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Blog: First-hand account of Meadow Chutes Avalanche

Mark Staples
Director, Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center

Thank you to Pete for sharing his thoughts and information about the slide. We sincerely appreciate his openess in sharing this essay from which we can all benefit. The only way we learn as a community is by sharing stories. The only way we learn as individuals is by reflecting on our actions and learning from them.

The accident report is available HERE.


My Avalanche Story

By Peter Ingle

On Friday January 26, 2018, I was in an avalanche. I am grateful to have survived. I have been skiing the Utah backcountry for nearly three decades and have always been aware of and concerned about avalanches. I have learned a lot from my time in the mountains and am writing this now so others can learn from this latest experience.

Since the beginning of December, I had 30+ days in the mountains and knew about the many layers, the faceted snow, the lack of snow, as well as the wind and warm air that had been impacting our snowpack. I watched the weather daily, checked the Utah Avalanche Center page and talked with others who skied on days I did not. I knew there were big differences in the snowpack from the PC ridgeline to the Canyons to Cardiff to Alta.

That morning, my friend Brad was thinking of skiing the Meadow chutes. I was very interested as I had not skied there in over 10 years and Brad knows the terrain well. So we made plans to go there. As I skinned up the canyon, I had fond memories of skiing that terrain. At the bottom of the hill in snow only a foot deep, I grumbled about all the bushes but once on the ridge there was 3 feet of snow. We did not dig a pit, but I stopped often to probe to the ground with my poles. We found mostly light snow on top of facets near the ground with some variability in the bottom 1-6 inches, depending on aspect. Similar to what I had experienced all winter.

Someone had skied a run called Silver Spoon. We passed Silver Spoonand looked at a different run. We discussed the amount of new snow, the plethora of old tracks, what line to ski and how we would come back up - a normal routine with most of my ski partners. Making this plan is essential. As Brad skied the first run, I watched for signs of cracking, whumping or other changes. Nothing. We skied throughout the day and saw many people ‑ solo skiers, friends and 2 larger groups. We skied in 3 different areas- El Rollo, the Football Field and a run near Doug’s Drop, constantly rechecking the snow.

We met Scott earlier in the day. Brad knew him and gave him the thumbs up to joining us for our final run. Brad selected a run next to Doug’s Drop which had a steep middle section. We would descend a less steep section part way then move to the skier’s left on a bench below the steeper section. Not remembering the area, I accepted Brad’s assessment which avoided skiing that steeper section. Brad set the initial line with room to his right. When he got down, he moved left into some small willow/aspens. Then I skied right of his line. On the bench, I skied to the left but not as far as Brad. I was most concerned about a slide where we had just skied and not the steeper terrain above us.

I got out my phone to take a photo of Scott skiing. As he approached the first trees he changed direction by going over our tracks and towards the steeper open line. The snow fractured to his left, directly above me and Brad. He yelled “slide.” For a moment I did not know what he was yelling about as I expected to see him in a slide. It took a second to realize the slide was happening directly above me. Sh&@!!!

I dropped my phone, grabbed my poles, tried to shuffle towards Brad and get out of the way. I did not make it far before being overwhelmed by snow. I heard it coming and knew it was bad. The snow hit me like a truck. I let go of my poles, tumbled with the snow and trying to swim and get air. I was completely immersed and was hitting small trees. After five seconds maybe, I felt the snow getting lighter and thought “perhaps it is slowing down”. Wrong, I was probably airborne going off the rollover. I came down hard on my left side, blowing the air out of my lungs. [email protected]&$. The snow piled on even harder. I thought, this is it, I am going to be buried alive. It was now or never to get some air. I pushed hard off of something with my feet. I struggled with my arm to swim and create a pocket of air. I was again pushed downhill. Then it stopped. I could sort of see light, so I struggled to get my right arm out of the snow and brushed snow off my face and out of my mouth. I wondered where all this blood was coming from.

