Close calls and injuries for backcountry skiers are reminders of danger
Three backcountry skiers from Mammoth planned on taking a quick jaunt up Ellery Bowl on Thursday, July 6, but ended up helping save the life of a San Francisco man who took a massive fall down the steep slope.
Dave Arnold, 28, was the second skier in as many weeks to be injured skiing in the tempting backcountry bowl on Tioga Pass, just outside the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park.
Arnold was skiing by himself when he took what looked from the vantage point of the three Mammoth residents—Josh Wray, Mark Williams, and Branko Kral-—to be a catastrophic fall.
“We didn’t even know he was there until we got almost to the top and saw him for the first time,” said Wray this week. The trio were about 60 yards from the summit lip of Ellery Bowl when they spotted Arnold from a distance.
“If we were on the summit we would not have seen him, and probably [would have] gone right around him,” said Wray.
Arnold told The Sheet on Wednesday that he’d intended to ski a route down Mount Dana but decided against the descent he’d originally planned on and ended up scrambling across a boulder field towards the summit of Ellery Bowl instead. He was exhausted, he was alone, and he’d been terrified of the route he’d taken. He even recorded a GoPro video for his parents, telling them in the event that he didn’t make it off the mountain, that he’d died doing something he loved. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” said Arnold of the traverse toward Ellery Bowl across the loose rocks. Likely scarier was the fall that nearly killed him, but lucky for him, Arnold doesn’t remember that part.
Wray said he’d pulled out his camera to record Arnold’s ski descent of Ellery Bowl, and that he and his companions were cheering Arnold on. Suddenly, Wray said, the lone skier (whom they had never met before) caught an edge, “and his skis popped off, his poles were gone, and he was trying to self arrest.