Blog: UAC Podcast - The Day of Madness in Little Cottonwood Canyon

Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Hardesty

 


On the inaugural episode of the Utah Avalanche Center podcast, UAC forecaster Drew Hardesty and Alta Snow Safety Director Dave Richards revisit the fateful events of November 13, 2011, the Day of Madness in Little Cottonwood Canyon.

It was an early-season powder day in the Wasatch before the ski resorts had opened, and people's lust for epic snow encountered the dangerous realities of Considerable avalanche danger. Unfortunately, the day ended in tragedy. Eighteen unintentional avalanches were triggered. Six people were caught in separate avalanches. A yard-sale worth of gear was lost. One skier suffered a broken femur. And world-famous free-skier Jamie Pierre perished in an avalanche. 

Hardesty and Richards discuss: the events of that fateful day in November 2011; human factors that compound snow problems; typical hazards of early-season snow; the science, challenges, and potentially deadly results of depth hoar; tips for backcountry recreationists to improve their margins of safety and make smart choices in the early season. 

A link to the avalanche forecast for November 13, 2011, can be found here. The accident report can be found here. Previous essays on the event by Hardesty, Richards, and retired UAC forecaster Tom Kimbrough, published in The Avalanche Review February 2012, are below.




Drew Hardesty has been a forecaster for the Utah Avalanche Center since 1999/2000 and spends his summers as a climbing ranger in Grand Teton National Park. 

Dave Richards is the head of the Avalanche Program at Alta Ski Area.  He has worked for Alta for 17 years and has worked as a rescue dog handler and helicopter ski guide.  He wishes that people would stop traversing Superior.

Benjamin Bombard is the executive producer of the podcast. He's also a producer of RadioWest on KUER 90.1

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Comments

IMO that was a priceless podcast! The takeaway message is crystal clear, albeit multifaceted (no pun intended): Make backcountry riding decisions based on the totality of the circumstances. To understand what mood the mountains are in take stock of the experts insights: Read the UAC daily forecasts, observations and avalanche reports, and blog posts, and watch the videos; be observant when actually in the BC: Look around at the signs nature and prior humans have left you and ponder their implications, dig some pits, and reassess your plan continually; and, err on the side of conservative judgment, bc a calculated risk may be reasonable depending on the situation, but a reckless risk is unforgivable (which hints at the possibility of criminal/civil liability). If you can't manage to do that without losing all the fun, buy a pass to one of the resorts and drop any line you desire without consideration of avalanche danger bc ski patrol has already done that for you. Keep up the great work! I'm looking forward to the next podcast.