Accident: Meadows

Observer Name
Observation Date
Friday, December 17, 2021
Avalanche Date
Friday, December 17, 2021
Salt Lake » Big Cottonwood Canyon » Silver Fork » Meadows
Location Name or Route
El Rollo (Meadow Chutes) - Silver Fork
Slope Angle
Trigger: additional info
Unintentionally Triggered
Avalanche Type
Soft Slab
Avalanche Problem
Persistent Weak Layer
Weak Layer
Buried - Fully
Accident and Rescue Summary

First and foremost - We aim to learn from accidents like this and in no way intend to point fingers at victims. We at the Utah Avalanche Center have had our close calls and know how easy it is to make mistakes. I want to personally thank Jon for openly sharing this video clip and taking the time to talk with me on the phone. This information can save a life tomorrow. - Trent Meisenheimer

This party of three skied in the area the day before. The day before, they were in the area and skied the runs known as Brad's Line and Silver Spoon. After skiing those runs, they returned to the ridgeline and moved further south to the "El Rollo." When they reached the top of "El Rollo," they transitioned to downhill mode and experienced a significant "collapse" of the snowpack. Even though they knew that the collapse was a bad sign, they continued with their plans. As soon as they began skiing the deep powder, they reported only thinking about how good the skiing was. Jon had experience in the area but forgot how steep the breakover was.
Skiers 1 & 2 descended one at a time. Jon was the third person to ski. As he skied over the breakover, he saw the shooting cracks to his left and right, and at first, he thought he could outrun the avalanche.
The avalanche quickly caught him and pushed him into some small trees. He was fully buried but luckily could move his arm and clear his airway. His partners below quickly transitioned to uphill mode and attached climbing skins to their skis. They reached Jon in approximately 10 minutes and helped Jon dig himself out of the avalanche debris. Jon's only injuries were a few scratches. No outside rescue or assistance was needed.
Jon wanted to share this information and this story with the backcountry community in hopes it will help others make good choices.
A few points:
  • The group all had avalanche safety gear (including radios)
  • The avalanche released with the 3rd skier on the slope
  • Triggered on a mid-slope breakover
  • The group did read and listen to the avalanche forecast and were aware of the avalanche danger.
  • First time caught in an avalanche in 20 years of backcountry travel
  • Familiar with the area
  • The skier survived with no major injuries. No outside rescue was needed.
Terrain Summary
The Meadow Chutes have located the Silver Fork drainage in Big Cottonwood Canyon. They are mostly easterly facing slopes with lower angled headwall followed by a mid-slope break over that steepens to the valley below. You can find the location HERE on this map. The slope that avalanched was a run called " El Rollo," east-facing at 9,500 feet. The avalanche was triggered on the mid-slope breakover about 1/3 of the way down the hill.
The photo below (Peter Donner) shows the snowpack in the Meadows on November 12, 2021 and the location where the avalanche occurred. As is evident from this photo, the Meadows had significant snow by early November and this existing snow weakened and turned to sugary facets throughout November and early December.
Original report from the party:
"I was the third skier down, and when I came over the ridge, the pitch turned steeper. Approximately 2-3 turns later, I saw out of my left periphery a fracture; I checked to the right and saw it propagate all the way around to my right. I thought I could out ski the slide, but as I reached the lower half of the slope, I got washed into some trees and knocked off my feet. I was fully submerged and knew if anyone could get me out, it was my two buddies. Once the snow stopped I was able to clear my mouth of snow and shoot my arm through the snow, and I saw DAYLIGHT! I cleared a hole to get some air and began trying to extricate myself. Due to the depth of my feet and having one ski that was still attached, I couldn't get myself out. My ski partners arrived within minutes, and we were able to get me out, find all my gear, and live to ski another day. Pay close attention to slope angle, even if you think you can out-ski any slides."