Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2000-02-25
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Snowbasin
State: UT
Country: USA
Summary: 5 skiers caught, 2 fully buried, 3 partial, minor injuries

Snowbasin skiers survive avalanche

Saturday, February 26, 2000

By MELISA ANN WILSON

Standard-Examiner staff

SNOWBASIN -- Five lucky skiers walked away from an

avalanche that buried two of them and partially buried

the others.

Friday, a group of eight friends were skiing just below

where the Strawberry Express gondola unloads. The

group was involved with the NorAm Super Series

downhill race on the other side of the hill, but were

taking a few runs before the races began.

Dr. Jeff Harrison, an orthopedic surgeon at McKay-Dee

Hospital, described what happened next as he waited for

the rest of his group just below the ridge.

"We stopped to wait for everyone. The next thing I

know, we were tumbling and buried under the snow. It

was like a big slab of concrete coming over you. It was

big, we're turning head over heels."

The avalanche was triggered at 11:49 a.m. It covered an

area of about 100 feet by 150 feet, was 4 to 7 feet deep

and slid 400 feet. The entire avalanche area was within

Snowbasin boundaries.

As the snow tumbled over him, Harrison said he tried to

swim to stay above it. It seemed to go on forever. Then it

stopped.

It took Harrison 20 to 30 seconds to climb out. He said

he pushed up on his feet, trying to feel the pull of gravity

and headed against it.

Once out, he immediately started searching for his

friends.

"The biggest thing was, is anyone else still buried," he

said.

One hand stuck up from the snow, waving. Harrison

grabbed his shovel and began digging out Karen Marriott

of Park City.

Harrison, who volunteers once a week at Snowbasin as

a physician for the ski patrol and for the U.S. Ski Team,

was prepared. He called on his radio. Within minutes

other members of the ski patrol responded.

He also had the shovel and a beacon which sends a

signal from under the snow.

Thomas Hofmeyer, a student at Weber State University,

arrived on the scene just after the avalanche hit. From the

catwalk just below the slide area, Hofmeyer watched the

mass of snow come toward him and stop.

Then he saw Harrison, digging and coordinating the

rescue. Hofmeyer joined in with his poles.

Hofmeyer, who is from Sweden, said he used to help at

French ski resorts. He began probing for other victims.

He watched in awe as Harrison kept his head, rescuing

others in his party before the ski patrol arrived.

"He was just amazing according to me -- so disciplined."

David Smith, public relations representative for

Snowbasin, said Harrison was nothing less than a hero.

It only took 15 to 20 minutes to make sure the rest of the

group wasaccounted for. But, ski patrolmen continued to

probe the area until 2 p.m. to make sure no one was

missed. Snowbasin's new avalanche rescue dogs aided

in the search.

The gondola was shut down for the rest of Friday and is

expected to be open again some time today.

While swimming through the wave of snow, Harrison

said he lost his hat, one glove and his goggles. The

whipping wind and stinging snow left him with frostbite

on his ear and two fingertips as he searched for the rest

of his group.

Marriott suffered a neck sprain, according to Harrison.

Park City resident Marianne Waters tore a ligament in

her knee while she was partially buried. Two men were

also partially buried in the avalanche, but suffered no

injuries.

Harrison said he had just been up on the mountain Friday

morning doing avalanche control with the patrol.

Gray Reynolds, general manager at Snowbasin,

confirmed the area had been checked for avalanche

danger early Friday morning.

"One thing about snow is that it isn't a perfect science,"

Reynolds said. "We do our very best to make it as safe

as possible. Safety is our primary concern."

With well over 3 feet of new snow in the last 24 hours

and winds up to 70 mph in the Strawberry Bowl area,

Reynolds said the danger of an avalanche was very high.

Reynolds said the ski patrol would be back out today to

blast for avalanches. After another check of the area,

Strawberry Bowl will be available to the public. The

Super Series downhill races will also continue today.

They were postponed Friday due to the weather

conditions.

Tom Kimbrough, Forest Service avalanche forecaster,

said an avalanche warning is out through the weekend.