The student of Lausanne’s federal institute of technology (EPFL), who appeared to be well recovered from a bout of hypothermia, described his ordeal in an interview for French-language Swiss TV broadcaster RTS.
Disoriented by the snow he said he followed the pylons of a gondola lift in a bid to find a route to the bottom while skiing on Sunday at the Isenau ski area above Les Diablerets in the canton of Vaud.
“In the States, usually following the ski lift supports (pylons) is the easiest way down,” the unnamed American told RTS. What he hadn’t counted on was that there would be a ravine there.
“I just ended up in this ravine that was maybe 35 metres on each side,” he said from a hospital room in Zweisimmen in the canton of Bern, where he was transported by helicopter after being rescued on Tuesday.
En route, the bindings on one ski broke and he tried to descend on one ski.
“Once I was in the ravine, I pretty much knew that the only way I was going to get out at that point was to keep hiking down the ravine.”
He said he tried to keep moving and built a “small embankment” out of snow on Monday night when he slept for about six hours.
“I crossed through three small ponds,” he said.
“The first one was up to my knees in water, and then the second one was to about my waist, the third one was to my neck.”
The teen said he ran to stay warm and to prevent the water from freezing.
The ravine ended, he said, in a waterfall 50 to 75 metres deep “straight down — there was no way down it”.
Off to one side the bank of the ravine was less steep and he was able to climb up it, he said.
He spent four or five hours in one place “just yelling” to get attention, he said, noting that he could hear dogs off in the distance barking.
But it was too early in the morning to get any attention and it was only by the early afternoon when three people walking on a road below him heard his cries for help.
“Then I knew I was going to get out.”
Miraculously, the student, who was found buried up the waist in snow, escaped with just a few sore muscles and without any frostbite.
Police said the American, a former scout, was relatively well dressed for the cold but was otherwise poorly equipped for the mountain environment.
Having lost his mobile phone in the water he had no means of communication and lacked other equipment necessary for skiing off-piste, such as an avalanche beacon or a snow shovel.
His adventure occurred at a time when warnings have been issued about the dangers of skiing off-piste in the Swiss mountains, particularly given the avalanche risk from recent heavy snowfall.
A dozen skiers died from avalanches in Switzerland during a five-day period from last Thursday until Monday.
To see the American's interview, check the RTS website here.