Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2001-02-06
Submitted By: Bob Comey; BTNFAC
Place: Rock Springs area, South of the Jackson
State: WY
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 skier caught, buried, and killed

The body of a male alpine skier who was reported missing overnight was

recovered this morning (2/7/01) from the toe of an avalanche which

occured late in the afternoon on 2/6/01. This incident occured in the

upper portion of the Rock Springs drainage just south of the Jackson

Hole Mountain Resort in the Teton Range of Wyoming. The victim

apparently triggered a soft slab estimated to be 18 inches in depth and

was swept over a large cliff and onto a snow apron below the cliff. This

event triggered a four foot slab on the apron. The victims ski boot was

found protruding from the debris. His head was buried 2 to 3 feet below

the surface. The estimated total vertical drop of this slide is 500

feet. The southerly facing start zone was at an elevation of 9,800 feet.

This prelimanary information is being provided by Bob Comey of the

Bridger Teton National Forest Avalanche Center located in Teton Village,

Wyoming.

Avalanche claims Oregon skier

By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Jackson Hole News

Searchers found the body of an Oregon skier in avalanche debris in Upper

Rock Springs Bowl near the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort Wednesday morning.

Teton County Sheriff Bob Zimmer identified the victim as Ralph Toscano Jr.,

43, of Mosier, Ore. He is the fourth avalanche victim in Teton County this

winter.

As ski patrollers and a county search volunteer recovered Toscano's body,

officials began to investigate a separate report of three other missing

skiers. Their friend reported Wednesday that they did not return to the

group's motel Tuesday night.

Grand Teton National Park launched a preliminary search for the three in

Granite Canyon, north of the resort, Wednesday evening, following a lead

picked up during the search for Toscano. Observers in a helicopter saw

three ski tracks entering Granite Canyon when they were looking for the

avalanche victim.

"We're in the early stages of starting a search to see if we can find three

people in the backcountry." Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Joan

Anzelmo said Wednesday.

Sheriff Zimmer said that the avalanche victim, Toscano, had apparently left

the patrolled ski-area boundary sometime late Tuesday afternoon.

Investigator Lindsey Moss said the skier almost certainly would have had to

knowingly cross a boundary rope or exit through a marked gate. He said it

was snowing lightly at the time Toscano likely left the area.

The victim was to meet friends at the Mangy Moose Saloon that evening.

When he did not show up at the Rawhide Motel at about 7 p.m., friends

notified authorities.

Ski area groomers kept an eye out for Toscano that night and a search was

launched Wednesday morning, Zimmer said. Observers in a helicopter

discovered signs of a small slide in Rock Springs Bowl, plus the three

tracks into Granite.

Resort ski patrollers who went into Rock Springs to the debris pile saw a

boot protruding from it. Toscano's body was dug free and flown from the

scene, Zimmer said.

Investigator Moss and resort spokeswoman Anna Olson said it appeared that

Toscano was skiing above a cliff band that is broken by Zero G, Spacewalk

and M & M couloirs. Apparently he provoked a slide approximately a foot

deep which carried him over a 100-foot cliff, then over another, smaller

drop.

Searchers found his body near the bottom of M & M couloir, Olson said. He

was carried approximately 400 vertical feet. The slide crown was some 75

yards long. Deposition piled up approximately 12 feet deep at the base of

the cliffs.

Toscano is the fifth person involved in avalanches in the Rock Springs

drainage in four days. The other four survived uninjured.

The skier chose to go into the backcountry on a day when the avalanche

danger was rated as "high" by the Bridger-Teton National Forest backcountry

forecast center. The rating indicates that unstable snow predominates,

that natural avalanches are likely, and that travel in avalanche terrain is

ill-advised. The daily report is available at 733-2664 or at

untracked.com/forecast on the Web.

Olson expressed regret at the incident.

"Obviously we're very sad for the victim's family and friends," she said.

"We re-emphasize everybody needs to follow the codes of the backcountry -

ski with people, know the terrain, know the conditions that exist, and

carry a Pieps."

Zimmer said Toscano's death is the ninth winter recreation fatality in

Teton County this season. In addition to the three other avalanche deaths,

there have been three snowmobilers killed and two skiers have died in

collisions with trees.

"This is the worst winter for winter accidents that anybody in this office

can recall," Zimmer said. "We have taken major steps in the area of

informing the public that this is an extremely dangerous winter for

avalanche conditions.

"I think our three ski resorts - those areas are fine to ski in," Zimmer

said. "But the areas outside in the wilderness and backcountry are

extremely dangerous.

"We've warned people for the last two months," Zimmer said. "It appears

that because of the excitement of skiing in these backcountry areas, the

appropriate amount of caution is not being utilized."