Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-03-15
Submitted By: Ted Steiner; GCAC
Place: Banana Chutes, backcountry terrain by Big Mtn. Resort
State: MT
Country: USA
Summary: 1 skier caught, buried, and rescued alive


Canyon Creek Drainage- Whitefish Range. (GCAC Preliminary Report).

16 Mar 2002 - A skier triggered avalanche occurred at approximately 1300 on

3/14/02 in the Canyon Creek drainage of the Smokey Range (A sub-range of the

Whitefish Range).

A skiing party of two skiers had boot packed up from the Canyon Creek/ Big

Creek saddle to mid-slope of what is locally known as the "Seven Sister

Chutes" or "Skook Chutes" on the southern aspect of Skookoleel (This area is

also in the vicinity and on the same aspect of what snowmobilers call

"Fiberglass Hill").

Upon encountering deep snows, the skiers reached what they deemed to be

their high point and decided to descend. At this point they were about 450

feet upslope from their starting point or approximately halfway up the

chutes... Before descending, the skiers conducted a snow stability

evaluation and based on the amount of new snowfall, decided to not ski the

chute centerline. Instead, the skiers decided to ski the trimline/ ridgeline

either side of the established avalanche track. The first skier descended on

the skier's left of the established avalanche track without incident and

waited at the bottom for the second skier to descend. As the second skier

descended the skier's right side of the chute, the slope released and caught

the second skier. The caught skier was carried 300 vertical feet (90

vertical meters) down slope to the toe of the avalanche debris and fully

buried under 5 feet (1.5 meters) of debris.

After establishing a last seen area, the second skier initiated a

transceiver search and located a signal immediately. The buried skier's

location was pinpointed within 3 minutes and recovery took an additional 2

to 3 minutes. Once located and uncovered, the buried skier was unconscious,

not breathing, bleeding from the nose, and cyanotic. The second skier began

rescue breathing and after a few rescue breaths, the buried skier began

breathing on his own.

Ultimately, the rescued skier was evacuated from the avalanche incident

site, spent the night in the local hospital, and is now recovering at home

with relatively minor injuries.

The avalanche occurred at 6000 feet (1796 meters) in elevation on a southern

exposure. The average slope angle was estimated to be 35 degrees. Dimensions

of the avalanche were approximately 150 feet (45 meters) flank to flank with

a crown height measuring approximately 2 to 3 feet (.60 to .90 meters). The

avalanche ran approximately 300 vertical feet (90 vertical meters). Bed

surface of the avalanche consisted of a melt-freeze crust that formed on or

around February 22nd. Debris from the avalanche measured approximately 12 to

15 feet in depth.

Information for this incident report was compiled by and written by: Ted

Steiner, Executive Director of Glacier Country Avalanche Center Incorporated

and is based on information received by parties directly involved with the

incident. If you have questions or comments regarding this incident, please

direct them to:


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03/15/2002 Friday

Skier plucked from avalanche

A skier near Big Mountain was buried in an avalanche Thursday but was

uncovered quickly.

Two skiers had been skiing out of bounds near Big Mountain when they

triggered an avalanche, burying one of the skiers, according to Big Mountain

communications director Dan Virkstis. He said the skiers were equipped with

avalanche rescue equipment and the one skier performed a quick rescue.

Big Mountain ski patrol went to the scene, and search and rescue and

ALERT helicopter were put on standby, but the skiers made it out safely on

their own, according to Virkstis.

The avalanche occurred in the Banana Chutes area near Flower Point, a

popular backcountry skiing area close to Big Mountain.

Big Mountain received nine inches of snow Wednesday and an additional

three inches at the summit Thursday.

The Glacier Country Avalanche Center is currently rating the avalanche

danger as high.

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