Buried by Ken Wylie
Rocky Mountain Books – $25
January 2003 was a deadly month in British Columbia’s Selkirk Mountains. A total of 14 backcountry skiers and boarders died in the range that month in two separate avalanche accidents. The first incident took the lives of seven guests while touring with ski guide Reudi Beglinger at his commercial backcountry hut, Selkirk Mountain Experience (SME). Those killed at SME included professional snowboard legend and aspiring ski guide Craig Kelly and six ski touring clients. Given the scale of the accident and the group’s guided status, the incident garnered a large amount of press and discussion about risk management and the growing backcountry ski business (read Thin White Line – an Outside Magazine article from 2003). Though seven people died, six additional buried skiers were successfully rescued, due in large part, by the swift actions of Beglinger. Those rescued include Ken Wylie, the assistant ski guide on the trip. Wylie was fully buried for approximately 30 minutes but suffered only minor physical injuries.
Nearly 12 years after the accident, Wylie tells his story of the event and the days before and after in the newly released book, Buried. According to Wylie, coming to write the book was a long journey for him. In addition to believing family members and friends of those affected by the incident wanted and deserved to know as many details as possible, Wylie says, “the book was an opportunity to grow and learn. To discuss the human factors surrounding the event, so others can also learn from the experience.” But Buried is not simply a recounting of the avalanche and study of mistakes or blame. A bulk of the book is personal reflection on the human factors that plagued Wylie before, during and after the tragic day. Wylie raises questions about guide hierarchy, personal responsibility and personal honesty in his efforts to learn and heal from the tragedy. The retelling of the events surrounding the tragic day is a compelling read. Those who have been on a hut trip or experienced a close call in the mountains will be especially engaged as the story of the event unfolds.
Wylie has not had an easy road to follow since the accident. Spared physical injuries, his emotional injuries ran deep. In discussing the book, he states his compassion for Reudi, “He took all the heat following the incident and experienced the entire event on the surface. I was buried.” Still, Wylie makes no attempt to hide his often negative opinions of Beglinger’s interpersonal skills. In fact, Wylie was struggling with working at SME before the accident because of his interactions with Beglinger. Wylie is critical of Beglinger and his leadership style but, as much as Beglinger has shouldered the weight of the accident in the eyes of the public, Wylie openly explores his own role in the events and how his inaction and inability to express himself to Beglinger and his clients has haunted him with a strong degree of self blame for the deaths of seven people. Wylie digs deep into his past in the book’s second half in an attempt to understand his own actions and outlook on life.
Buried is an engaging and thought provoking look at an accident that shook the backcountry ski industry and a reflective story of Wylie’s internal struggle to regain self-identity. If anything positive can come from the story of the tragic day in January of 2003, it is to help other skiers see what could have been done differently, and that’s exactly what Wylie hopes Buried can do.