Final Report 11/14/11 Thanks to the Snowbird Ski Patrol and Snow Safety for their assistance
Two men in their 30s left the closed Alta ski area with the intent to ride the well known terrain of Alta and Snowbird. Neither ski areas are open yet and have yet to conduct any avalanche control within their boundaries. We interviewed the victim's ski partner. To say he was shaken up is an understatement.
While neither had any rescue gear or formal avalanche training, they were both expert skiers and knew the terrain well. They had not consulted the avalanche advisory that morning in which the danger was rated Considerable to High. They continued to Snowbird via Baldy and accessed the Peruvian Cirque to gain the Gad Valley. While ascending out of the Peruvian Cirque they remotely triggered a large avalanche that covered their tracks that they had just made. It's unclear whether they realized they had triggered this large avalanche. They gained the ridge and prepared to drop into Gad Valley.
With the partner watching, the victim dropped into the slope, immediately triggering the slide. He was carried approximately 800 feet through steep rocky terrain and reportedly went over a small cliff band and came to a stop only partially buried. The partner went down to help the victim and called for a rescue, alerting both the Snowbird Ski Patrol and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, who subsequently accessed and evacuated the victim.
This incident is difficult for many reasons. We heard of over 10 human triggered avalanches on the day of the fatality, primarily in the upper elevation terrain in the unopened Alta ski area. Many of those touring these slopes know the terrain well and are used to riding the terrain when the area is open and the ski patrol has already conducted avalanche control work. There is always a reinforced feeling of safety. This terrain MUST be treated as if it were the backcountry, proper backcountry protocol must be adhered to (riding one at a time, not skiing on top of others, etc), and personal responsibility is critical (ie - be prepared with avalanche rescue gear, 1st aid equipment, and a repair kit.)
Another word on the incidents (Gunsight at Alta and this Gad Valley one). The rescue teams from the ski areas and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue often put their necks out on the line to access and evacuate an injured party. It was reported that other parties at Alta continued to ski and knock down avalanches into Greeley Bowl while the rescue was in progress. Creating another incident during this situation is unacceptable.