Accident: Stairs Gulch

Observer Name
UAC Staff
Observation Date
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Avalanche Date
Saturday, April 28, 2001
Salt Lake » Big Cottonwood Canyon » Stairs Gulch
Location Name or Route
Stairs Gulch
Avalanche Problem
Gliding Snow
Buried - Partly
Buried - Fully
Accident and Rescue Summary

During very warm, springtime conditions, a local doctor and his friend from Alaska (also a doctor) left at 4:00 am on April 28th to climb Stairs Gulch with crampons, ice axes and a rope, but no beacons. Stairs Gulch is a very steep and very large avalanche path (5,000 vertical feet) near the bottom of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Few people venture into Stairs Gulch during the winter but sometimes climbers like to test their snow skills there in spring. As the pair ascended in the early morning darkness a large glide avalanche released high above them and descended into the narrow gully they were ascending. When they failed to show up by their scheduled noon return time, searchers found the boot of one victim sticking out of the snow and a search dog located the second victim about four hundred yards above the first victim and he was buried about 8 feet deep.

This is the first known fatality from a glide avalanche in Utah and perhaps the only one in the U.S. Glide avalanches occur when wet snow slides slowly on the ground, similar to a glacier, often for several days, until they randomly release.