Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: WWAN
Summary: 5 skiers caught, 2 fully buried, 3 partial, minor injuries
Snowbasin skiers survive avalanche
Saturday, February 26, 2000
By MELISA ANN WILSON
SNOWBASIN -- Five lucky skiers walked away from an
avalanche that buried two of them and partially buried
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
As the snow tumbled over him, Harrison said he tried to
swim to stay above it. It seemed to go on forever. Then it
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
"The biggest thing was, is anyone else still buried," he
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
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
Tom Kimbrough, Forest Service avalanche forecaster,
said an avalanche warning is out through the weekend.