Accident: Hells Canyon

Observer Name
Waikart & Fletcher
Observation Date
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Occurrence Date
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Occurence Time
1:00pm

Region:

Location Name or Route
Hells Canyon
Elevation
8600
Aspect
Northeast
Trigger
Skier
Trigger: additional info
Unintentionally Triggered
Avalanche Type
Hard Slab
Weak Layer
Facets
Depth
2'
Width
100
Vertical
1500
Carried
1
Caught
1
Buried - Partly
1
Injured
1
Killed
1
Accident and Rescue Summary

Report compiled by Snowbasin Snow Safety:  Frank Waikart, G.R. Fletcher
Reviewed and Published by UAC staff.

Events leading up to the accident:
The 2009-10 season overall had lacked much of the snow that the local riders have grown
accustomed to. The powder days up through mid January had been few and far between.
The month of January was very dry and the snow conditions were thin and very worn out.
There was very little enthusiasm for any travel off of the main groomed runs. So when
there was a report of a large storm, anticipation for new snow was definitely high. The
riding conditions improved each day as the snow continued to fall. By the morning of the
24th 36 inches of new snow had made the riding conditions within the resort excellent.
For the backcountry there was an avalanche warning in effect and the danger rating was
extreme.

On the 24th of January, Ben Pett and Todd Bell had been skiing together all morning.
Both of them were familiar with the area as they had been skiing at Snowbasin for some
time. Todd was a former employee of the resort in the mid 90’s and had good knowledge
of the terrain. Todd and Ben decided to head up the John Paul lift and make a run in the No
Name area. No Name is known to be the premier powder terrain at Snowbasin ski resort
with a near continuous vertical drop of close to 3000 feet. Adjacent to No Name is easy
access into uncontrolled backcountry terrain of Hells and Coldwater Canyon.
On the lift ride up John Paul Ben stated that he and Todd had a discussion about how
dangerous the conditions were in the backcountry, and because of these conditions their
plan was to ski adjacent to the boundary in No Name all the way out to the bottom of the
Lower Pyramid. They travelled together to near the top of No Name peak where they
caught their breath and put their skis on. Once more they discussed their plan of skiing
near the boundary and staying in bounds. This was the last place/time Ben would see
Todd (approx. 13:00 to 13:05). Ben pushed off and skied a line next to the Gazex
exploder (No Name drain) and stopped in the trees on the skier’s left to look for Todd
(near the ridgeline and the top of “Lust”). He looked uphill, but didn’t see Todd. He
assumed that they had just gotten separated, so he continued down the run, skiing out the
Lower Pyramid and coming out at the power station. He stated he reached the bottom
around 13:15. Since Todd was planning to make this his last run, Ben wasn’t
immediately alarmed that his friend wasn’t there (or hadn’t waited for him). Ben was
confident that Todd would be OK because he knew the mountain very well and was an
excellent skier. Ben then called a friend, found out what car Todd was driving, and
discovered that his car was still in the parking lot. At this point, he became alarmed and
notified dispatch that Todd was missing. By the time he contacted the Ski Patrol they
were well into the recovery operation.
Ben stated that Todd was not wearing a beacon. Todd did have a pack, but likely was not
carrying a shovel or probe. Ben was wearing a beacon.
Jason Warner a friend of Todd’s also walked into dispatch and stated that Todd was a
good skier. He knew the area well, both inbounds and out of bounds. He was very
experienced in the area. He estimated that Todd had been skiing in Hell’s Canyon
hundreds of times.

Information from group of snowboarders on scene:
On their first “lap through No Name,” a group of 5 snowboarders left the ski area at the
top of No Name, passing the Forest Service brown sign. They noticed 4 or 5 tracks ahead
of them, likely snowboard tracks. None in the group carried beacons, shovels or probes,
although they usually do have all three with them (gear was in the car). Unaware if they
had checked the avalanche advisory that day.
They rode down the traditional “Sloth Ridge” route and likely rode down “Pride” into
“Anger Confluence.” At this point, they noticed fresh debris from an avalanche that had
come down near the run-out of “Lust.” They reported that it appeared to have run with
some speed and force, as it looked to have washed up over the bank on the observer’s left
of the slide path. They observed dirt in the slide path. Then they continued down
drainage, traversing to the skier’s right of the drainage and debris, attempting to make the
traverse back to the ski area They travelled approximately 100 yards past the confluence
with “Lust” when Nick spotted a jacket on the surface of the snow. The victim was on
their left, down in the bottom of the drainage. Nick skied down first and was
immediately joined by the rest of the group. They saw a person (Todd) buried in the
snow. He was sitting upright, leaning uphill, with legs bent, almost in a ball. He had his
feet downhill and head uphill. His head was covered by approx. 6 inches of snow, but
both knees and an arm were sticking out of the snow. He was found at the toe of the
debris. They described it like the snow had pushed him along to the very end of the slide.
Tony seemed to have a basic understanding of CPR and checked for a pulse. The victim
was unresponsive from the start. He did not detect a pulse and the victim was not
breathing. At this point they called 911 and the Weber County dispatcher instructed them
to begin CPR. They estimated reaching him at approx. 13:20 and made the 911 call at
approx. 13:22. They performed CPR for approximately 1 hour. They informed the
Weber County dispatcher that they were still in a slide path and likely in danger, but said
the dispatcher instructed them to continue CPR. The 911 dispatcher “called it” after one
hour and they stopped CPR.
A sixth snowboarder (a friend) was riding solo and joined the group at the scene some
time after they found Todd. This sixth person stated that he followed approximately the
same route as the rest of the group.
The victim was described as a male in his mid-40’s. He was wearing a blue jacket, black
pants and blue alpine ski boots. No skis or poles were found on scene. Nothing was on
his head (no goggles/hat/helmet/etc.). He was not wearing gloves, but they found 2
gloves, approx. 20 feet uphill from the victim. The gloves were black, Reusch “racing”
gloves. He was wearing a pack, but one of the straps had been broken.
The group did not have a beacon to mark the victim (in case of subsequent slides), but
they did make an “X” with branches to the skier’s left of the victim, up on a small ridge,
approx. 25-30 yards away, out of the slide path.
Snowbasin dispatch instructed the group to leave the scene and travel down canyon
where Ski Patroller Doug Wewer would meet them. Doug had left the ski area boundary
near the intersection of Mustache Ridge and the Dead Deer traverse and traversed to
Vanity Face. He skinned up from there and travelled to a small sub-ridge just West of
Vanity Face, where he could see the lower Hell’s Canyon drainage. The group informed
him that they travelled about 80 to 100 yards down canyon and around a bend before they
first made audible/visual contact with each other. Doug dropped into the drainage
bottom, met them, discussed the exit plan and escorted them to the power station. They
all walked together to dispatch and began paperwork.

 

 

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