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My Near-Death Experience In A Snow Igloo

A quinzhee made in Finland

Our igloo looked nothing like this one.

In honor of winter—everyone’s favorite season—I’ll be traveling back in time to a more care-free period of my existence. I was 14 or maybe 15, I had a great group of friends, and I lived in a small town about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia.

Unlike the thick and blustery winters I experience here, in Salt Lake City, the winters there were pretty pathetic; and people’s preparation for the cold was even more pathetic—they’d close school for one inch of snow. Here, kids trudge and shiver through feet of snow on their way to elementary school. But that’s beside the point.

One Time I Almost Died

Or at least, in the moment, I really thought, “This is it. This is how I’m heading out of this cold world.” And when I thought cold, I was referring to the weather. Like I mentioned before, it was winter.

As it didn’t snow a ton in Pennsylvania, my pals and I did the best with the snow we had. One day, possibly a weekend, probably a weekday after school, we were making an igloo in the only probable spot: the pile of snow made by the city plow.

Now, all of us came from good homes with good parents and had heard from our moms that making igloos is a dangerous business; “kids die in them every year.” We’d also heard our dads say, “when you make an igloo, make sure to pack the snow first, so it doesn’t collapse.” We happily ignored both bits of counsel. Igloos are fun and packing the snow beforehand makes them smaller.

English: An igloo made for fun by teenage boys...

Here’s another sample of what our igloo DID NOT look like. And those aren’t my shoes.

The snow mound was probably six to eight feet tall. We had excavated a sizable hole and were in the process of shaping the inside and outside. My friends worked on the outer edge as I cleared snow from the inside—something I realize now was not the safest of arrangements.

They (I’m not sure who they are) say your senses amplify when you’re about to die, that your survival instincts kick in and your suddenly able to see, hear, smell, and taste everything clearer than ever before. I do remember hearing the crunch and then feeling the crack in my back when the igloo collapsed and six feet of snow pinned me to the ground, but what I remember most is not being able to breathe.

My life didn’t pass before my eyes. I didn’t see the faces of my loved ones or reach out longingly to my future wife. I just thought, “you gotta be kidding me. I’m going to die like this, trapped in a pile of dirty snow and gravel. What a dumb way to die.” Of course I was scared, but I was almost more angry. I could’t go like this.

I had already tried to lift myself and failed. But somehow I found the strength and the will to get my knees beneath me. From there, with all the force I could muster, I pushed upward, towards the sky, towards life. To my amazement it worked. My face broke the surface. I took a deep breath and was dug out by my panicked friends.

Once I was out my friends started laughing. I said nothing to them. I just threw punches in their direction. Without a word I headed home. Those dumb kids had no idea how frightened and mad I was. Only now do I realize that I was only able to get out because they were digging on top, probably frantically digging. I never said thanks. Thanks friends.

For two weeks I could barely move. My back just hurt too bad. I probably sprained it. But I was breathing, walking, alive—something I need to remember more often.

I’m breathing, walking, alive.

Happy Winter. Don’t make igloos.

Have you had a near-death experience? What happened? What ran through your mind?

Building an iglu in Cape Dorset (southern regi...

This isn’t me.

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