Stranded without gear, food or water, two resilient skiers survived 52 hours in Colorado backcountry.

In a feat of survival, Kelsey Malin and a friend made the most of a frightening situation, as they became trapped in a deep pocket of snow off Monarch Mountain back in late January. It was Malin’s first trip to Monarch, and the last thing she expected was to become trapped in Colorado backcountry for over 52 hours in subzero temperatures without gear, food or water.

“There were definitely some points where I thought I was going to die.”

Malin and her friend are both experienced skiers, but due to lack of ropes and signs, they had no idea they travelled out of bounds. This ordeal just goes to show that no matter how much of an experienced skier you are, this can happen to anyone. The fact that the skiers came out of this alive is a miracle, given their circumstances. The two skiers spent over two nights in a handmade snow cave used to protect themselves from the unbearable temperature and weather in the Colorado backcountry. Malin said, “I know that an igloo maintains a constant temperature of 60 to 65 degrees, just based on your body heat.” In an effort to conserve and maintain their body temperatures, Malin and her friend attempted to create a fire, but were unsuccessful. This ended up working in their favor due to the detrimental effects of rewarming frostbite then having it refreeze. Unfortunately, the two did not come out of this ordeal completely unscathed… Both skiers endured severe frostbite on their feet and became delirious with hypothermia. When help arrived in the form of a backcountry skier stumbling upon Malin’s friend, ski patrol was notified immediately. Ski patrol reached them shortly thereafter and took them to a hospital in Salida. The skiers were told they would lose their toes and potentially parts of their feet. They were airlifted to University Hospital in Aurora and have been receiving treatments from the burn center. “At this point, they still look really bad… I should be able to keep all of my toes,” said Malin. “I might end up losing one of my pinky toes and I might end up losing part of my big ones.”

“If this is what it costs for me to survive, that’s the price I got to pay.”

What’s surprising is that after this experience, Malin still wants get back out there and ski again. She said that she is counting down the days until that moment arrives. “After this experience, it’s made me realize that I don’t think there’s anything in my life that would ever make me want to stop skiing.” Currently, Monarch Mountain is investigating what happened. In a statement released by the resort, they said,

On the afternoon of Monday, January 23, 2017, a male and a female skier exited the Monarch Mountain ski area. They became lost and spent Monday night and Tuesday night in the backcountry.

On Wednesday, January 25 they were discovered by another backcountry skier who contacted Monarch Ski Patrol. Monarch Ski Patrol launched a Search and Rescue operation and found the couple that afternoon. They were transported to University Hospital in Denver to be treated for non-life threatening injuries.

We are very happy to hear they have been released from the hospital and are recovering.”

Malin has plans to meet with the executives of Monarch Mountain to discuss what happened. She also intends to speak with the Ski Patrol in hopes to reconnect with the individual who found them.

Want to know how you can stay safe when skiing? Check out some safety tips you should keep in mind when you hit the slopes!