Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2003-01-29
Submitted By: JHMR
Place: Avalanche Bowl, Teton Pass
State: WY
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 solo snowboarder caught, buried, and killed


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published 1-5-03

Brother calls death

an avalanche warning

? County?s third slide victim is found by retriever.

By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Jackson Hole News&Guide

The brother of a 27-year-old snowboarder who died in an avalanche while

riding alone on Teton Pass last week said he hopes others learn a lesson

from the tragedy.

Peter Volf, the older brother of Pavel ?Paul? Volf said Monday that

calling his parents in the Czech Republic to relay the bad news was the

hardest thing he?s ever had to do. ?I just wish there was no brother

that would ever have to do that,? Peter Volf said.

He made his comments in a Jackson condominium, surrounded by three Czech

friends who are part of a community of young, sports-minded

outdoor-loving residents. Pavel, just into his third winter season,

found a heaven in that society. He so loved the activities and freedom

available in the American West, he never had time to watch television.

Search dog Soleil and handler Jason O?Neill, working under the

threatening slope named Avalanche Bowl, pinpointed Volf?s body Friday

afternoon under four feet of avalanche debris. Friends and searchers

still are uncertain when he left for his solo run on the south side of

Teton Pass. Pavel Volf?s roommate was not in town last week so Volf?s

absence was not immediately noticed. Friends said it was not uncommon to

be out of touch for a couple of days.

It was a regular Teton Pass skier who first noticed signs of trouble.

Keith Benefiel was enjoying the powder on KB ridge Feb. 29 when he saw a

track cutting off the crest and onto a steep face. It went only a few

yards before disappearing over the crown of an avalanche; the rest of

the slope below had slid away and lay in a jumbled pile of debris

running more than 200 yards down a gully below.

?I knew I was looking at the tracks of a dead man,? Benefiel said. The

former Search and Rescue volunteer two seasons ago found the tracks of

avalanche victim Johnny Beal who left the same ridge before being buried

alone in another gully below.

Last week, Benefiel could not determine whether there were tracks out of

the bottom of the slide. He skied down on the relatively safe crest of

the ridge, knowing that any descent to the gully to check out the debris

would be folly. He shouted down. There was no response.

At home in Wilson, Benefiel reported his observation to his former team.

For the next two nights, he had trouble sleeping.

Search and Rescue director Tim Ciocarlan said that absent a report of a

missing person, Benefiel?s clues were too meager to launch a search.

Protecting searchers in the gully, something that was ultimately

undertaken after Volf was reported missing, required a seven-hour

operation, use of a helicopter and 27 hand charges.

Peter Volf was the next person to sense trouble when his brother didn?t

show up for work on Thursday. He called friends, then found his

brother?s car at the bottom of the Pass. It had snow on it and had been

plowed in.

Immediately, Peter Volf and two friends geared up and headed for KB

Ridge, begining their search at about midnight Thursday. They were in

touch with a friend who notified authorities. The group followed the

ridge down until they were able to enter the gully off its south side

via a slope they felt was somewhat less threatening. They skied to

perhaps 200 yards of where Paul Volf was eventually found, hoping he

might be stranded with a broken leg.

When they heard an alarming mass settling of the snowpack, they

abandoned their sorrowful quest and retreated. Peter Volf said he never

would have gone into the danger zone had he not been looking for his own


Friday?s search began at 6 a.m. and involved a core of volunteers and

two dogs. Bombing took until early afternoon and produced several slides

that covered the previous debris. It was not until about 1 p.m. that a

couple of searchers and the dogs set foot on the slope.

Searchers first combed the area with avalanche transceiver but picked up

no signal. They hoped Volf had been wearing a beacon.

O?Neill, a Grand Targhee Ski and Summer Resort ski patroller, took

Soleil uphill to the starting zone. The snow was so wet and soft he had

to break trail for the four-year-old mutt retriever. Only a couple of

weeks after being certified by the Canada Avalanche Rescue Dog

Association, Soleil was a trooper, sniffing trees where debris was

piled, working the slope for about two hours.

O?Neill then took Soleil down the fall line and paused near the toe of

the debris.

?I was just taking a break,? he said. ?All of a sudden she got up and

started moving into the slope. She had that look. She had something, I

could tell.?

One hundred fifty feet feet from the burial site, Soleil lost the scent.

?She ended up at a spruce tree,? O?Neill said. ?She checked it out. The

wind changed, she turned left and 10 feet away she started digging.?

