Avalanches – A Week in Reflection
Avalanche that caught and killed three skiers in southern Colorado (photo from Colorado Avalanche Information Center)
UPDATE February 8, 20201
Since writing my original post I, unfortunately, have a few additions to the below tragedies which we shared on February 5th. This includes one in our own backyard here in the Wasatch that has truthfully rattled me to my core. We do not highlight these accidents to terrify you, or keep you from actively getting out into the backcountry. And we certainly don’t post to be critical of decisions that have been made by these individuals. We do so to raise awareness and continue to drive the importance of considering all of the factors before determining where or when to head into the backcountry. Stay safe out there, folks.
Montana – A 60-year-old man was killed while snowmobiling with friends in the Swan Range east of Kalispell on Saturday. He was found and dug out by his travel companions, but CPR proved to be unsuccessful. Flathead Avalanche Center preliminary report of the incident can be read here. (February 6)
Utah – Eight skiers (two groups, 5 & 3) were caught in a massive avalanche in the Mill Creek Canyon area of the Wasatch on Saturday morning. Six of the skiers were buried, two were able to dig themselves out and begin to search for the others that had been buried. Four of the skiers, all under the age of 30, were killed in the slide that rescuers estimated was 2 1/2 feet deep and 250 feet wide. Thank you to our local backcountry rescue team and first responders who rushed to the scene on Saturday. Utah Avalanche Center Accident Report. (February 6)
February 5, 2021
It has been a devastating week for ski communities in Alaska, California, Colorado, New Hampshire and Utah. In many locations throughout the country, early season snowfall failed to melt completely, and, as a result, the snowpack has weak layers close to the ground. These dangerous avalanche conditions coupled with a dramatic increase in backcountry traffic have had disastrous consequences.
Thank you to the search and rescue teams who worked tirelessly over this past week and have provided detailed reports (linked below). These accidents are a stark reality of the dangers of the sport we love. Our hearts go out to those affected by the events of the past week.
Alaska – Three climbers were caught in the path of an avalanche on Bear Mountain in Chugach State Park, 20 miles northeast of Anchorage, Alaska. The hikers were not wearing avalanche beacons, and they were discovered in the snow after having been reported missing the evening before. Preliminary accident report can be read here. (February 2)
Mammoth Mountain: After receiving over 100 inches (8+ feet!) in three days, a skier was found facedown in the snow, presumably having fallen and suffocated. Mammoth Mountain wrote on Instagram the morning of the accident “This storm is another reminder about the power of Mother Nature. Conditions are currently dangerous,” “Snow Immersion Suffocation (SIS) danger will remain a threat through the weekend – ski and ride with a buddy and keep your buddy in sight at all times,” it added. (January 29)
Mount Shasta: A pair of two experienced backcountry skiers/boarders were caught in an avalanche near Etna Summit, ending in the fatality of one of the individuals. The incident occurred as the pair were transitioning to head down their selected route. An accident report from the Mount Shasta Avalanche Center can be read here. (February 3)
Vail: While skiing the East Vail Chutes a skier was caught and killed in a slide that ran the entire length of the chute. The terrain where the avalanche occurred is accessed via a backcountry gate from Vail Ski Area. Rescuers reported the avalanche was 700 feet wide, running 1000 vertical feet. Preliminary accident report can be read here. (February 4)
Silverton: On Monday, three skiers, part of a group of seven, were caught and killed in an area known as “The Nose” between the towns of Ophir and Silverton, south of Telluride. Search and rescue teams were finally able to retrieve the bodies on Wednesday morning after being thwarted for nearly 48 hours by bad weather and unsafe terrain. Ultimately, the skiers were found with the help of avalanche beacons (which they were wearing) buried beneath 20 feet of snow and debris. Read the accident report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. (February 1)
New Hampshire – A backcountry skier was recovered in an avalanche in the Ammonoosuc Ravine on Mountain Washington in the White Mountain National Forest after having been reported missing the day before. The individual was discovered below nearly 13 feet of packed snow and debris. While we do not often hear of east coast avalanches, this season had a slow start, but has proven to be a deep one for the eastern US. Read further information in Backcountry Magazine & VT Ski + Ride – Avalanche on Mt. Washington: Skiin’ Ian’s Final Run. (February 2)
Utah – A skier was caught and killed in an avalanche on the Square Top Peak, a sidecountry area accessed via a gate off the 9990 chairlift on the Canyons side of Park City Mountain Resort. The individual’s skiing partner was able to locate him using his avalanche transceiver but was asked to leave the scene so avalanche mitigation work could be done to safely access the terrain. As a result of this accident and an earlier one in January, Park City has decided to close its gates to the sidecountry pending further review. A full accident report from the Utah Avalanche Center can be found here. (January 30)