or not tracked,” he said, “an avalanche can happen whenever.”