A snowboarder says he is lucky to be alive after being buried in an avalanche in the New South Wales snowfields, just days after receiving avalanche training.
The snowboarder, who does not want to be named, was swept up in the class-three avalanche at Etheridge Ridge, near Mount Kosciuszko, as he was snowshoeing up the face of the slope for a final run earlier this month.
"About halfway up, there was all of a sudden a thunderous boom and the entire face top to bottom, about 150 metres wide, began to slide," he said.
"It happened in a split second.
"I tried to run to who knows where, but was immediately pulled completely under into darkness and immense pressure.
"I was tumbled several times with snow pushed hard against my face, but was surprisingly completely calm with the realisation that I was about to be buried and this is how it all ends."
The snowboarder said he came to rest completely buried in an upright standing position with just his head and one of his arms above the surface.
"The sudden silence and stillness was deafening, even more surprisingly again, I was completely calm and relaxed," he said.
He was able to work his other arm out of the snow and reach for his avalanche pack that contained a shovel to dig himself out.
In that time, his wife had called emergency services.
"Unfortunately she had been about 300 metres away waiting down the bottom and had not seen me go under and had not seen my last position," he said.
A Thredbo-based medical team was able to sled them to safety.
The force of the avalanche broke the snowboarder's ankle, snapped one of his poles in half, and damaged the snowboard on his back.
"There is no doubt the board on my back saved me from being crushed against rocks," he said.
The snowboarder had credited avalanche training that he and his wife had received only days before for helping him survive the ordeal.
"I can't even imagine what she has gone through witnessing the whole thing and having to put into action what we had only just learnt days prior," he said.
Aussie avalanche awareness
Heavy snowfalls across Australia this season has led to a number of avalanches recently reported by skiers.
Alpine Access Australia, a company that operates in NSW and Victoria and runs Avalanche Skills Training accredited by Avalanche Canada, is experiencing more people wanting to learn about avalanche risks.
The company had trained the male snowboarder just days before he was injured in the Etheridge Ridge avalanche.
Alpine Access Australia owner David Herring said more people were becoming aware of the risks as they looked to ski steeper lines.
"The equipment gets better and we're going further, therefore the risk is increasing," he said.
"There's a cultural change in especially the younger crew in Australia, who are travelling overseas and going to Japan and North America and have a greater understanding.
"I think social media has a lot to do with it, too."
Mr Herring said identifying avalanche risks took skill and a lot of training, but recent heavy snowfall in the high country had contributed to unstable terrain.
"It's all come recently and come at once," he said.
"It's all falling on what we call a melt-freeze layer of really solid near-ice, so the bonding of the new snow and the old snow has been a problem.
"There's been quite a few reports [of avalanches] coming in lately.
"Avalanches tend to run in cycles with storms and the danger increases with the new snow and peaks, and then drops off afterwards."
Controlling avalanche risks
Parks Victoria works closely with Alpine Resort Management Boards and emergency services to remind visitors of the risk of back-country skiing at the start of every season.
Other information including advisory signs are in place at key trail heads.
Government agencies in Victoria's north east have recently collaborated on a project to better understand avalanche risk and how it is managed in Australia and overseas, which will inform future management and awareness.
But, authorities have said it is difficult to manage and prevent avalanche risks.
"Visitors to these areas must be adequately prepared, experienced, self-reliant, properly equipped, and have knowledge of the terrain, hazards and conditions," said Parks Victoria north east district manager Ty Caling.
"Back-country visitors should not travel alone, notify someone where they are travelling and when they will make next contact.
"People skiing, snowboarding or touring backcountry alpine areas should make a proper risk assessment based on current and forecast weather conditions, experience and capabilities."ABC