Video of the incident was captured with a GoPro camera attached to Stratton’s helmet and reveals the moment when Stratton realized he was in serious trouble.
Stratton was skiing with a friend through Utah’s Aspen Grove route and decided to follow some tracks left behind by a previous skier.
“I had been following those tracks for a while and they were leading to some pretty good little jumps,” Stratton said during a phone interview. “I thought I would keep following them.”
What Stratton couldn’t see until later examination of the video is that those tracks suddenly stop and reverse direction. Stratton inadvertently followed those tracks over the edge of a 152-foot cliff.
“I was super-scared and my first thought was that I was going to be paralyzed,” Stratton said, thinking of his cousin who had been left a quadriplegic following a car accident. “When I saw how big the fall was, my next thought was ‘I’m actually dead. This is it.’”
When Stratton was in mid-air, one of his skis smashed into some protruding tree-branches, knocking it from his boot and causing him to flip direction and land on his backpack in two feet of snow.
“I know it doesn’t sound like it on the video but in my head I was actually praying, ‘Please help me,’” Stratton said.
Stratton says his helmet was broken and the camera had snapped off. On the video, we see the moment when he retrieved the camera, brushed snow from the lens and quietly said “Thank you.” Stratton said he was thanking God.
“I would call it more than luck. It was definitely a miracle. The fact that I’m talking to you right now, I probably owe it to God.”
Stratton said he’s almost certain that he had an angel watching out for him – his twin sister Rachel who passed away in 2015.
“She died from a type of brain cancer and I’m sure she was definitely a big part of the reason why I’m OK,” said Stratton. “She was probably a little upset.”
Incredibly, Stratton suffered no serious injuries related to his ordeal.
“It took five hours of digging to find my ski,” he said. “I found it about 30 feet below the spot where I landed. It had skated underneath the snow.”
After finding his missing ski, Stratton skied back down the mountain to his vehicle, found some food and located a nearby emergency care facility to be checked out.
“I went to InstaCare to get an X-ray because I was sure I must have broken a bone somewhere,” Stratton told me. “Nothing was broken and I didn’t have a concussion. I feel pretty lucky.”
After going through such an experience most people would probably take time for reflection and the counting of blessings. Stratton decided to go ahead with plans to attend an ice-climbing festival, held the day after his near-death experience.
“I was just a little sore from the crash but that’s it. Since I was OK, I decided to go the festival,” he said.
Stratton’s backpack had been destroyed in the fall, so he set out to find a replacement at the ice-climbing festival.
“This festival had a ‘pull-up’ contest where the person who can do the most non-consecutive pull-ups within the given time would receive a new backpack. I ended up winning the contest with 910 pull-ups and won the backpack. I was probably more sore from that than the actual crash,” he said with a laugh.
As for lessons learned from his near-death experience, Stratton said he’s going to be much more careful in the future when exploring unfamiliar terrain.
“I’m not happy that it happened but I’m glad I have it on video.”