7th Annual Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop
We were skinning up michigan city on the north side of grizzly gulch. We saw an old skier triggered avalanche across the way. We had our camera out taking pictures of that to write up a report. Then we saw a guy taking pictures and a girl drop in. We looked at each other and said "ready to do a rescue?". She took a hard turn on the slope and a large piece pulled out and then the whole slope released. She pulled her airbag immediately and then got dragged to the bottom of the gully. See the video and pictures. I skied down and yelled across the way to Rusty, who skied down from the other side. While Joe called Alta Central. At the bottom, the guy who had been taking pictures had no beacon shovel or probe. I switched my beacon got it down to .3m and then hit her with a probe about a foot deep luckily. While I did the search the guy took the shovel out of my bag. Rusty, the guy, and I took turns digging with the 2 shovels. We had her out in less then 5 minutes. If she had not pulled the airbag she easily could have been 1.5-2m deep.
Here is a blog post by the victim: http://amieski.com/2013/12/12/blind-spot/
Here is an interview of the photographer by Black Diamond:
Snow profile - Hutchinson
FROM ANOTHER PERSONS PERSPECTIVE THAT WAS ON THE SCENE:
Just wanted to clarify the events from the burial today as I was on the scene and am getting a lot of questions as to what was going on and the logistics of the parties.
There were 3 parties involved:
Party 1 - Skiing into the Gulch
Party 2 - Skinning across the flats, 50m above the houses
Party 3 - Skinning up the Michigan City road
Photographer skied down to mid slope for a good angle on the shot. Skier 1 skied down right past Party 2 to gain momentum before dropping into the slope. Slope fractures, Skier 1 pulls airbag, is swept into the gulch and fully buried. Party 3 calls across to Party 2, and AR and RM descend into the gulch, to assist photographer. JC and KL both call Alta Central, Skier 2 descends to KL wondering what is going on. Probe strikes airbag at .5m depth. Full recovery, no injuries. Left ski was still on, right ski was lost in the pile.
In retrospect, my biggest takeaway is the importance of communication. In this event, there were 3 people involved in the rescue, from 3 different parties. None of us had ever met, and we all arrived at different times. It was imperative that we communicate and work together so that we didn't get in each other's way, or duplicate the steps. Everything said, I think we all are feeling lucky today that everything went so smooth.
FORECASTER COMMENTS: -Brett Kobernik
I spoke with the female that was caught and buried in the avalanche. She described the day to me and it is a common scenario that other people have had happen to them before. It’s a scenario that could easily happen to many of us in the future.
The group of three (herself, another female and a male photographer) were shooting photos within the Alta Ski Area during the day. It was one of those days with beautiful snow, great weather and everything was just coming together for them. The invigorating conditions and bliss of the day is what clouded their judgement, in her opinion. Again, this is a common theme that can happen to anyone.
They were not intending to go into the backcountry on this day, hence why some of the party did not have all of their normal avalanche gear. However, as the day went on, it was decided that they would make the very short journey to a popular slope for photographing skiers and snowboarders. They had read the avalanche advisory for that day and understood it. Human triggered avalanches were likely on such slopes. The awesome day that was in progress, the familiarity with the slope, as well as the perception of the slope being so small and not dangerous overrode their knowledge of the avalanche conditions.
It was decided that the victim would go first since she was carrying all of her normal avalanche gear. Once she was on the slope and realized she had triggered the avalanche, she immediately deployed her avalanche airbag and started the ride downhill. She was on the surface and was purposely swimming for a group of trees which she managed to get to and grab a hold of, stopping herself briefly. The second portion of the avalanche that released sympathetically overcame her and she was not able to hold on. She was carried to the bottom and the rescue played out as described by the people who were there.
A note on airbags: While it has been shown that airbags are not all that effective in terrain traps like this one, I speculate that it was helpful in preventing a deeper burial. My guess is that it made it easier for her to swim toward the trees, which in turn slowed her progress to the bottom, and allowed more snow to move passed her before she came to a rest. More than likely, during the second part of the ride, she remain closer to the surface which also helped prevent a deeper burial. Just my two cents.
This scenario is a common theme and can happen to even the most experienced backcountry travelers. The lure of the deep Utah powder is strong and it can influence even the most experienced and cautious people. The victim was very candid when I spoke with her and I want to thank her for sharing her experience. It was a perfect outcome to a bad situation that we can all learn from.
Picture 1 - The recent human triggered avalanche from before the accident.
What is avalanche knowledge worth to you?
Do you use the Utah Avalanche Center to help you make decisions in the backcountry? Most of the cost of producing daily advisories and providing other avalanche information in Utah is paid for by donations and grants. We depend on users like you to help support the Utah Avalanche Center.
Please consider donating to the Utah Avalanche Center this season and have a great winter!