Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-03-08
Submitted By: Sugar Bowl Professional Ski Patrol
Place: Backside of Mount Judah, out of area @ Sugarbowl Resort
State: CA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 skier and 2 snowboarders caught, 1 buried and killed


Submitted by the Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol

The following is a summary of the events which took place on the

afternoon of Friday, March 8, 2002 in the backcountry just outside the

Sugar Bowl Ski resort.

February 2002 ended in a warm rain and snow cycle leaving a base of a little over 10 feet. Air temperatures went into the 50's F. A 10 cm knife hardness crust developed during this period. A two-week clearing period with cold nights allowed faceted grains to grow in the new snow, just above the crust.

On March 6th, a warm Sierra storm arrived. By the morning of March 8th, it would leave a storm total of 34 inches. At the start of the storm March 6th, temperatures were 24-30 deg. F. it ended the morning of the 8th, with a temperature of 6 deg. F. During that period, winds of up to 100 mph were recorded.

The path where the slide occurred is a heavily wind loaded ridge on the crest of the Sierra. With the amount of new snow and high winds, cornices in the slide area grew very large. This additional weight put a considerable stress on the very large old cornice that existed.

This area is outside the ski area's permit and is never controlled. One skier and two boarders with no avalanche safety equipment walked out 5 to 10 feet from the cornice edge. This put excess stress on the cornice and it failed. All three were caught. The faulty cornice broke about 15 -20 feet back from the edge. It was approximately 60 feet wide and 20 feet deep. It landed on a 35 to 50 degree slope, triggering a class 3 soft slab avalanche that ran on faceted grains just above the February rain crust. The slide was 100 - 150 feet wide and ran 400 vertical feet. There were many large old and new cornice blocks still in tack all the way to the end of the debris.

At approximately 1315 on Friday, March 8, 2002 the Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol

received a phone call from CHP dispatch reporting an out-of-bounds

avalanche on the backside of Mt. Judah. The reporting party was patched

through, and told the patrol that three people were caught, and one

remained buried. The caller and approximately 8 to 10 others reported

that two snowboarders and one skier had walked out onto a very large

overhanging cornice, which subsequently collapsed. The weight of the

cornice triggered an avalanche with a 3 to 4 foot crown which ran for

approximately 1000 linear feet, and varied from 50 to 150 feet in width.

The entire length of the path contained debris, some of which were as

large as a small car. The slide path was broken up by a cliff band,

approximately two thirds of the way down the path.

Sugar Bowl Ski patrol responded immediately, dispatching a hasty search

team, armed with beacons, shovels, probes, and oxygen. Three patrollers

reached the top of Judah within 10 minutes of receiving the call

(typically a 15 to 20 minute hike). Upon reaching the top, the patrol

learned none of the victims were wearing transceivers, and none of the

bystanders had any avalanche training. One patroller remained on the

ridge to organize probe lines and manage resources, while two others

dropped in to evaluate the avalanche hazard for rescue teams. The

patrollers ski cut the right flank of the slide and determined it to be

a stable, safe route in for rescuers. Five avalanche guards were set up

along the ridgeline, preventing rescuers from walking within 60 feet of

the edge of the cornice, which was still overhanging along the entire

length of the ridge. Another patroller was brought in a short time

later to ski cut the left flank of the slide path.

Another patroller had traversed around the north shoulder of Mt. Judah

and was nearing the toe of the slide as the ski cutting was being

completed. He was able to reach the two unharmed victims (one was spit

out of the slide at the top of the path, the other was buried up to his

neck at the toe but dug himself out using his helmet) and an onlooker

who were looking for the third victim. The patroller quickly organized

the three into a probe line, and began working from the toe up the

middle of the slide path. The victim who had been buried up to his neck

was able to confirm that he had seen the fully buried victim next to him

as they were swept over the cliff band, allowing rescuers to focus their

search on the lower half to one third of the slide path. The patrollers

who had established the safe route in began a coarse probe of the likely

catchments beneath the cliff band, while two other patrollers began

probing the area around where the victim was buried to his neck. As

probe lines were assembled they were brought in to the slide path via

the safe route and began working up the flanks of the debris, beginning

at the toe. A resort employee with a rescue dog began working the slide

from the top down.

When the probe line working up the middle of the slide path was within

three feet of the two patrollers working down from the cliff band, they

had a positive strike. Shovelers were immediately brought in and

uncovered the victim, who was buried approximately two to three feet

deep, in the horizontal position. CPR was started immediately, and was

continued until care was transferred to the flight crew of a Careflight

helicopter which landed in a meadow below the slide path. The twenty to

thirty rescuers who had dropped off the ridge and entered the slide path

were escorted to Donner Lake by the Ski Patrol, and shuttled back up to

Sugar Bowl.

