Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2001-02-27
Submitted By: Bruce Tremper UAC
Place: Red Rocks Slide Path, near The Canyons
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 4 skiers caught, 2 completely buried, 1 killed



2242 West North Temple, SLC, UT 84116

t: (801) 524-5304 f: (801) 524-4030 e:

Investigation completed by: Tom Kimbrough and Ethan Greene, Avalanche Specialists, Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, Salt Lake City, Utah 84116

This report was compiled using information about the accident site gathered by the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center. Accounts of the accident and rescue were compiled from a police report and from interviews with the rescue workers. The authors of this report were unable to speak directly with any member of the group involved in this accident.

Date of Investigation: February 28, 2001

I. General Information

1. Date of accident: February 27, 2001

2. Time of Accident: Approximately 12:45 pm

3. Exact Location: Red Rock Cliffs avalanche path

4. Victim: Sharon L. Reinfurt

5. Eyewitnesses: Joseph Andrew (Andy) Reinfurt, Cassie Reinfurt, Conner Reinfurt, Chris

Rand, Keith P. Latalliere, and J.D. Lamb

6. Damage to vehicles, building, lifts, etc.: None

II. Accident Summary

1. Events leading up to the accident:

The party began their tour from The Canyons Ski Resort. They traveled through the ski area, up to the top of the 9990 ski lift, and exited the ski area through a backcountry access point. The party then traveled northwest along the ridgeline passing over Square Top Mountain to the Red Rock Cliffs area. Upon reaching the Red Rock Cliffs they stopped to evaluate the cornice that hung above the slope they wished to descend.

2. Accident account:

Andy continued to travel to the northwest along the ridge attempting to get a full view of the cornice. Before Andy returned, Sharon skied down off of the ridgeline and began traversing diagonally across the slope. She then fell losing a ski in the snow. Chris, Conner, and Keith skied down to Sharon in order to help her find the lost ski. As Cassie and J.D. stood at the top of the slope the avalanche released directly below Cassie's snowboard. From the witness accounts it is unclear if Cassie was moving at the time the avalanche released. J.D. was carried about 20 feet before stopping. Sharon, Chris, Conner, and Keith were all caught in the avalanche. Keith was carried about 50 feet downhill and was buried to his waist. Conner became completely covered in the moving snow and was carried downhill until he struck a tree. He was then "pushed" to the top of the snow and was on the surface when the avalanche stopped moving. Chris and Sharon were both carried downhill and into a gully and out of sight. They were both completely buried in the avalanche debris.

III. Rescue

1. Self-rescue and hasty search:

Cassie and J.D. waited above the crown line until Andy returned. Upon Andy's return the three of them traveled down the bed surface to assist in the rescue. Keith was able to dig himself out of the avalanche debris, and he and Conner began descending the debris pile looking for Chris and Sharon. About "20 yards" below where Conner was located, they heard Chris yelling from beneath the snow surface. They began digging and uncovered Chris under about 2.5 feet of snow. At this point Andy, Cassie, and J.D. arrived. Some of the party continued to extricate Chris from the debris (taking 30 to 45 minuets), and the remainder began probing the snow with their equipment in an attempt to find Sharon. Sharon had been to the skier's left of Chris when the avalanche released. Therefore the group concentrated their search to the skier's left of where Chris was found. Shortly after Chris was uncovered Keith left the scene to alert the ski patrol. Several members from other backcountry parties joined in the search adding four for five rescuers to the hasty team.

2. Description of search procedures:

Members of The Canyons ski patrol arrived at the Red Rock Cliffs area and determined that the accident site was still threatened by potential avalanches. They evacuated the hasty team and conducted avalanche control. The hasty team had located Sharon's skis and left them near a tree next to where they were recovered. Control work produced additional avalanching along both flanks of the original slide. Once the accident site was deemed safe, a ski patrol search team, including two search dogs, was allowed onto the debris pile. After working the site for approximately five minutes one of the search dogs alerted on a deep portion of the debris. A probe confirmed Sharon's location and her body was recovered a short time later under about 4 feet of snow.

3. Time, location, and position of victim when found:

Sharon Reinfurt (the victim) was recovered at approximately 3:57 pm on February 27th, 2001. She was located approximately 60 feet downhill and to the left of where Chris had been buried. At the time of recovery, she was lying face down with her head pointing downhill. Rescuers reported that no ice mask had formed during the burial.

4. Depth of victim, length of burial, and condition and injuries:

Sharon Feinfurt was recovered from under approximately 4 feet of snow. The avalanche occurred at about 12:45 pm and her body was recovered at about 3:57 pm. Therefore she had been buried for approximately 3 hours and 12 minutes. The medical examiner's report stated that the cause of death was asphyxia.

5. Cause of injury or death:

Dr. Maurine Frikke performed an autopsy on February 28th, 2001. The results indicate that the cause of death was asphyxia. Dr. Frikke also noted that there were no signs of significant trauma.

6. Secondary search and body recovery:


IV. Weather and Snowpack Data

1. Weather synopsis:

The winter of 2000 - 2001 was characterized in the Wasatch by a thin an unusually weak snowpack. An initial stormy period in early November produced several feet of deposition that re-crystallized in to faceted snow and depth hoar during clear spells in late November and early December and again in late December and early January. This weakening process was coupled with a lack of major storms that might have eliminated the weak layers by natural avalanching. Throughout the second half of January and all of February numerous avalanches were triggered in the Wasatch backcountry. Several small storms loaded extra weight on the weak layers, keeping the avalanche danger in the MODERATE and CONSIDERABE ranges throughout the period, occasionally bumping up to HIGH. During the weekend preceding the accident the east side of the Wasatch received about 16 inches of new snow, fitting the seasonal profile of a small storm increasing the danger. On 2/24 the danger bumped to HIGH, then returned to CONSIDERABLE for 2/ 25, 26 and 27. Considerable is defined as "human triggered avalanches are probable."

2. Snowpack structure:

As in many cases this season, this avalanche failed and ran on depth hoar near the ground. Several snow pits in the avalanche crown and along the flanks showed surprisingly strong snow. Faceted layers and depth hoar were present but not especially weak. Compression and Rutchblock stability tests gave fairly stable numbers. The answer to this puzzle probably lies in a terrain feature exposed on the bed surface. A steep rock outcrop exists near the middle of the bed surface. This rock was probably entirely covered with snow before the avalanche. The snow that remained on the rock surface was large grained depth hoar. This rock was likely an area with a thin and especially weak snow pack that provided the trigger point for the slide, which then pulled into the stronger snow in the crown and flanks. (See attached snow profiles.)

3. Were there warnings, restrictions, or closures in effect?

There were no restrictions or closures in effect, however there are numerous warming signs in place near the backcountry gate at the top of the 9990 lift and at the top of the peak.

V. Avalanche Data

1. Type of slide(s) (classification): HS-3-AS

2. Dimensions width:

length: 450 feet

vertical: 400 feet

3. Crown height: 1 to 3 feet

4. Debris width: 100 feet

length: 300 feet

depth: 10 feet

5. Other comments:

The slide path runs into a gully so most of the debris was contained in a very narrow area. Where the victim was recovered the debris pile was less than 100 feet across.

VI. Terrain Data

1. Elevation at crown: 9400 feet ASL

at toe: 9000' ASL

2. Aspect: E

3. Slope angle in degrees, starting zone: 41 degrees

4. Alpha angle from toe to starting zone:

5. Vegetative cover (open, timbered, etc.): Open with some brush running into a gully lined with conifer trees.

6. Shape of path (open slope, gully, etc.): Open slope with a prominent cliff band running into a gully.