Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-01-31
Submitted By: USFS Utah Avalanche Center
Place: One drainage east of Stillman Creek, Uinta Mountains
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 skier, 1 dog caught, buried, and killed




I. General Information

1. Date: January 31, 2002

2. Time of Accident: Approximately 1300 MDT.

3. Exact Location: One drainage east of Stillman

Creek, Uinta Mountains: 40 deg 48.538?,

111 deg 06.468?, 9365? ASL.

4. Victim: Brian Roust and Ginger (Brian?s dog).

5. Eyewitnesses: Another party of two skiers

witnessed the accident from above and across

the drainage.

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

II. Accident Summary

1. Events leading up to the accident.

On the morning of January 31, 2002 a group of two skiers and two dogs

began skinning from the intersection of the Weber Canyon and Smith and

Morehouse Roads. They crossed the Weber River and headed east for about

0.25 miles. This party turned north, heading up a ridge that leads to

the Windy Ridge Area. They ascended the ridge to an area called

Nor?easter Bowl at about 9400 ft ASL.

Another group of four skiers had already made one run in the bowl and

was coming up the treed subridge to the south of the bowl. On the

previous day, members of this party of four skied the northern portion

of the bowl. They had used a skin track on a subridge to the north of

the bowl to ascend. On January 31 the skin track made switchbacks up a

treed subridge to the south of the bowl and then traversed across the

starting zone of a small slide path to the south before gaining the main


Upon reaching the top of Nor?easter Bowl, the group of two skiers and

two dogs skied down the south side of the bowl next to the trees. At the

bottom they began skinning up the existing skin track. The skiers and

the dogs traveled up the track at different speeds, and quickly became

spread out over the track. The group of four had all reached the top of

the bowl and began their second run. The second skier in the group of

four, on his fifth or sixth turn, remotely triggered an avalanche

HS-AS-3-O. The avalanche (4? crown, 2? flanks, 300? wide, 1000?

vertical) occurred on an east aspect, and released about 30 feet south

(skier?s right) of his track. Someone yelled, ?Go left!? and he skied

left to a small subridge in the bowl. At this point members of each

group made contact with each other and quickly determined that no one

was caught in the avalanche. The group of four had two on the ridge and

two at the bottom of the bowl. The group of two was spread out along the

skin track, one dog was with the lead skier and the other was at the

bottom of the skin track.

2. Accident account

We will probably never know exactly how the avalanche that killed

Brian Roust was triggered. Neither the other member of his party nor

anyone in the party of four witnessed the initiation of the avalanche or

his position. What we do know is that the avalanche released when he was

near a stand of trees in the starting zone. The only eyewitness to the

accident saw Brian traveling downhill at a high rate of speed when the

avalanche released. This witness was a member of a third group who had

come up another drainage and was standing across and above Nor,easter

Bowl at least 0.25 miles away. The remaining skiers in Nor?easter Bowl

could not see Brian because their view was block by the trees or the

terrain. As of writing this report the only items that remain missing

are Brian?s skis, skins, and ski poles. The avalanche carried Brian and

his dog Ginger down through several stands of trees before burying them


III. Rescue

1. Self-rescue and hasty search:

When the other skier in Brian?s group reached the top of the skin

track he saw that the last switchback had been washed out by an

avalanche. There were no ski tracks on the bed surface, and upon

reaching the top of the ridge he realized that Brian had been caught in

the slide. He called out to the other skiers in the area and they all

began to effect a rescue.

2. Description of search procedures:

Brian?s partner turned his rescue beacon to receive and began

searching from the top of the slide, while the two skiers below began

searching lower portions of the debris. The rescuers lower in the slide

path quickly picked up the signal from a transmitting rescue beacon and

found a loose beacon about 2? below the snow surface. They turned the

beacon off and continue searching. They picked up a second signal and

began probing and digging. They found Brian buried under about 4? of

snow, 400? vertical below the crown line of the avalanche. One person

left to activate the Emergency Medical System while the rest began

giving first aid to Brian.

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

Brian Roust was found at approximately 1330 MDT.

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

and injuries:

Depth: 4 feet

Length of burial: approximately 20 minuets.

