The Avalance That Changed My Life

by: Robert G. Allen

It was our dream cabin.

10,000 square feet of luxurious space overlooking a majestic waterfall on the back-side of Mount Timpanogos near the slopes of Robert Redford’s famous Sundance Ski Resort. It took my wife and I several years to design, plan, build, and furnish it.

But, it took only 10 seconds to completely destroy it.

I remember the afternoon of the disaster as if it was yesterday. Thursday, February 13th, 1986 the day before our 9th anniversary. It had snowed heavily that day. About 40 inches. Still, my wife braved the weather for the 30 minute ride up the canyon from our home in Provo, Utah to visit our newly completed mountain home. Taking our 6 year old son, Aaron, she left early that afternoon, stopping on the way to buy some ingredients for a cake to celebrate our special day. I was to join her later and bring Aimee, our nine year old daughter, and Hunter our youngest son.

My first hint of danger came at about 3:00 P.M. with a call from the Sundance Ski Patrol.

“There’s a problem at your cabin. You’d better come immediately.”

They gave no more details. Although I was behind deadline in finishing up a book project, I left my computer and anxiously dashed up the canyon on snow-clogged roads. When I arrived at the Ski Resort, the director of the Resort and his staff greeted me with somber looks on their faces.

“There’s been a catastrophe at the cabin. We think your wife and son were there. Jump in my four-wheel drive. Let’s go.”

The cabin was adjacent to the main Sundance Ski Slope and was accessible only by a narrow, winding mountain road. We frantically raced up the single lane road. The high snow banks on either side made it seem as if we were winding through a labyrinth. As we rounded a curve in the road we met another vehicle coming down the narrow roadway. Both of us slammed on our brakes as we skidded into each other with minor damage to both vehicles. After brief exchange of information we continued our race up the narrow road until the copper roof of the cabin came into sight in the distance.

As we pulled near I spotted my wife and son in the roadway surrounded by several members of the Sundance Ski patrol. As I jumped out of the vehicle and ran towards her, she pointed to the trees above the cabin. I was shocked by what I saw.

The swath of a monster avalanche had blasted down the mountainside leaving massive trees snapped and broken in its wake like match sticks. I glanced again at the cabin and could now see how the avalanche had ripped through our mountain home. In seconds, it blew out all of the windows and piled tons and tons of snow into our huge living room, collapsing all the floors and completely destroying our dreams. What remained was just a shell. Outside, our carefully selected furniture lay smashed to bits in the snow. It was a scene of such shocking devastation, I shall never forget it.

The ski patrol hustled us out of the avalanche zone quickly as new avalanches were threatened. We returned home dazed, stunned, in shock. I must admit, the loss of the cabin really shook us. For months after, I wondered why we had been so unlucky to lose our beautiful mountain home. Why did God allow such things to happen?

The story could end here. But then you wouldn’t know of the miracle that happened that day. As it was, I, myself, didn’t discover the miracle until eight months later.

At a business meeting, many months later, a colleague of mine asked me a seemingly simple question:

“Did your wife ever tell you that my wife and your wife almost had an “accident” on the road to your cabin on the day of your avalanche?

“No,” I replied. “What happened?”

“Well, my wife and our boys were staying at our Sundance cabin. Because of the heavy snow, they decided to leave and come back home. Before leaving the cabin, one of the boys suggested that they offer a prayer for a safe trip home. They bowed their heads and offered a brief prayer and then started down the narrow road. Your wife, driving up the road, saw my wife and the boys in our Suburban. But when my wife slammed on her brakes, the car wouldn’t stop. It skidded down the slick mountain road gathering speed. There was nothing she could do to stop it. Finally, at the last moment, before the two vehicles were to crash into each other, she turned the wheel slamming the front of the Suburban into the snow bank on one side of the road while the rear of the vehicle slammed into the bank on the other side….virtually blocking your wife from proceeding up the road. They tried for almost an hour to get the Suburban unstuck and finally had to get help from the ski resort.”

“That’s amazing,” I said. “My wife never told me.”

We chuckled about the “accident” and parted company. Then, the force of what he had just revealed, hit me.

If it hadn’t been for this near “accident,” my wife and son would most certainly have been killed in the avalanche!

I’ve often thought about that “accident” in the roadway. I imagine my wife sitting there in frustration as the Suburban blocks her way to the cabin. I can see my friends’ wife at the scene, embarrassed by the whole situation. I see her boys upset and confused and wondering if God really hears prayers.

At the time, everyone viewed the situation as a complete disaster. And yet, with perspective, it was obvious that they had all unknowingly participated in a miracle.

Now, I am slower to judge the “disasters” that occur from time to time in my life. Eventually, as more information becomes available, many of them turn out to be miracles in the making. When “accidents” happen, I try to ask myself, “What miracle is God fashioning out of this misfortune?”

Instead of wondering, “Why me, God?” I simply say “Thank you, God.”

Then, I wait until all of the evidence rolls in.

Submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul II by Robert G. Allen August 22, 1995

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