I was on my back with my head downhill in a sort of “sitting position.” I could move my head but not my right arm. My left arm and side were screaming in pain. What happened to Brad and Scott? Was I alone in this situation? Fear engulfed me at the thought of being alone, but then I heard a voice and started yelling, “Help! Down here!” When Brad arrived, he said “I was sure you were dead.” Scott quickly checked my vitals, cuts on my face, my back and neck, and my arm. Brad cleaned me up and put warm layers on me. All of us were thinking about my injuries, how to get out, who to call, etc. A few minutes later, I started losing focus but never blacked out. I was determined to live through this ordeal.

I could not get out on my own power; therefore, Brad called a friend working at Solitude Ski Resort to initiate a rescue. Then they focused on trying to make me comfortable and warm while communicating with rescuers. Brad and Scott were great!!! They bundled me in extra clothes, blew on my hands, rubbed my legs and kept me alert. Despite the warm layers, I got really cold laying in the snow for so long. About 1.5 hours later, the Solitude patrol arrived and took charge, put a space blanket over me and a hand warmer in each armpit. I was glad to be alive. They also called a medical helicopter.

Before the helicopter landed, Scott covered me to minimize the wash from the snow, but it was still cold. Once the helicopter landed, they loaded me into it and flew me to a waiting ambulance at Solitude. In the ambulance, I heard the words I longed to hear, “We are going to give you some medicine now to take the edge off the pain.” I had survived the accident and was on my way to the hospital!

Long story, but ultimately I was the only one caught. I had a dislocated shoulder with a broken humeral head, numerous contusions and cuts to my face and head, and some damage to my hip muscles. I was lucky!

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I write this to help my healing and to share some insights. Here are some final thoughts.

  • Communicate more when new people join your group. Scott has an amazing amount of experience and knowledge, but we did not take the time to talk about our ski plans with him. Such a discussion may have helped us avoid this avalanche.
  • Consider all possible runout zones, not just where you are skiing. This broke out in a place I did not expect. I did not know the terrain, and I should have paid more attention where we stopped.
  • Stopping mid slope is necessary sometimes. Consider putting boots in walk mode while waiting for the rest of the group and keep your poles on either side of you instead of together on one side.
  • Know what rescue gear you and your partners have, in advance. Miscommunication means we did not use all that we had. Here is what I will carry now: a good shovel, probe, extra hat and gloves, space blanket, hand warmers, painkillers in the med kit, spare down jacket, phone, and numbers for help already in them.
  • Remember that a lot of accidents, not just skiing, happen at the end of the day. You are more tired, you have been focused for a long time already, and home sounds good. Keep it together right until you get to the car.
  • The Wasatch is getting crowded. I often feel pushed to ski different areas so I can get untracked powder. This impacts the places I go and the decisions I make.
  • Never give up. If you are caught, remember to breathe, fight for air, protect your head, swim and do so all the way. My focus on this for years helped me respond appropriately.

I am grateful to everyone involved- Brad and Scott, the Solitude Ski Patrol and other staff, pilot and nurses, ambulance staff, the doctors and nurses at Intermountain medical center, Dr. Michael Chardack, Mark White and Trent Meisenheimer for the great accident report/video, my sons for not giving me a hard time, and everyone who checked in on me. I am especially thankful for my amazing wife, Krista, who has been a rock through this whole thing and who I know understands why I will go skiing again.