5. Cause of injury or death: Trauma.

IV. Weather and Snowpack Data

1. Weather synopsis:

The Uinta Mountains are outside the forecast area for the Forest

Service Utah Avalanche Center. As a result, we do not have constant

weather data from this area. However we do receive reports from

backcountry travelers, Forest Service employees of the Kamas Ranger

District, and a snow cat skiing operation in the area. With this

information we do have some idea of the weather and snowpack progression

for the season. A graph of snow depth and temperature from the Smith and

Morehouse SNOTEL site (attached) shows a similar weather trend to the

Wasatch Mountains. During the fall of 2001 there was very little

precipitation in the area. A series of large storms deposited over 2

inches of snow water equivalent (SWE) between November 20th and December

1st. A generally stormy pattern with small but consistent snowfall

continued through the first week of January. On January 6th there was a

rain/rime event to nearly 9,500?/12,000? in the Wasatch and Uinta

Mountains. This rain event was followed by a week of dry weather and

cold temperatures, and then another week with small snow accumulations

and generally cold temperatures. This period also contained several

strong wind events. On January 26th strong southerly winds blew as a

large Pacific storm approached. The storm arrived on January 27th and

28th, depositing 3 inches of SWE at the Smith and Morehouse SNOTEL site.

2. Snowpack structure:

There was virtually no snow on the ground prior to the Thanksgiving

Day storms. The snow from these storms accumulated over a short period

of time and formed a fairly homogenous layer. The rain event of January

6 formed a fairly uniform ice layer on the snow surface. This layer was

subsequently buried by a few small snow storms in early January. The

extended period without significant snowfall but with cold temperatures

helped to form faceted grains both above and below this ice crust. In

the Wasatch Range, the January 27th snow storm caused a widespread

natural and human triggered avalanche cycle. This cycle began during the

storm and continued though February 9.

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

The Uinta Mountains are not in the forecast area for the Forest

Service Utah Avalanche Center. However since we do get some reports from

this area we include cautionary statements when the reports indicate

that the avalanche danger is considerable or higher in the Uintas. An

Avalanche Warning was issued for the Wasatch Mountains and Western

Uintas on January 28th. On January 29th, the warning was dropped to a

Special Avalanche Advisory Statement, but the avalanche danger was still

rated as High. By January 31st the avalanche danger in the Wasatch

Mountains had been dropped to Moderate, but the danger in the Uintas was

still estimated to be Considerable. The avalanche danger scale used in

the United States and Canada states that the avalanche danger is

Considerable when natural avalanches are possible and human triggered

avalanches are probable.

V. Avalanche Data

1. Type of slide(s) (classification): HS-AS-2-O

2. Dimensions width: 150?

length: Approximately 1000?

vertical: Approximately 600?

3. Crown height: 20 to 40 inches

4. Debris width: Generally less than 75? wide

length: There were deep piles of debris

along the uphill sides of the trees.

The debris continued into a gully more

than 600? vertical below the crown line.

5. Other comments:

VI. Terrain Data

1. Elevation at crown: 9364? ASL

at toe: 8700? ASL

2. Aspect: The starting zone is north-northeast

facing, concave bowl with an average aspect

of 45 deg.

3. Slope angle in degrees, starting zone: The

average slope of the starting zone is 34 deg.

toe of debris: NA

Alpha angle from toe to starting zone:

approximately 26 deg.

4. Vegetative cover (open, timbered, etc.): Stands

of mixed aspen and fir trees with openings

running both vertically and horizontally through

the path.

5. Shape of path (open slope, gully, etc.): Small

bowl with a horizontal band of trees running down

a confining track into a series of gullies.

6. Other comments:

VII. Conclusions and Recommendations

We may never exactly know Brian Roust?s position when the avalanche

released. There is an eyewitness account, but the witness was at least

0.25 miles from Brian when the accident occurred. He saw Brian skiing

downhill at a high rate of speed with a dog running full bore behind

him. However, we do not know if Brian had removed his skins and was

traveling down the hill, or if he felt a collapse and was trying to

reach safety before being caught in the slide. All of Brian?s equipment

except his skis, skins, and poles has been recovered. Because we do not

know the exact events leading up to the avalanche accident, it is

difficult to draw meaningful conclusions. However there are certain

aspects of this accident that are deserving of further comment.

At first glance, Brian fits the profile of a likely avalanche victim.

He was a male in his late twenties who was an expert skier and climber.

However, there is one very important difference between Brian and the

typical avalanche victim. Brian was also an experienced avalanche

professional. He had not only mastered his method of travel, but the

skills required to travel safely in avalanche terrain. He was

experienced with both ski area avalanche control techniques and

backcountry stability assessment. An accident that kills an experienced

avalanche professional is a warning to all, including those that are

experienced backcounty travelers.

The first beacon recovered during the rescue was not attached to any

victim. Friends of Brian have postulated that this beacon was ripped off

of the dog killed in the avalanche. Because Brian died of trauma, a

quicker recovery probably would not have made a difference. However,

when considering putting a rescue beacon on anything besides a human,

all members of a group should be included in the decision. There are

several companies that make recovery beacons that transmit on

frequencies other than 457 kHz. It would be truly unfortunate for

someone to die from asphyxiation while his or her companions are

searching for an object or pet.