Thanks goes out to the Placer County Sheriff's Department, Donner Summit

and Truckee Fire, Boreal Ski Patrol, Alpine Meadows Ski Patrol, Squaw

Valley Ski Patrol, Careflight, and the many Sugar Bowl employees and

guests who responded immediately with equipment and assistance.

A reminder to never stand on a cornice, always approach ridgelines

carefully, and always carry a beacon, shovel, and probe in the


Submitted by the Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol 3/12/02

-end report-


Boarder killed in snowslide

San Francisco man dies at Sugar Bowl

Elaine Goodman

Please visit:


3/8/2002 11:57 pm

A San Francisco man snowboarding at Sugar Bowl ski

resort Friday was killed in an avalanche after he

and two friends walked outside the ski area?s

boundaries to enjoy the view, officials said.

The man was buried under 3 feet of snow for about an

hour before rescue crews found him at 2:20 p.m., said

Placer County Sheriff?s Sgt. Brian Whigam.

The Nevada County Coroner?s office identified the man as

Jonathan Clodfelter, 30, of San Francisco.

Clodfelter, who didn?t have a heartbeat when he

was found, was flown by helicopter ambulance to Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee, where he was pronounced dead, Whigam said.

The three snowboarders rode up the Mount Judah ski lift

and then hiked out of bounds to view Mount Judah, Whigam said.

A cornice they were standing on collapsed,sweeping one of the three men downhill from the ledge at 8,300 feet.

The other two men were able to free themselves from the avalanche,

according to the coroner?s office.

The men called for help on a cell phone at 1:16 p.m., said Sugar Bowl

spokesman Bill Hudson.

A Sugar Bowl rescue squad searched for the man using three dogs. Placer

County Sheriff?s deputies helped with rescue efforts.

Local authorities have been cracking down this season on skiers and

snowboarders who deliberately enter closed-off, avalanche-prone areas.

But in Friday?s incident, the three snowboarders weren?t breaking any laws

because they had entered national forest land, Hudson said.

It wasn?t clear if the men intended to snowboard on the backside of the

mountain, Whigam said.

After 30 inches of fresh snow this week, a U.S. Forest Service hotline

reported Friday that avalanche danger was ?considerable? in the Sierra

backcountry above 7,000 feet.

?(The new snow) made for some great skiing or boarding, but dangerous

conditions in the backcountry,? Hudson said.

Gary Murphy, an avalanche forecaster for Alpine Meadows ski resort, said

?considerable? hazard means a naturally occurring avalanche is possible

and a human-triggered avalanche is probable.

Murphy said winds reaching 80 mph in the Sierra on Thursday may have

contributed to avalanche danger by sweeping snow from certain locations

and piling it in others.

But Murphy said those traveling the backcountry in winter should always be

cautious of avalanche danger, even if there is no advisory.

?There still may be pockets of instability,? he said.

Two 17-year-old boys died in an avalanche last winter while backcountry

skiing outside Squaw Valley.

Before Friday?s incident, 18 avalanche fatalities had been reported

nationwide this season, according to statistics from the Colorado

Avalanche Information Center on the Web site. None of this

season?s previous fatalities was in California or Nevada.

The Web site described a Dec. 2 avalanche at Alpine Meadows as a ?close

call? for mountain workers.

Avalanches resulted in 33 deaths nationwide during the 2000-2001 season,

and 22 deaths the year before.


o Consider whether the slope is capable of producing an avalanche

o Consider the weather conditions

o Consider the stability of the snowpack

U.S. Forest Service hotline (530) 587-2158

Avalanche in the back country close to the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort

03/08/02 - The Placer County Sheriff's Department says there were two snowboarders and one skier on the mountain when the avalanche occurred.

We have some breaking news this afternoon.

There has been an avalanche in the back country outside of the Sugar Bowl Ski young man was killed.

Sugar Bowl is located off Interstate 80 west of Donner Summit.

If you're familiar with the resort it happened on the backside of Mount Judah---in an out of bounds area.

The Placer County Sheriff's Department says there were two snowboarders and one skier on the mountain when the avalanche occurred.

The Skier was trapped, but the other two snowboarders were able alerted rescuers and the young man was pulled out of the snow and careflighted to Tahoe Forest Hospital.

Emergency doctors were unable to save the man.

We have a crew headed to Sugar Bowl Watch News Channel 8 at 5:00 pm for more information.

Daniel Morgan for Sierra Map Aide