Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2000-12-16
Submitted By: Wasatch Backcountry Rescue
Place: Flagstaff Mtn.,North of Alta
State: UT
Country: USA
Summary: 2 sledders caught, one partially buried, one buried and saved

Sledding & Living in Avalanche Country

A true early Christmas Miracle

A 911 cell phone call was received by the Town of Alta's dispatch Center that a member in a sledding (plastic sled) party was buried by an avalanche. The usual call-outs took place to ski patrols, resuce groups, law enforcement agencies, and medical helicopters. As rescuers arrived to the scene, they were greeted with a pleasant surprise: a breathing, alert, 14 year old boy that had been buried 4 feet deep for a half an hour.


The first sled rider hucked some air into the gully and awaited his partner with a camera in hand. As the 2nd sled rider landed in the gully, the avalanche was triggered. This buried the person taking the picture completely and the sledder that triggered the slide was buried up to his shoulders. After digging himself out, the person that triggered the slide made a 911 cell phone call for help. Here's the good part...

A group of ~6-8 young snowboarders about 150' verticle downslope, saw what had happened and ascended to help out. They had no beacons, no probe poles, but plenty of shovels for building jumps. They formed a line across the debris flow in a random spot and started digging. One of the shovelers hit the buried person's head, 4 feet beneath the snow surface. As the snow was cleared around the victim's face he regained consciousness. We applaud the action that this unknown group of young snowboarders took that saved a life!

The avalanche was a small, but deep pocket of snow that released on a SE aspect in Flagstaff Gully. Although only travelling 40-50 vertical feet and being about 75 feet wide, the gully is a nasty terrain trap. A small section of the crown was 4 feet deep, with an average depth of ~2 feet deep. The terrain features caused deposition up to 8 feet deep.

The Alta area had received 60" of snow between 12/9-12/16 with westerly winds gusting to 60mph on 12/15. The UAC had issued avalanche warnings and there were several fresh avalanches that were visible in the area.

******MEDIA REPORT********

From the Deseret News 12/17/00

2 S.L. County teenagers survive

avalanche burial

Danger likely to worsen as storm moves in today

By Brady Snyder

Deseret News staff writer

Two Salt Lake County teenagers were buried in an snow slide near Alta Ski

Resort Saturday, and avalanche danger was expected to worsen as a winter

storm moves in today.

Saturday afternoon, the two teens were buried after one of them ? riding a

sled ? came off a cornice ridge on an out-of-bounds slope northwest of Alta.

The sledder triggered an avalanche that buried his friend who was positioned

below, photographing the jump. The teen who triggered the slide was buried

to his armpits but freed himself and, along with others in the area, located the

buried 15-year-old photographer and dug him out, Salt Lake County Sheriff's

Lt. Rod Lowry said.

The 15-year-old was buried for about 15 minutes and was unconscious and

not breathing when a skier with a shovel found him. The teen was airlifted to

University Hospital to be treated for neck injuries and hypothermia, Lowry


"To say he was lucky is probably an understatement," Lowry said. "There

were veteran search and rescue crews up there that said they were surprised

he was alive."

With new snow and high winds hitting Utah's central and northern

mountains Lowry said avalanche danger is extremely high and could be

headed downhill.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm advisory for Sunday

morning with 6 to 12 inches of new snow expected in the mountain canyons

and 1 to 3 expected in the valleys.

"It will probably be really intense for a few hours but the winds are going

to be the big thing," NWS meteorologist Chris Young said.

Winds gusting to 45 mph could be expected in the valleys and mountains

could see winds reaching 70 mph, Young said.

"With that snow they receive (Friday) night on top of the crusted snow and

with all the wind its just ripe for this type of thing," Lowry said. "It's just going

to get worse."

Depending on the severity of the pending storm, Lowry said Little

Cottonwood Canyon and possibly Big Cottonwood Canyon would likely be

closed for avalanche control Sunday morning.

Skiers and snowboarders seeking access to canyon resorts should call

1-801-964-6000 for road closure information.