Than Reeder saves woman stuck in snow
By Sean Murphy
and Emily Mieure
Jackson Hole News and Guide
Laurel native Nathanael Reeder, who goes by “Than,” was on his final run down a mountain slope in Jackson Hole, Wyo., when he saw a flash of bright pink, out of place for the pristine white, snow-covered mountain.
Stuck under the snow, pink skis sticking up, legs twitching and unable to breathe, Jenny Karns tried to compose herself. Within about 15 minutes, she started to think that she was about to die.
“I was thinking about my kids and my family,” she said. “I thought about it being Jan. 18 and how that date was going to be on my gravestone.”
Karns was zigzagging through powder on one of her favorite ski runs, South Hoback, at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort last Friday. She lost her balance and found herself upside down and unable to move or breathe.
Karns, a seasoned skier who was born in Wyoming, cried when recalling what happened to her.
After realizing she couldn’t rescue herself, she started to panic.
“I was thinking ‘this is the worst way to die,’” she said. “And I was on a main run, not out of bounds or doing anything stupid.”
Karns tried to slow her thoughts, knowing that panicking would not help, and she realized one of her skis was sticking out.
“I remembered my skis have hot pink bottoms,” she said.
The thought of someone skiing by and seeing her pink ski waving around gave her hope.
“I started praying,” she said. “I couldn’t scream because I was too buried. I was praying, ‘Save me. Please, God. Please, God, someone find me.’”
Karns’ lungs were starting to deflate from the lack of oxygen and she was on the edge of passing out when she felt a hand on her leg.
“I was pretty close to the bottom of the run when I dipped into this gully and saw a leg sticking out of the snow,” Reeder said. “It was like a lawn dart.”
It was after 1 p.m. and there weren’t many other skiers around.
“He saved my life,” Karns said.
It was Reeder’s last run of the day.
“My first impression was that there was no way she was alive,” he said.
Reeder, a Laurel native who now lives in Colorado, has deep roots in The City Beautiful. His mother Susan and father Charles still call Laurel home, as do his sisters Mary Grace Magdalen and Ana.
As a child, he attended boarding school in Switzerland, where skiing was part of his everyday activity in the winter, he said. He attended middle and high school in New England, where he continued to hone his love of skiing.
He attended the University of Colorado in Boulder, much because of his love of the mountains and the slopes. He has settled in Boulder with his wife Noreen and his two sons.
He and his family were on the trip to Jackson Hole, a place he had wanted for years to ski.
“It’s a wonderful sport where you are moving through time and space with style and grace,” he said. “It’s a metaphor for life — overcoming challenges and adapting to adverse conditions. It’s risk-taking with good judgment.”
There was no judgment needed when he saw the legs attached to those skis twitching. Adrenaline took over.
As he rushed toward the pink skis, two other skiers were behind him. He called out and all three began to dig. They called ski patrol but knew they couldn’t wait.
“She was inverted,” he said, “completely on her head.” He estimated that she was at least 4-feet submerged in snow and the digging was proving fruitless because of the wet, slushy snow. The three men then decided they had to pull her out.
“We got her out, and she gave a huge sigh and was spitting up blood and was crying and puking,” he said. “Then we were trying to keep her awake while we waited for ski patrol. We didn’t know if she had a broken neck or back. She was in extreme distress.”
Jackson Hole Ski Patrol hauled Karns away on a stretcher.
“I was in a huge amount of shock. It was really alarming to see someone in the snow at that angle,” Reeder said. “I started to drive back to Boulder and I broke down crying. I was just beside myself staring at the road. I needed a full night’s sleep before I could even process what had happened.”
Karns was taken to St. John’s Medical Center, where she underwent tests.
“I thought I just needed to catch my breath, but tests showed I might have had a mild heart attack,” Karns said.
Karns was rushed to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls and put in the intensive care unit, where doctors pumped air to inflate her lungs.
Karns said she was diagnosed with takotsobu cardiomyopathy and pulmonary edema, or a collapsed lung.
“It’s basically asphyxiating,” Karns said. “I was on my death bed.”
Karns was discharged from the hospital Monday and went home.
“I am pretty weak and tired,” she said.
Karns said it’s difficult to explain how she landed in such a precarious position on an inbounds run that she had skied hundreds of times over the years.
Her ski partner was in front of her when it happened, so he didn’t witness her fall.
“He felt so bad because he was just down below waiting,” Karns said. “He thought I had blown my knee out. He said he didn’t know I was dying.”
She was about 100 yards above Union Pass Traverse when she lost her balance and funneled into a gully, Karns said.
“It was almost like an hourglass,” she said. “I was instantly wedged down in and buried. My head was almost in the creek.”
The 48-year-old was wearing a helmet and a transceiver during the accident.
“It was one of my last thoughts,” she said. “At least they will be able to find me if I don’t actually make it out.”
Reeder spent the Christmas holiday in Laurel, where the weather was “balmy,” he said with a chuckle.
On Friday, as Reeder spoke with a reporter, he was planning to go skiing on a mountain in Winter Park, Colo., where a perfect blanket of snow had recently fallen.
“These are the best days,” he said.