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Avalanche: Martha Bowl

Observer Name
Caroline Gleich and Rob Lea
Observation Date
Thursday, January 7, 2021
Avalanche Date
Thursday, January 7, 2021
Salt Lake » Big Cottonwood Canyon » Pioneer Peak » Martha Bowl
Location Name or Route
Pioneer Peak/Martha's Bowl
We remotely triggered a D2 slide today in Martha’s Bowl underneath Pioneer Peak around 10:45 am. No one was caught or carried, but it gave us a good scare. We were headed towards Rocky Point from Brighton, following a skintrack through the rolling terrain in the Lake Mary area. I was in the lead, and our team naturally spaced out as we crossed underneath Martha’s Bowl. At the end of the traverse underneath the rocky cliffs, I skied down about a 10’ depression on the previously set skin track. None of us heard or felt a collapse or whoomp, but I thought maybe I heard a plane above. I looked up to my left to the cliffs and saw a large avalanche starting. The crown broke all the way across the bowl to a West facing aspect. We estimate the crown was about 300’ or so wide and 18”-3’ deep, possibly up to 4’ deep on the wind-loaded side of the crown.
Although a large amount of snow was coming down, it wasn’t moving that fast. Upon seeing the release, I was able to move out of the slide path area and up onto a small raised terrain feature. Adam yelled “avalanche” and Caroline tried to get to a higher/safer area, but quickly realized that if the slide had more energy or more snow, we would have all been in real trouble. The slide stopped about 40’ from the skin track I had been on. It covered up 75’ of the skin track we had already come across, and in certain places, the skin track was covered by 4-5’ of debris because of a small terrain trap area. The slide had enough power to take out two small pine trees.
From the start, our plan was to ski moderate terrain under 30 degrees. In retrospect, we should have stayed lower and further away from the steep slope once we got to Lake Mary and beyond. This was a serious reminder to pay attention to hangfire above and connected to lower angled slopes, and to take our team route planning and communication more seriously. We were also reminded not to blindly follow a previously set skin track. Today’s avalanche forecast read “I suspect our luck will run out soon.” I’m glad we weren’t on the other side of luck today.