DENVER – His rescuers credited snowboarder John Ryan with doing all the right things to survive three days lost in the mountains outside a ski resort area, but he doubts he would have made it through another night.
"I did a lot of praying up there, praying that I would see my family again," Ryan, 31, said Sunday in a telephone interview from his bed at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "I had no idea exactly where I was."
Though he said he could still lose some toes to frostbite because his feet were wet in the extreme cold, he was able to leave the hospital Sunday afternoon.
He was found Saturday, three days after he wandered outside the boundary of the Keystone Ski Resort into an area known as Jones Gulch, at around 11,000 feet. When he didn't show up for work at the Pumphouse Brewery in Longmont on Thursday night he was reported missing by his wife, Karyn, and fellow employees.
His car was found in the Keystone parking lot 60 miles west of Denver, and the resort determined that he had last used a lift ticket at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Ryan said he was skiing through trees and tried to go to another lift, but couldn't find it.
"Then I knew I was lost. I tried to walk out but the snow was hip deep. So I sat on a tree branch, coming out of the base of a tree. Froze like crazy," he said.
He used pine boughs to build a snow fort for shelter. More snow fell over the next two days and temperatures fell into the low teens, and he didn't have the energy to try to wade through the snow.
On Friday, he heard snowmobiles and sirens in the distance, and saw a search helicopter.
Saturday morning, he tried walking out again but only made it 20 feet before returning to his fort. He heard nothing and feared rescuers had given up on him.
"I didn't know the length of time someone could live (in such conditions). So I didn't know if they would give up."
Later Saturday, he heard shouts and he called out.
"We were just skiing down and happened upon him," Benjamin Yolda told the Daily Times-Call of Longmont. "He was happy to see us. I thought a tree had fallen on him, because he had popped his head out from all these branches."
According to Ryan: "They said I should go buy a Lotto ticket while I am still lucky."