LEWISTON — By the time 18-year-old Luke Poisson made it home to Lewiston early Monday afternoon, he was ready for one thing and one thing only - sleep.
The local snowboarder was hitting the slopes at Sugarloaf on Sunday afternoon with two friends when he got separated from the pack and ended up following the tracks of another group of snowboarders down steep terrain off a marked trail. Both Poisson and the other group of three snowboarders wound up lost on Sugarloaf Mountain for more than 16 hours.
"It was a grueling experience," Poisson said from the warmth and comfort of his family's Lewiston home Monday night. "It was kind of like I was walking around aimlessly. Everything looked the same and sounded the same."
As soon as he realized that he was lost, Poisson sent text messages to his friends and family alerting them of his situation. Search crews from Sugarloaf Ski Patrol and the Maine Warden Service began searching for Poisson and the other group of snowboarders around 5:35 p.m.
The 2009 Lewiston High School graduate said he and his two friends, Jordan Ropella of Lewiston and Kevin LeBlanc, formerly of Lewiston who now resides in Carrabassett Valley, were snowboarding in an area known as the "backside" of Sugarloaf Mountain. The area is at the 3,500-foot elevation mark, heavily forested and riddled with extremely steep terrain and ravines.
Heavy snows limited his visibility, and Poisson said he got separated from Ropella and LeBlanc, who were snowboarding ahead of him. He said that the other two veered left, but he didn't realize it and followed a set of fresh tracks in the snow that he believed belonged to his friends.
Unfortunately, the tracks in the nearly 60 inches of newly-fallen snow belonged instead to the other group of snowboarders who also ended up lost.
"I knew I was quite a ways in there when I noticed the other mountain peak," Poisson said of first realizing he was lost. "There were no tracks of anybody else. That's how I knew I was in there deep."
Poisson said search personnel told him to try and reach the other lost snowboarders. He said he tried to reach them, but had trouble following their voices because of the way the wind whipped through the valley and carried the voices in different directions.
"I could hear them multiple times, but trying to find them I kept getting more lost," Poisson said. "I started hiking up northeast thinking that I'd make it to some sort of trail. It was grueling walking up through that trail. It was very difficult."
At one point, Poisson said that he needed to rest. His brother, Jake, sent him a text message reminding him of the television show "Survivor" and helped walk him through digging a shelter in the snow and starting a small fire. Poisson said the hard work paid off as he got a small fire started at the base of tree providing some shelter from the winds, which were more than 30 miles an hour. Of course, his effort lasted for only about five minutes as a sharp wind blew a mound of snow off a tree branch and onto his makeshift shelter.
After that, Poisson said he was determined not to allow himself to sit down and rest. The asthmatic teen said that he forced himself to keep moving, even though he'd had no food or water since early Sunday morning. He attempted to eat snow at one point, but said that it made him sick.
Poisson said the winds blew harder and colder after nightfall. According to the Maine Warden Service, temperatures dipped into the low 20s Sunday night. His phone died about 9 p.m., and Poisson said that was about the time he realized he was totally on his own and loneliness settled in around him.
"Once it got dark, you couldn't really see anything. It was so thick with trees that you had no idea where you were going," Poisson said. "There was at least 10 feet of powder that I had to walk through the entire time."
Poisson said he kept walking all night because he feared passing out in the snow if he stopped. He was found about 9:30 a.m. Monday by Maine Game Wardens Tom McKenney and Pat Egan. He said it took all the energy he could muster to yell to the voice he heard calling above him.
"They got me just in time. I was really out of energy and pretty much done," Poisson said.
Poisson escaped the ordeal cold and hungry, but uninjured and without frostbite. He slept most of Monday and was on his way back to bed after speaking with the Sun Journal.