Alta States 

Kathy Podborski: Keeping the home fires


It’s been over 10 years since the accident. But even now, her voice changes perceptibly when she talks about it. “I made a conscious choice not to die,” says Kathy Podborski of her ordeal-by-avalanche during a helicopter-skiing trip in B.C.’s Cariboo Mountains. “My kids were still so young then -- 4 and 6. There was no way someone else was going to raise them.” She pauses. Takes a deep breath. “I knew the group had seen me go. I knew they’d find me eventually. So I decided to just stay calm and wait for my rescue.”

Indeed. Buried under the snow for a mind-bending 18 minutes while her husband Steve and the rest of her skiing group frantically searched for her, Kathy emerged from her frozen tomb “nearly dead”, as she says. “Remember the movie the Princess Bride? Well, I was just like that. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t act. When I was coming to, I could hear people calling me, but it was so far away that I couldn’t really relate to it…”

Our discussion wasn’t supposed to be about avalanche survival. After all, with someone as interesting and as forthcoming as Kathy Podborski, there’s a whole slough of topics to address. Former schoolteacher, flight attendant, Whistler fundraiser extraordinaire -- and spouse to Canada’s most successful male ski racer in history --Kathy has to be one of the most positive-minded people I know in Sea to Sky country.

Still, having both shared near-death avalanche experiences, we couldn’t help but compare notes. “I’ve never dreamt about it,” she says. “Never had a nightmare or anything like that. But it’s not like we buried the subject away or anything. We’ve always felt free to talk about it among ourselves.”

She doesn’t dwell on her recovery. Doesn’t dwell on the pain and agony of having to teach her body to function all over again. “Basically my body shut down completely while I was under the snow,” she explains. “The experts call it Mammalian Dive Syndrome. And it’s the only way they can account for my survival.” But her comeback was far from straightforward. “It took a long time,” she admits. “Everything had stopped. And getting those systems started again was quite a process.”

Another smile. “You know -- I’m utterly grateful to be alive,” she says in that near-breathless, I-have-a-million-things-to-say way that is so uniquely hers. “That incident totally rekindled my commitment to the joys of living. It re-affirmed my connection to family and friends. And that’s more important to me than anything else in the world…”

She comes by her feelings honestly. The third child of six, Kathy grew up in an active Calgary family. Skiing, competitive swimming and various outdoor sports-- they were all part of the mix when she was growing up. “My parents, along with the Monods (another legendary Banff skiing family), actually started the Sunshine Village Ski Club in the early 1970s. I never raced, but my younger twin brothers, Bob and John, became quite good and competed for Canada at the Europa Cup level.”

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