O?Neill double checked the indication by skiing on by to see if the pup

would follow him. Soleil remained focused on her spot.

?She kept digging hard,? O?Neill said. ?As soon as I probed, I knew what

it was.?

Volf was buried under about two feet from the slide he provoked. The

other two feet of snow slid into the gully from the search team?s

avalanche bombs.

The dogs reduced rescue workers? exposure to new slides, O?Neill said.

?It would have taken a 6- to 10-man probe line to work the gully,? he

said. Instead, two people and two dogs were exposed.

The county?s contract Hawkins and Powers helicopter recovered Volf using

a cargo net. Teton County Coroner Bob Campbell said Volf died of

suffocation. He is the the third avalanche victim in Teton County this

season and the second to be killed in a week. On Jan. 25 a Minnesota

snowmobiler died on Togwotee Pass. Also on Jan. 28 Chris Terrell was

swept 500 feet down Cody Peak by a slab avalanche but managed to survive

with some broken bones. The county?s first fatality was Jan 5 when a

French snowboarder died of trauma north of the Pass highway.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest Backcountry avalanche forecast rated

danger Friday, the search day, as ?high? at all elevations. The rating

was as low as ?moderate? earlier in the week at the elevation where Volf

was found. Moderate means areas of unstable snow exist and that

human-triggered avalanches are possible.

The daily forecast is available at 733-2664 and on the Internet at

Teton County accounts for 27 percent of the avalanche deaths in the U.S.

this season. Five people have been killed in the Equality State this

winter, accounting for 46 percent of the U.S. total.

O?Neill said Soleil got a treat that night at home in Driggs.

?She got a T-bone,? he said. ?I got the fillet but she got the strip and

the bone. She was a happy dog.?

02/01/2003 - TP - South East and Central Teton Pass (elev: N/A) - Lynne

Avalanche Bowl, JH Radio .com report


Avalanche Bowl, JH Radio .com report

Type: N/A

Class: N/A Aspect: N/A Slope: N/A

Crown Width: N/A m Crown Depth: N/A m

Path Length: N/A m

Slide Trigger: N/A

Anyone Caught: 1

Fatalities: 1

02/01/03 UPDATE The avalanche death toll has risen to 3 for the year in Teton County. The Teton County Sheriff's Office received a report of a missing snowboarder late Thursday night. Friends of 27 year-old Pavel Volf said he had not been seen since Monday. Teton County Search and Rescue teams were called out on Friday morning. Volf's car was located at the base of the Old Pass Road and appeared to have been there for at least a couple of days. A Wilson resident had reported seeing an avalanche on Avalanche bowl on Wednesday, so that's where the S&R team started their search. Because of the high avalanche danger, explosives were detonated in Avalanche Bowl before volunteers went in. Jason O'Neil's Wyoming Canine Search Dog Soleil picked up on Volf's scent at about 3:30 in the afternoon, and the body was located with probes. The victim was buried under about 4 feet of snow. The body was airlifted from the slope. Teton County Search and Rescue Director Tim Ciocarlan said Volf was prepared for back country travel with two crucial exceptions - he was boarding alone and he was not wearing a transceiver. Avalanche conditions have been "Considerable" to "Extreme" this week. The Bridger Teton National Forest Avalanche forecast is available on the web. Go to www.jacksonholeradio for a link, or call for updated conditions at 733-2664.

BTNF Forecast for February 01, 2003:

Elev AM PM

High Cons High

Mid Cons High

Low Cons High

Very warm temperatures, rain and strong southwest winds continue to create unstable conditions. Dense slabs up to several feet in depth exist in steep wind loaded starting zones and cliff areas. At the mid and upper elevations these DANGEROUS slabs could be triggered today. In the big peaks large destructive naturally triggered avalanches could entrain large volumes of snow and run full track to the valley floor. Wet slides which could step to the ground are possible at the mid and lower elevations especially if significant rain occurs. With new snow and rain in the forecast the hazard will increase as the day progresses. TRAVEL IN AVALANCHE TERRAIN IS NOT RECOMMENDED THIS AFTERNOON OR EVENING.

Conditions in Previous 24 Hours:

5am temp Max temp Wind Dir Ave Speed Max Gust Snow Prec. Dens. Tot.Snow

10,400' 28? F 30? F Southwesterly 33 MPH MPH 64 MPH MPH Raymer 1 " 0.15 " 15.00 % 75 in.