Comments
Thank you for "your story". So glad for your outcome. I've skied meadow chutes many times and was involved in an avalanche in "no name bowl" 12 years ago. I hope backcountry skiers read and learn from your report. Wasatch skiers are in avalanches way too often!
Jane Arhart
Tue, 3/13/2018
Great write-up Pete, thx for sharing, so glad you are alive so you can snake my lines in the future. Sorry to hear about the injuries. It sounds like the dis-located shoulder may have resulted from your work to stay above the snow, in which case it was well worth it. I've been in six avalanches and the message you gotta fight even if it hurts bad if you want to stay alive is very clear to me, reinforced by your story. I have many fond memories crossing pathes with you over the years and really can't tell you how happy I am I get the opportunity to see you again out hiking to ski. I have a particularly warm memory of breaking trail up Bowman to be relieved by you, Mark and Bob. Dropping Toots, skinning up to a gaggle on Wilson Peak, thinking maybe south, no, bad snow, out Wilson Glade, up to the top of Depth Hoar Bowl. One of so many fun days in the Wasatch. So happy you will get many more. Heal up fast old friend, I'll look for you next year
Peter Donner
Tue, 3/13/2018
Peter, thanks for reading. Always great to share time in the mountains with others who love it so much. Hope you are finding good and safe skiing. These conditions are challenging for everyone. See you next season!
Peter
Wed, 3/14/2018
I like Peter's comment," We didn't discuss enough about the area, and I relied on friend's knowledge because he had been skiing the area during the season." I think it should be on everyone's check list, discuss everything at the start keep talking and especailly when you leave to ski another part of the mountain. It is hard to say let's evaluate this run. Very good advice about the medical kit. I have always carried with all mentioned with even more items including a flare and smoke bombs. It is very small and you can get them on line or a hardware store. I have trained myself always to read the avalanche report everyday during the season, and say to myself, remember Willis, you don't know shit. We have all had close calls at some point in our lives while in the backcountry. Thanks for the article.
Willis Richardson
Tue, 3/13/2018
Peter This is my 42 year in the backcountry and have also been in an avalanche many years ago and can't emphasize how important it is to cary all of your mentioned extra gear especially a good first aid kit with high strength pain relievers and adequate clothing for a possible overnighter especially a space blanket for they take up virtually no room and weigh nothing! Gave up, skiing alone years ago and never ski without my pack for it has everything you will need! I also carry my spot device for the Wasatch do have dead zones with no cell coverage. I have always felt the Meadow Chutes are far more dangerous in that the starting zones are large even though lower angle and all funnel into constricted steeper terrain and early season are chocked with vegetation which makes the area that much more dangerous! Upper Days is another area that people take to lightly I was there the day Two Dog got it's name and the last day I ever skied without my pack leaving it at the top of the run in the flatter west bowl when the party of 3 were setting an uptick in this very dangerous terrain. This terrain is a repeater and should not be taken lightly! Thanks for the great report! So lucky no one has been killed this year and my hats off to the great job the Avalanche Center does everyday and the legion of obs sent in by everyone. We have the best reporting of anywhere in the west by far!
Rick Hoffmann
Tue, 3/13/2018
I am grateful you are healing up. I don't know you, but I know Brad from the beginning of my journey into backcountry skiing. I also know your brother. Sad to say the "Satch"is so over crowded!! I'am glad you were with Brad! Cheers to healing & and to a better winter next year.
Jenn t
Tue, 3/13/2018
Awesome. Thanks so much for sharing and I'm really glad you made it out of this!
Justin
Tue, 3/13/2018
Thanks for taking the time to write up your experience, and I'm glad you're OK. For clarification, were those in your group using beacons, and did everyone have a shovel and probe? Was anyone wearing an airbag?
Bill
Tue, 3/13/2018
Pete, your near death experience will make many of us smarter. I have skied that line many times. Next time I will ski it with more vigilance.I will more aware of when I pull my camera out. When I see folks climbing cardiac ridge a few feet apart, I often wonder if they know there are always outliers and it is safer to presume that a slope can avalanche even on a low or moderate hazard day. Yours and Brad's experience with 60 yrs in the backcountry was one of those outliers. I haven't forgotten how you and Bob helped carry my pack out of Bells Canyon years ago. I am glad you are ok and thanks for sharing.
