Avalanche: Pole Canyon

Observer Name
Observation Date
Saturday, February 10, 2024
Avalanche Date
Saturday, February 10, 2024
Provo » Cascade Ridge » Pole Canyon
Location Name or Route
Upper Pole Canyon
Avalanche Type
Soft Slab
Avalanche Problem
New Snow
Weak Layer
Headed Up Rock Canyon early, aiming for lines on Cascade. After watching way too many people head up the Grr all at the same time (with another party already half way up!), we pivoted to the Upper Pole Couloir, a line we had never skied, but had always wanted to. The Upper Pole had obviously slid during the storm, with soft-ish debris covering the middle half of the couloir. Undeterred, we kept making our way up, eventually boot packing for efficiency. at around 9600', the couloir tightens up again, but only for about 400 feet or so, but it also gets significantly steeper, and this tight choke had not evidence that it had slid.
In the choke, we found an ever thickening slab on top of graupel. like idiots, my partners and I pointed out to each other that we did not like the structure, but we kept going anyways. Why??? A little voice in my head told me the snowpack underneath us was very poor, but, without even discussing with my partners, I simply assumed they wanted to keep pushing on. We all explained later that we felt we would be fine once we made it to the top of the choke, where the couloir opened up again in a big way (which is a silly way to rationalize your position).
But we never got there. About 40 feet from the top of the choke, the entire slab broke about 20 feet above me. Luckily, our third member was far enough below us in the bootpack that he managed to see the fracture and step to the side and avoid it. Not so lucky for myself and my other partner; we took the brunt of the slab and were flushed down the tight choke. I tried to grab onto the rocky wall of the choke, but all I got for my efforts was a hyper-extended elbow. Both of us bobbed in and out of the rushing snow; sometimes I could see the sky, other times all I saw was white. It was like being swept up in a fast-moving wave: there's nothing you can do, and now where to go.
as we exited the choke, the snow spit me out to the side, a good 400-500' from where I was initially standing. my partner got swept another 300-400' below me, where he miraculously came to rest on top of the snow. his skis had been ripped from his pack, and that was the last we saw of them that day. fortunately, my skis had just barely managed to stay attached to my pack, but several of the straps had been shredded from my backpack. I had ditched my poles at the onset and they were nowhere to be found. our third member, still above us and out of harms way, eventually made his way back down to us, where we re-grouped and agreed we were all not so smart on this particular morning, but very grateful that it was not worse. With my partner's skis both MIA, we adjusted one of my bindings to fit his boot, and he and I skied down the rest of Upper Pole on one ski each. We ended up being extremely lucky; some friends of ours were also skiing in the area, but they had snowmobiles. huge perk. we called them and they were more than happy to give us a ride; otherwise, it would have been a very long walk back to the car to think about our terrible behavior.
While I'm obviously not happy about what happened, I also hugely appreicate the wake-up call. We spend a lot of time in the backcountry, and there were fundamentals about group communication we had become complacent about. From now on, if I don't like something, I say something and we split. And that goes for all of us. At the end of the day, I'm going to be incredibly sore tomorrow, but we all made it out ok. that's a plus.