Another in-bounds avalanche claims life

29th December 2008, by Chris Gill

An in-bounds avalanche at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, claimed the life of a 31-year old man on Saturday 27 December.

The man and a companion were skiing on an expert (double-black diamond) trail called Paintbrush, when the slide came down and carried the pair 180 meters along the trail. One of them died in the accident, buried under 2.4m/8ft of avalanche debris.

According to local reports, the ski patrol had taken every precaution to reduce avalanche hazard in the area before opening it to the public. The risk was still classed “considerable” though. Spokeswoman Anna Olsen apparently said: “The snow pack appears to be doing this in pockets. There are pockets of very extreme terrain and it’s just the nature of where we sit. This situation definitely occurred in one of those areas.”

The skier involved was wearing a transceiver and was found quickly. Sadly he did not recover. The resort says it’s just a tragic event, where a couple of skiers set the slide at that moment.

A few in-bounds slides have occurred at US resorts in the past two weeks - a period of stormy weather and heavy snowfall for many regions. But the incidence of such events is still rare. On 14 December a female student, Heather Gross, died in a similar avalanche at Snowbird resort in Utah. And a man was caught (but unharmed) in a small slide in Vail’s Blue Sky Basin - just two hours after the slope had been blasted by patrollers.

Snowbird Snow Safety department and Utah Avalanche Centre have since released a report detailing the events surrounding the Snowbird avalanche. It appears that a male snowboarder on the 36 degree, north-west facing slope (High Baldy traverse) triggered the slide that engulfed Ms Gross below.

There seem to be several similarities in the two avalanches: It was the first day that the affected slopes in each resort had been opened to the public this season. They had been skied by others prior to the slides. Both slides occurred at lunchtime - between 12 and 2pm. And the resorts had experienced a period of very intense, extremely heavy snowfall and high winds - the slides were slab avalanches. In both cases, avalanche reduction work had involved explosives used in (or close to) the spot where the slides subsequently occurred - with no obvious results.

Unstable weather conditions at this time of year are common, but the resorts had experienced a mild November, with rain to higher altitudes at times, followed by the series of intense winter storms and strong south-westerly winds.

Back to news

Recent news

Share |