LOOKING back, it was stupid to go skiing where we did on the day we did. There had been a dramatic temperature change from the day before - it had got a lot milder. Having been very cold, a lot of snow had fallen overnight, and although snow was still falling heavily, it was now very wet - sleet almost.

We should have known.

I've been skiing since I was three-and-a-half, and used to manage the British ski team - so I guess you could say I'm pretty experienced. It was January 1985 and I was skiing with members of the Olympic team in the Vallee Perdue - the lost valley - near Val d'Isere in France, just a couple of valleys away from where those poor doctors were the other day.

There were 10 of us in the group. We'd been skiing on the piste, but had got bored. Someone suggested that we go off piste, and you know what groups are like - suddenly it seemed like a good idea and we were off.

We didn't have a guide or avalanche bleepers with us, or anything. It didn't seem particularly dangerous, or even that ambitious - just a bit more challenging. We were still quite near humanity, after all. There's nothing nicer than skiing through virgin snow - it's like slicing through uncharted waters. You can look back at your tracks, and see how well you've turned.

The snow was incredibly deep - waist-high at times - so we were skiing quite slowly - perhaps 10 miles per hour. We were stopping and starting. Often the run suddenly became very narrow, forming a bottleneck, so we had to be careful - going one at a time through snow tunnels, where the snow had formed a roof over two rock faces, or down deep chutes.

Most of the time we were fairly spread out, and so we were making quite a racket as we went down - shouting to each other and making jokes. With hindsight we should have shut up. Avalanches can be caused by three things - sound vibrations, movements on the surface, or bits of ice falling high up. Noise was what I'm sure started ours off.

It was late afternoon. We had come to a narrow valley - about 100 metres high and 20 metres wide. I had slowed down to a standstill, waiting for the people ahead of me to ski through it. Several members of the group were waiting at the bottom of the valley for us to come through. I had a Walkman on, and was listening, I remember, to Bob Seger - romantic, slushy stuff. Nothing unusual about that: a lot of skiers like listening to music as they go down.

Suddenly, I was knocked sideways. Before I could think what had happened, I was totally engulfed by what felt like liquid concrete. It jammed into every orifice: snow shoved up my nostrils and into my mouth and within seconds everything went black.

The snow felt enormously heavy - not powdery and light like you imagine. I was buried about three feet deep - it completely covered my head. But I was still conscious. That's when I totally panicked. I was horizontal with my skis still on, and my ski poles still attached to my wrists. My whole body was locked into this twisted position.

Within seconds - although it seemed like forever - people who had been skiing behind me started scrabbling away with their hands, clearing an air passage so I could breathe. I don't know how I survived. I don't remember much about it but I suppose I must have held my breath for a full two minutes or so.

Two other skiers in front of my had been caught too, and someone behind me was half- buried. While they were digging us out, the other members of the group panicked - they suddenly realising someone was missing. They started leaping around like dogs digging in sand, trying to find him, and eventually located his ski stick and then him. He must have been without oxygen for as long as five minutes, but amazingly he was still conscious when they pulled him out.

Meanwhile, I was screaming and shouting. Although my head was free, my body was trapped, and I was scared because I thought another avalanche might be on its way, that could cover me up completely. It took six people about 15 minutes of solid digging to get me out.

We started to head back, skiing very slowly. Incredibly nobody was injured, though we all had muscle strain. By the time we got back, the whole town had heard about it. I remember walking into a bar and this barmaid asking us excitedly, 'Have you heard about the avalanche?'. I sent for a large bottle of gin to celebrate the fact we were still alive, and we got terribly drunk.

Our own stupidity took us off piste. It was a close shave. It hasn't put me off skiing, but it gave me one hell of a shock. It's the closest I've ever come to dying. Now I'm certainly much more careful about examining the weather forecast. And I don't wear my Walkman any more]

I suppose it's the danger of skiing that attracts me. A lot of people feel they've got a right to do what they like up a mountain - that they can master the elements. But when you're up against nature, often nature wins.

(Photograph omitted)

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