Howie Garber
Wed, 3/14/2018
<p>Pete - glad you are ok and good on ya for being willing to share your experience; for some reason that&#39;s not an easy thing to do, but it&#39;s important both for you and the community.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>An important point:&nbsp; you mention that Brad called a friend on the Solitude patrol, and you suggest having the appropriate numbers plugged into your phone so you know who to call in case of an accident.&nbsp; It&#39;s my understanding that over the last few years the 911 dispatchers have gotten much, much better at understanding the backcountry and avalanches and they now have an efficient system to trigger a backcountry rescue mission via the canyon patrollers, the resorts, and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue.&nbsp; Additionally, their system has the ability to pinpoint the location from the phone call.&nbsp; So when in doubt, call 911.&nbsp; Maybe someone from the UAC or WBR can confirm all this?&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, if you can&#39;t get a call out due to lack of reception (Broads, bottom of Days/Silver, Mill Creek, Mineral, etc)&nbsp;and you need a pinpointed gps location for an impending rescue effort and don&#39;t happen to have a map app on your phone, the UAC app has both a camera function AND a gps&nbsp;function (that works without a cell signal)&nbsp;and if you take a picture using the camera within the UAC&nbsp;app it will have the gps coordinates printed on the pic so you have a record of the coordinates to relay to a heli/rescue crew (and if you take a pic of your buddy it&#39;ll be a memorable one for him!).&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
tomdiegel
Wed, 3/14/2018
<p>Regarding Tom&#39;s points - yes, calling 911 is now&nbsp;&nbsp;generally faster and more effective than using your insider access to a resort or Alta Central.&nbsp; That call will connect you nearly instantly&nbsp;to a Canyon patrol officer who can mobilize WBR, nearby patrol, a helicopter from one of several services, Unified Fire, or any other rescue asset that might be needed. and yes, the more info you can give them, like GPS coordinates, run name, elevation, aspect, and steepness, wind and visibility, the faster, safer, and more precise the response will be.&nbsp; Wise to carry first aid, warmth, and shelter anyway because they can&#39;t always reach you quickly, especially on a storm day.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Thanks Pete, your experience shows that the wisest and most experienced of us is never immune to a harsh lesson. Looking forward to seeing you back out on a skin track.</p>
Paul
Wed, 3/14/2018
The Diegel’s speak truth. Calling 911 will now improve your outcome and give you the best chance of launching all the necessary resources and professionals.
M. Brehm
Wed, 3/14/2018
Thank York for this write up Pete. So glad you are ok to share this story. I learned some valuable lesssons! I would like to note the Pain Killers in the pack suggestion... this can be a tricky one. If emergency surgery is ever needed administering pain killers as a rescuer can be a costly decision? First, if the patient is not fully alert or oriented, maybe in shock they may not be able to consciously share that they are allergic to a medication you are providing. Second, the surgeon won’t be very happy. Finally, yes bring them incase of overnite but with high trama don’t use them. That is my own personal protocol. I am not a doctor I have just experienced the not stoked surgeon asking to not administer meds during high trauma accidents. Would love to hear some doctors thoughts on this. Thanks again for the great read! T
Anthony Pavlntos
Wed, 3/14/2018
Damn dude every time I read this I think of how easily it could’ve been me. I remember talking to you that morning and putting the kibosh on the Meadow Chutes because I have never been a fan of that terrain. But if I was there I can’t think of anything different I would do than what you guys did. Doing the accident report was a learning experience for me, when I came upon the slide path and the debris pile I could not believe you survived it, and limped away in mostly one piece. We’ve been skiing in the BC around here for most of our lives and we all get caught eventually, but learning from our mistakes is key to survival. I remember the first time I saw someone caught in a large slide, we were just about to the top of Eddies High, preseason at Alta the snow fractured between you and me I jumped back and saw you disappear in a cloud of snow. I think we both learned a lot from that on as well. Get well soon my friend we still have a lot of powder to ski.
Mark White
Wed, 3/14/2018