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Ken Wylie speaks his truth as part of Mountain Story Series

Avalanche survivor, author tells his story
HARD TRUTHS Naheed Henderson and Ken Wylie during a live interview at the GLC on Jan. 23. Photo by Braden Dupuis

When Ken Wylie woke up on the morning of Jan. 20, 2003, his intuition was telling him something was off.

"Every single cell in my body was telling me not to go skiing that day," Wylie said, in a live interview with Naheed Henderson at the GLC on Jan. 23 as part of the just-launched Mountain Story Series.

"I remember skiing up into the terrain where the avalanche happened and just thinking, you know, I just don't want to be here."

Wylie's intuition turned out to be right.

On that fateful day in B.C.'s Selkirk Mountains, an avalanche on Tumbledown Mountain killed seven people.

Wylie — an assistant guide with Selkirk Mountain Experience at the time — was buried.

In the years that followed, Wylie was wracked with guilt.

"One of the hardest things for me to stick with now is the fact that I didn't turn around and say to my guests, 'I don't think this is a good idea,'" he said.

"I didn't want to be the one to pull the pin. I didn't want to be the one who said 'this is a bad idea,' and that's ego, right?

"I didn't want to be the weakest member of the whole experience."

Last year, Wiley published his story in his book Buried — a title that refers to more than just snow.

"Ironically, being under the snow, it felt comfortable, and exploring that a little bit, I think that's perhaps the reason for the title of my book... I was buried as a human being," Wiley said.

"I wasn't showing up authentically in my personal relationships, in my work... and for 10 years after, I wondered why it felt comfortable... and it's because I was always buried."

The avalanche forced Wylie to take a long look at the person he was, and the person he wanted to be.

"In the writing process I discovered that with responsibility comes freedom... I needed to put my mistakes out there as a man, and just sit in that," he said.

"I was carrying anger, I was carrying frustration, I was carrying guilt, I was carrying all kinds of things, and I needed to change those into something different."

In publishing his book and speaking about his experience, Wylie is hoping to address some of the bigger questions around adventure seeking.

"It's a dialogue that's deeper," he said.

"It's asking the hard questions about why we're doing this stuff, and maybe answer the question more deeply than 'because it's there.'"

For Wylie, the pursuit of adventure grew out of a need to escape.

"I wanted to escape society, I wanted to escape my family and all the pressures and expectations that I had perceived were being placed on me," he said.

"I often say that adventure has saved my life many times. It saved my life as a teenager, but then that kind of developed into a disruptive addiction."

The Tumbledown Mountain avalanche led Wylie to redefine what courage is.

"I think that because I was an adventurer — I was a rock climber, an ice climber, a ski-tourer and mountaineer — I had assumed I was a courageous person. I just made the assumption, and I didn't have a deeper understanding about what courage is," he said.

"Now I would say that there is intrapersonal courage — the willingness to look at my own life — but also social courage: The willingness to speak up and speak our truth, even in situations that might have social consequence."

If he could do it again, Wiley wouldn't lead that group onto that mountain. He would trust his intuition and speak his own truth, regardless of the social consequence.

But as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and the Ken Wylie of today is a mountain range apart from the Ken Wylie of 2003.

"To be a good mountaineer is to know one's self, and that's where it starts," he said.

"And I learned that the hardest possible way."