Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Sugar Bowl Professional Ski Patrol
Place: Backside of Mount Judah, out of area @ Sugarbowl Resort
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
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
Boarder killed in snowslide
San Francisco man dies at Sugar Bowl
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 avalanche.org 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.
AVOIDING AVALANCHE SITUATIONS
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 Resort...one 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