Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2001-12-02
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Alpine Meadows Resort
State: CA
Country: USA
Summary: Close calls for mountain workers


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December 6, 2001

Avalanche a close call for three Alpine Meadows employees

By Charles Levinson, Tahoe World

An early morning avalanche at Alpine Meadows Sunday morning resulted in close calls for three resort employees, a missing snowmobile and a half-buried groomer.

Dylan Taube, a lift operations supervisor in his fourth winter at Alpine, was at the top of the Kangaroo chair a little before 7:30 a.m. setting up the top unloading station.

Wind was howling across the mountain's upper ridges in excess of 100 mph. The 24-hour snow totals Sunday morning indicated two feet of new snow. Larry Heywood, director of the Alpine Meadows Ski Patrol, said the avalanche likely originated at the top of Beaver Bowl, some 1,500 feet above where Taube and two other employees were working.

"I didn't see it or hear it coming," Taube said. "My first thought was holy shit, this is a 200 mph wind gust. It felt like being in a hurricane or tornado.

"The power of the avalanche before the sluff lifted me of my feet and started my tumble and then the sluff hit me and the sluff felt like a freight train hitting me. I did a few tumbles and then I started doing the swimming motion, and flapping my hands as fast as I could, and that's what brought me up to the top."

Taube suffered minor injuries in the slide, a sprained wrist, bruised abdomen, and minor scrapes. "I'm just so fortunate to be alive," he said. The snowmobile Taube had ridden up on was buried and is still missing and a groomer was spun 180 degrees and rendered immobile. The slide narrowly missed a third employee, but the strong winds caused by the avalanche were strong enough to knock him off his feet, according to Taube.

Heywood, whose job it is to forecast avalanches, said the slide came as a surprise given the time of the year and the conditions.

"We weren't expecting a lot of avalanches given the nature of the storm," he said. "In hindsight, it is my responsibility to forecast for this and we missed the forecast. If we think it's dangerous we don't put our employees in the way or anybody for that matter."

A slide originating at the top of Beaver Bowl would not have had the momentum to reach the base this early in the season in a normal year, according to Heywood. But with heavy early season snowfalls-- Alpine reported a 100-inch base Monday morning-- conditions are anything but average for the first week of December.

Still, Heywood said conditions are generally stable and should reap benefits for skiers throughout the season. "The sequence of heavy rain, and then slowly getting colder and then getting wind has created this great base," he said. "It's the perfect sequence. Long term it's very good from an avalanche safety perspective."