CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Alex Theaker has a story that most people never get to tell.
"Avalanche Alex, nice to meet you, Laurie," he said as a woman introduced herself while he was eating lunch.
He doesn't mind re-telling it because he's alive and healthy, other than a bit of numbness in a couple of fingers.
"A little tingly in this hand still, but it's about normal," he laughed as a biker passing by asked how he was doing.
The story always starts with how he heard the ice crack.
"Yeah, I heard it and ran," Theaker said.
The 28-year-old is a maintenance man, and on March 8 he was shoveling out a vent at a client's house.
He knew the ice cracking meant the snow on the roof was about to slide. He ran, but he couldn't get away.
"And it was so heavy and wet it just compacted down on top of me," he said.
Evan Ross, an avalanche forecaster with the Crested Butte Avalanche Center, described the wet snow that would have surrounded Alex as "cement."
Ross said people can usually survive without an air pocket for 10 minutes.
Theaker survived for 2 and a half hours.
"When you hear someone's been buried under the snow for two hours, you anticipate it to be a recovery, meaning they're not alive," said Jeff Duke, Crested Butte Assistant Fire Chief.
Duke was part of the team that responded when Theaker's wife, Tori Walls, called 911.
Walls was the only person who knew Theaker didn't make it home on time. She also knew the address he was shoveling at.
With Theaker's dad, she went to the house and only saw a pile of snow, a shovel, and Theaker's truck. She prepared to find a body too.
But Alex had other ideas.
He grew up back-country snowboarding and has taken avalanche training classes, so when the snow piled on top of him, he kept his arms in the air.
Because of that, he was able to form a basketball sized pocket around his head.
He remembers seeing a crack of light and reaching toward the light to create an air tunnel.
Rescuers will credit the air pocket, but he credits a few others.
“After thinking of Tori, the first person that popped into my head was my friend Brad because he died in an avalanche," he said.
Theaker then thought of his friend, Shane who died last year.
The rapper in his right ear was the last person.
"I realized I had music playing in my ear and it was Tupac," he said. "I had his greatest hits album on my iPod, and I was just real happy to have that playing and I asked Tupac for help."
Theaker passed out and doesn't remember anything until he felt nurses prodding him at the hospital.
“I’m not a specific believer of a specific faith but I definitely believe it exists and there’s something bigger than us going on," he said. "After my experience, I don’t know how I could deny it."
He stayed in the hospital overnight and said that while he was there a nurse came to take his heater for another patient who had been trapped in a roof slide.
Stephen Michael Martel, just a few years younger than Alex, didn't survive.
That's when he realized just how lucky he was.
"I never got the honor to meet him but I went to his service and he seemed like an incredible guy," Theaker said. "It felt like I was at my own service in a way.”
So Theaker, while still a maintenance man, is planning to make the most of the life he almost didn't have.
He's always been passionate about music, but he's dedicating more time to it and making sure he doesn't take anyone for granted.
"She's my hero," he said to his wife, Tori. "How can I get mad at my hero?"
And he'll tell the story to anyone who asks. Tupac and all.
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