11th Annual Utah Snow & Avalanche Workshop Open and Motorized Sessions Oct. 27th.
Ad
Observation Date: 
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Avalanche Date: 
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Region: 
Little Superior
Location Name or Route: 
Little Superior Buttress
Elevation: 
10000
Aspect: 
South
Slope Angle: 
38
Trigger: 
Skier
Trigger: additional info: 
Unintentionally Triggered
Avalanche Type: 
Soft Slab
Avalanche Problem: 
New Snow
Width: 
150
Vertical: 
1250
Carried: 
1
Accident and Rescue Summary: 

I was skiing alone, coming back into Little Cottonwood Canyon from Cardiac Bowl after a long and very enjoyable morning of skiing mostly north and some east facing classic Wasatch powder.  I gained the ridgeline at the Little Superior Buttress, and decided to make my descent from just above it.  As I removed my skins up on the ridge, I examined the slope below. The initial portion of the run dropped about 100 feet south east facing before opening up into a broader bowl above a rock band. My intention was to make my way skiers left over to the frequently skied fin that drops from just below the buttress.  As I gained the more south facing open bowl above the rock band, I noticed a large number of roller balls and debris coming down from above.  The next thing I knew, I was in the middle of a large wet slab avalanche.  I suppose the release knocked me down, but at first it seemed like the slab was moving slowly. it started gaining speed as it carried me towards a funnel through the rock band.  Unfortunately I was on my back with my legs and skis above me. I was unable to move to right myself and  I realized I was going over the rock band, headfirst.  The snow was so dense that I easily floated on top.  It was like riding a 2 foot thick churning carpet of roller balls and slush. I believe it protected me from the rocks as I went backwards over the probably 20' rock band. It certainly cushioned the blow as I came down on the slope below.  Once over the rock band, the slide continued to gain speed.  I had only one ski and one pole still with me, but I managed to get an edge into the sliding snow.  I fought hard with the remaining pole and my free arm to get off of the slide to skier's left, just before it poured over the choke of a second and slightly taller rock band. For what seemed like a really long time, more than a minute for sure, the wet slide just kept pouring down from above and through the choke. With the slide over, I waited for the adrenaline rush to subside somewhat and determined that I didn't have any serious injuries.  I dialed 911 to alert Alta Central about the slide and that nobody had been buried in it.  As I down climbed the rock band, kicking toeholds into the remaining snow, I punched through a few places to reveal a virtual waterfall- 3-4" of running water below the snow surface. Another  200 feet or so below, the slide had come to a stop in a broad tongue of debris 2-3 feet deep.  My lost pole and ski were easily retrieved from their final resting places atop the debris pile.  Making my way down to them, the bed surface was a moistened, but still bulletproof sun crust- completely scoured of the weekend's new snow.  It wasn't until the low angle apron just above the road that I ever noted the snow surface to be getting damp and manky.

Forecaster Note: It's unknown if this was a wet loose sluff, or perhaps a slab.  So we've classified it as a Storm Snow slide.

Comments: 
I think the cause of the slide was the days strong sun heating up south facing rocks buried beneath the new snow. The running water I found under the snowpack on my way down after the slide, suggests to me that the slab was heating up and getting wet from below. A number of human factors played into the poor decision-making that led to my getting caught in this slide. First and foremost, after a glorious morning of skiing what seemed like very stable north facing slopes, I was in a state of elation and exhaustion as I started down the south facing. With the return of more winter like temperatures, I was not as concerned with the wet slide potential. On top of that, I was running late and in a hurry to get back to Snowbird. I dropped in to the slope like a victory lap. The conditions on the other side had made me complacent, and I made no formal assessment of the snowpack, despite the change in aspect. Lastly, a vastly less exposed route could have been taken, but I didn't want to ski back down around behind the buttress and instead chose the line above the rock band.
Comments: 

I doctored it to show where I got swept and where I managed to get off it. I think a whole lot of snow came down from the rocky face below the Buttress.

Coordinates: 
Ad

Support the Avalanche Center through your purchases

Discount lift tickets
All proceeds from ticket sales benefit the UAC when you purchase your next lift tickets.
Lift tickets available in November
Need new gear?
Make your next purchase from our Affiliate Partners and the UAC will receive a portion of the sales.
Shop
Sign up for our newsletters, emails and daily forecasts to stay up to date.
Subscribe