Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2000-12-26
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: CLOSED AREA; Discovery Basin Ski Area
State: MT
Country: USA
Summary: 3 skiers caught, carried, and 2 injured.

Butte boys hurt in avalanche

By Diane Cochran, of The Montana Standard

Three Butte boys were injured Tuesday afternoon after they were caught in an avalanche in a closed area at Discovery Basin Ski Area near Anaconda.

Zachary Zemljak, 14, remained in critical but stable condition at St. James Healthcare Wednesday night. Casey Pesanti, 14, was in good condition, and Jacob Petersen, 16, was treated and released Tuesday.

The boys were skiing at Discovery around 2 p.m. Tuesday when they entered an area on the ski area's back side that was closed, according to Peter Pitcher, the ski area's manager.

The skiers likely followed an old trail into the area and did not know it was off-limits this year, Pitcher added.

Petersen skied across a field without any trouble, but when Zemljak and Pesanti followed, they apparently triggered an avalanche, Pitcher said.

Pesanti saved himself from serious injury by holding onto a tree but Zemljak was caught by the snow -- although not buried -- and pushed up against a tree.

Pesanti and Petersen were able to ski out, but members of the ski patrol transported Zemljak out by toboggan, Pitcher said.

He said this winter's weather created prime avalanche conditions. Heavy snow in October followed by cold weather resulted in unstable snow pack or what Pitcher calls `` rotten snow.''

"It (the snow) goes through a metamorphosis,'' he said. `` They call it sugary. It's really powdery and doesn't have any binding to it. You couldn't make a snowman out of it. When new snow falls on top of it, it's really unstable.''

Discovery tries to trigger avalanches ahead of time to prevent accidents but can't always find the `` rotten'' areas, he said. The ski area does not use explosives in avalanche control but rather uses experienced people with specialized equipment to trigger avalanches.

`` Even though this area was closed, we thought we had all the slides out of there,'' Pitcher said. `` Obviously we didn't.''