Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-03-16
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: East Face of Pioneer Peak
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 2
Summary: 3 snowboaders caught, 2 buried and killed

Top photo: View from the toe of the debris looking back up to the crown of the avalanche. Victims were traversing from left to right across the top of the avalanche while the others were on the left of the avalanche.

Bottom Photo: Looking across the upper fracture line from the top. Part of the fracture broke into the cornice, making it a very deep avalanche in places.


Preliminary report issued on March 23, 2002

I. General Information

1. Date: March 16, 2001

2. Time of Accident: 12:36 pm

3. Exact Location: Just west of Brighton ski resort. North face of Pioneer Ridge between Pioneer Peak and Peak 10321, (on the 7.5 minute Brighton quadrangle, Utah). The slide ran towards Dog Lake. Latitude: 40.58310 N, Longitude: 111.58772 W.

4. Victims: Richard Jones, 19

Allen Chatwin, 18

5. Eyewitnesses: Nine other snowboarders

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

II. Accident Summary

1. Events leading up to the accident.

Twelve young snowboarders rode the Crest Lift at Brighton Resort and headed into the backcountry by hiking west along Pioneer ridge. The group intended to build a jump in the Dog Lake area. They passed the signs at the resort boundary, which indicated that there was no avalanche control or ski patrol services beyond the sign and that the backcountry avalanche danger was rated by the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center as ?Considerable.? After traveling along the ridge, they mounted their snowboards on top of the peak marked as 10,354 and proceeded down a steep north facing chute to an elevation around 10,000 feet and regrouped.

2. Accident account:

The two victims said that they preferred to hike up higher so that they could more easily traverse to the jump site. After hiking up, they mounted their boards again and began traversing the steep slope, heading west, while the others either waited off to the side or were descending down along the slope on the right of the avalanche path if viewed from the top. While they traversed a very steep, 50 degree slope, they initiated a fracture, probably near a shallow rocky area, and the slab fractured above them, taking them quickly down the slope.

III. Rescue

1. Self-rescue and hasty search:

None of the party had avalanche rescue beacons, although they had six shovels in their group because they were planning on building a jump. One party member called 911 on their cell phone. The party members not caught then descended to try and find their friends but since the victims were completely buried and without beacons, there was little hope of finding them. They dug some random holes in the attempt to locate their friend.

2. Description of search procedures:

Patrollers from both Alta Resort and Brighton responded. The Alta patrollers arrived first as they could easily traverse to the sight from the top of Superior Lift. They arrived about an hour and a half after the accident. Avalanche search dogs from Alta located the victims. Neither of the victims responded to CPR and the coroners report indicated that they died from asphyxiation.

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

4. Depth of victim, length of burial, and condition and injuries: One victim was 2-4 feet deep, in a prone position and had an ice mask around his face. The other was about 2 feet deep and wrapped around a tree.

5. Cause of injury or death: The coroners report indicated that they died from asphyxiation.

IV. Weather and Snowpack Data

1. Weather synopsis: A large storm a few days before the accident initiated a moderately widespread avalanche cycle in which deep, large avalanches fractured out on many slopes. The day of the accident, was foggy with light snow showers.

2. Snowpack structure: During December and January, long periods of relatively clear, cold weather created thick layers of faceted snow on the snow surface. As this layer was incrementally overloaded by new snow in the month before the accident, we began to see more and more avalanches on the buried weak layer. The storm on March 12-15 many of the resorts in the Cottonwood Canyons received over 5 feet of snow with very high precipitation intensities. This initiated a fairly widespread cycle of deep, large avalanches. The accident happened a day after the storm ended.

3. Were there warnings, restrictions, or closures in effect? No warnings. Backcountry avalanche danger had been recently downgraded to ?Considerable? from ?High? by the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center.

V. Avalanche Data

1. Type of slide(s) (classification): Hard Slab, Class 3 on the international scale which indicates size. Class 4 on the American scale, which indicates the size of the avalanche in relation to the size of the path.

2. Dimensions width: 300 feet


vertical: 500 feet

3. Crown height: 2.5 average depth and as much as 8 feet in the deepest section.

4. Debris width:



5. Other comments: This avalanche path is very steep with the upper section 40-50 degrees, and frequently produces avalanches, especially with large storms. Although this was a very large avalanche, for this path, an even larger one was observed in 1993.

VI. Terrain Data

1. Elevation at crown: 10,000?

at toe: 9,500?

2. Aspect: East North East

3. Slope angle in degrees, starting zone: 40-50 degrees

toe of debris:

Alpha angle from toe to starting zone: Was unable to measure due to time and weather constraints.

4. Vegetative cover (open, timbered, etc.): Relatively open with some scattered small trees.

5. Shape of path (open slope, gully, etc.): Slightly concave and open bowl.

6. Other comments:

VII. Conclusions and Recommendations

Although ski resorts have teams of workers that routinely control avalanches with explosives within ski area boundaries, no avalanche control is done beyond the boundaries in what is known as the ?backcountry.? Recreating in the backcountry on public land is a very popular activity in Utah. Ski resorts on public land have open boundary policies as the public has a right to access public land. Signs at the resort boundaries clearly inform the public that there is no avalanche control or ski patrol services outside of their boundaries. The vast majority of people who leave ski area boundaries to recreate in the backcountry do it safely and without incident. Most people who recreate in the backcountry carry avalanche rescue beacons, shovels, probes and have taken some sort of avalanche class to learn how to do it safely.

This party of young snowboarders did not carry any rescue gear except for a few shovels and we do not know their level of avalanche education, but from the witness reports that we have obtained so far, it appears that the group had little if any avalanche education, nor did any of them call the avalanche advisory before heading out. They were simply trying to have fun and seemed to be unprepared for the seriousness of the backcountry avalanche conditions.


Avalanche Kills 2 Backcountry

Snowboarders Near Brighton

Sunday, March

17, 2002




A massive avalanche near the top of Big Cottonwood

Canyon on Saturday crashed down upon and killed two

young men who were crossing a snowfield to go


The pair, identified only as an 18-year-old Nevada

man and a 19-year-old man from Salt Lake County,

were found by search dogs more than 200 feet from

where they had been walking, said Peggy Faulkner, Salt

Lake County sheriff's spokeswoman.

The two were part of a group of 12 young adults who

had ventured beyond the boundaries of Brighton Ski

Resort into the backcountry near Pioneer Peak. None of

the group was properly equipped for a trip into the high

mountains, where avalanche danger was severe,

Faulkner said.

"They saw the signs warning them against leaving the

groomed trails," Faulkner said. "They knew they were

not prepared."

The wall of snow -- 800 vertical feet -- came

thundering down just after 12:30 p.m. and left an

eight-foot gash at the fracture line where the slide


"The folks at Brighton say that this was the biggest

avalanche they had ever seen," Faulkner said.

Two members of the group had crossed the

snowfield and were out of harm's way when the

avalanche began, Faulkner said. The two victims were

in the direct line of the slide and were immediately

swept away.

"It appears [the cause of death] was trauma,"

Faulkner said. Both men were taken to the state

Medical Examiner's Office for autopsies.

No other injuries were reported. Another member of

the group called 911 from a cellphone, Faulkner said.

Avalanche danger remains high along the steep

slopes of the Wasatch Front as unstable snow piles up

on an icy snowpack that was laid down months ago.

Anyone planning to risk a backcountry expedition is

urged to check conditions at or by

calling for a recorded report, updated daily.

Recorded advisories are available for these areas:

Salt Lake 364-1581; Little Cottonwood Canyon

742-0830; Park City 435-658-5512; Ogden 626-8600;

and Provo 378-4333.