‘I was dead, no doubt about it’: Bystanders resuscitate man buried in snow on Vail Mountain
January 25, 2019
VAIL — An Ohio man is alive and well after suffocating upside down in deep snow on Saturday in Vail Mountain’s Marmot Valley before some other skiers and snowboarders, including a CPR-certified doctor, came to his rescue.
“I was dead. No doubt about it,” said Michael Laush, who was enjoying a powder day with his friend, both celebrating their 40th birthdays. “It’s kind of surreal to me. I was out for most of it, so I don’t really remember much. Being able to talk to Tom, Karen and Beth and get their side of what they saw, it’s very hard — it’s very emotional. I mean these people don’t know me and they saved my life.”
On Saturday morning, Vail Mountain reported an 11-inch powder day, with 20 inches of new snow in the previous three days. Chair 21 closed for parts of the day so that ski patrol could evacuate Laush from the mountain.
'Two boots sticking out of the snow'
Tom and Karen Nern, of Vail Dermatology, were on Vail Mountain with their team having a ski day with doctors and providers, heading for the Back Bowls.
Tom saw a woman in black and white “just screaming for help. I didn’t know what she needed help for.”
Tom credits this woman for being the first person on the scene, although they weren’t able to exchange information following the incident.
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“When I got there, there were two ski boots sticking out of the snow,” Tom said.
“It took me a minute to figure out what was going on because he was upside down in the same thing as a tree well but on the other side of a rock obstacle that had been marked,” Karen said. “He was buried upside down.”
The Nerns, along with others who skied or snowboarded by, began to try digging Laush out of the snow, including a ski instructor.
“It probably took six or seven minutes to get him out,” Karen said.
Laush said he stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 270 pounds.
“Digging that deep we realized we couldn’t get down to his face, so we started giving him a pull,” Tom said. “I put one boot under my armpit and one of the other guys did the same thing and then we had a third guy pulling on his belt and got him out.”
Beth McCrann, a retired OBGYN, was out at Vail enjoying a day with family when she came across the incident.
“She was just being like a cheerleader,” Karen said of McCrann, “telling everyone to keep digging.”
Pulling Laush’s body out of the snow was only half the battle, though.
“It was really rattling for me because it was pulling a corpse out of the snow,” Tom said. “He was completely gone.”
'He started coming back'
“He wasn’t breathing. He was purple. No pulse — nothing,” Tom said.
“He was blue and purple,” Karen said. “There was no pulse, no breathing.”
“He was bluer than blue when we got him out,” McCrann said.
The Vail Dermatology team includes a staff member who teaches CPR, and the company offers it to all of its employees.
Karen got her recertification about six weeks ago.
While Karen gave three sets of chest compressions, McCrann provided about six to eight breaths.
“He started coming back. He started breathing like a snorkeling kind of breath,” Karen said. “I could feel his pulse just pounding back into his chest.”
With local organizations like Starting Hearts, sudden cardiac arrest is something everyone should be trained in, Karen said.
“You just never know when your last breath might be, but you also never know when you might be able to help somebody,” she said. “It’s crazy to me that he came back — he was gone. Three rounds of chest compressions and he was back.”
Thanks for 'giving me my life back'
Laush made a quick recovery after being taken to Denver hospital.
He has spoken to the Nerns and others, expressing extreme gratitude. On Monday, his father and sisters came to Vail to have lunch with the Nerns and McCrann.
“There’s nothing I could do on Earth to thank you for giving me my life back,” he said.
Laush returned to Ohio this week, where he works for a power generation company.
“Probably the true hero of the whole situation was the woman who flagged me down,” Tom said. “She’s really the key person in there as far as saving his life.”
Vail Ski Patrol also acted swiftly.
“We appreciate the quick response from our guests in providing emergency CPR on-mountain. This showcases the importance for people to be trained in CPR,” said Doug Lovell, chief operating officer at Vail Mountain. “Thank you to Dr. Karen Nern, Tom Nern, Dr. Beth McCrann, and the rest of the bystanders who reacted so quickly. They saved this man’s life, and on behalf of Vail Mountain and Vail Ski Patrol, thank you.”
For Laush and all those involved, a little luck and being in the right place at the right time helped save a life on Vail Mountain.
“It was the most remarkable and life-changing experience of my life — unbelievable,” Karen said. “I was just shocked that he came back.”
"I can tell you right now that I have every intention of coming back next year and skiing Vail with them," Laush said of his angels on the mountain.