Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: USFS Utah Avalanche Center
Place: One drainage east of Stillman Creek, Uinta Mountains
Summary: 1 skier, 1 dog caught, buried, and killed
USFS UAC OFFICIAL REPORT 03/03/02
FOREST SERVICE UTAH AVALANCHE CENTER
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
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
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
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
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.
SNIP FROM UAC FORECAST FEBUARY 1, 2002
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.
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.
OFFICIAL REPORT TO FOLLOW
Avalanche Death Adds Urgency to
BY ELIZABETH NEFF
THE SALT LAKE
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
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,
"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, www.avalanche.org
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.