Brian?s death emphasizes that good communication and a fluid travel

plan are essential to backcountry travel. When ever possible, keep in

visual and/or verbal contact with the other members of your group. When

events occur that change your stability assessment, it is important to

reevaluate your situation and route options.


Good morning, this is Tom Kimbrough with the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center with your avalanche and mountain weather advisory. Today is Friday, February 1, 2002, and it?s 7:30 a.m.

Avalanche Conditions:

A skier was killed in an avalanche yesterday in the Thousand Peaks area of the Uintas. The slope was northeast facing at about 9,000 feet and was around 35 degrees steepness. The slope had already been skied several times and the person was on a skin track headed up. The slide broke as a hard slab up to 5 feet deep and 150 feet wide and ran about 700 vertical. The person was carried through trees and was buried 3 to 4 feet deep. He was a very experienced professional avalanche worker.

There was another very close call in Cardiff Fork in Big Cottonwood, also involving an experienced avalanche person. This slide is reported as being huge, possibly 1,000 feet across and the person rode it perhaps 1,500 vertical without serious injury. Again, there were already tracks on the slope and it broke when he was about 6 turns into the run. Both of these slides released in faceted snow around the early January rain crust.

On Wednesday there were several slides triggered in the Ogden Mountains by skiers and snowmobilers. Several slides were also triggered by explosive testing yesterday in Mineral Fork, American Fork and in Little Cottonwood?s White Pine. All this avalanche activity indicates that that we need to continue

to be quite conservative in all parts of the range, indeed throughout northern Utah. Settlement since the big storm on Monday is causing the slab above the weak layer to become more cohesive so slides such as the one in Cardiff Fork can break very wide. The cold temperatures are keeping the slabs and weak layers from stabilizing. Plus, as we start to warm up over the next couple of days, the slabs may even become a little easier to trigger.

Current avalanche conditions can best be described as tricky and dangerous. This type of weak layer, faceted snow around a crust, is inherently tricky, breaking unexpectedly above you, wider than usual and possibly after several people have already been on the slope and the instability lasts a long time.




Avalanche Death Adds Urgency to

Visitor Warnings


February 1,





An avalanche claimed the life of a 29-year-old Utah

man Thursday as he was cross country skiing on a

private ranch in the Weber Canyon area, a tragic

reminder of the dangerous snow conditions Olympic

visitors to the state's backcountry could face in the

upcoming weeks.

The victim, whose identity was being withheld

pending notification of relatives, was part of a group

skiing near Windy Ridge on the Thousand Peaks Ranch,

located about 32 miles east of Park City and 17 miles

east of Kamas.

Six people were skiing in two separate groups when

the avalanche occurred just before 2 p.m., according to

Summit County Sheriff's Office spokesman Rob Berry.

The victim's group, which had skied the area several

times before in the past, was moving uphill when a

5-foot-deep layer of snow broke off above them at

9,000 feet and rolled down at a 35 degree angle, said

Utah Avalanche Forecast Center Director Bruce


The victim, other members of his party and two dogs

on the mountain were wearing locator beacons, Berry

said. Other skiers were able to dig the victim out of

about 4 feet of snow in just over 15 minutes, he said.

But by the time paramedic Marc West was lowered

down to the scene using a hoist mounted onto

Intermountain Health Care's Life Flight helicopter, the

victim did not have a pulse. The skier died from

massive head and neck trauma, not from suffocation,

West said.

"If you look at national statistics, within the first 15

minutes there is a 92 percent survival rate if you are

buried," said West. "That tapers off to about 30 percent

for up to an hour."

The center today will investigate the site of

Thursday's avalanche, Tremper said.

The Avalanche Center has issued a "considerable

danger" avalanche warning for the area. Clear skies in

past weeks produced a weak snowpack, which made

for dangerous conditions when coupled with this

week's heavy snowfalls, Tremper said.

"That weak layer is notoriously persistent," Tremper

said. "When you load it with weight, it will produce

avalanches for several days after a storm. Right now is

just one of those times where we are urging people to

be very cautious, choose your routes carefully and stay

on marked conservative terrain for a few more days."

Thursday's accident comes at a time when the center

is trying to make sure Olympic visitors who plan to go

into the backcountry to get as much information as they

can about snow conditions, Tremper said.

New informational signs have been posted at the trail

heads of popular routes around Salt Lake City and

Ogden, Tremper said. The signs ask people to wear

locator beacons and carry shovels with them, and

provide Avalanche Center phone numbers that are

updated daily with snow conditions.

The center is also faxing snow condition updates to

local hotels daily, passing out brochures and urging

people to sign up for daily e-mail updates of conditions

on the center's Web site,

In general, there is more danger of avalanches

occurring in the Uinta mountains than the Wasatch

mountains, Tremper said.

"The Uinta mountains usually have a weaker

snowpack, and it's also windier there," he said.