Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Bob Comey; BTAC
Place: Teton County, Hourglass Couloir, a Permanently Closed Area
Summary: 2 skiers caught, carried, 1 skier buried and killed
The fouth avalanche fatality of the season in Teton County, Wyoming
occured yesterday 2/10/03 at about 1 PM. Two local alpine skiers
triggered a slide in a steep dangerous avalanche path known as Hourglass
Couloir. This couloir is located in a permanently closed area of the
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The starting zone of this path is at an
elevation of 10,090 feet and faces east-northeast. Six to 12 inches of
new snow was measured at the upper study plots of the resort on the
morning of this incident. Strong southwest to northwest winds
accompanied this snowfall. The skiers triggered a soft slab with an
estimated crown depth of two feet. Both were caught and swept the
entire lenght of the slide path. One was buried two feet deep the other
was not buried and ended up upon the debris of the slide without
significant injury. A skier in the resort saw the unburied victum on
the debris and responded with a transciever, located the buried victum
and dug him out. Patrol response and CRP folllowed to no avail.
Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center
Please visit: www.jhguide.com
Beacon fails in skier death
Friends say avalanche victim Steve Haas lived to ski.
By Bill Curran
Jackson Hole News&Guide
During the first five minutes skier Steve Haas was buried in the
avalanche that killed him Monday, his partner searched in vain with a
probe pole because his transceiver had broken.
The avalanche beacon of Tom Burlingame, Haas? partner, was destroyed in
the slide that swept the men down Hourglass Couloir and into Tensleep
Bowl at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, according to Burlingame?s
report to the Teton County Sheriff?s Office. Burlingame was joined about
five minutes into his search by a skier with a functional transceiver.
The third skier, Morgan Wion of Wilson, found Haas in seven minutes
using his beacon.
The two men spent the next 10 minutes digging Haas from under the three
to four feet of snow that covered him in Tensleep Bowl.
Burlingame, a Victor, Idaho, resident began CPR while Wion held Haas?
head, but it was too late.
Haas, 41, was dead from suffocation, having spent more than 20 minutes
under the snow, according to sheriff?s office reports.
Jackson Hole ski patrol took over CPR efforts and used a sled to
transport the victim to the resort medical clinic. An ambulance brought
him to St. John?s where he was pronounced dead.
Burlingame had little to say for this article about the event, offering
only one comment about his friend Haas. ?He was great guy and great
skier who made a mistake,? Burlingame said.
Haas and Burlingame triggered the avalanche in Hourglass Couloir, an
in-bounds but closed area at the Mountain Resort. Anna Olson, resort
spokeswoman, said a snow slab broke at about 12:45 p.m., sweeping the
men 600 vertical feet down the long, steep couloir and depositing them
in Tensleep Bowl, an open and frequently skied area below Hourglass.
The avalanche began after the Haas dropped into the couloir and while
the Burlingame was waiting and watching from above, Olson said. The
avalanched started above both skiers.
Burlingame rode the surface of the slide and survived with only minor
Hourglass Couloir is a ?very active and dangerous avalanche path,?
according to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center. The slide began at
about 10,100 feet above sea level on a wind-loaded north-east facing
slope with a pitch of about 40 degrees. The Mountain resort reported
that seven inches of new snow fell Sunday night.
Burlingame and Haas rode the Aerial Tram to the top of Rendezvous
Mountain and skied north of the tram dock along North Ridge to access
the closed Hourglass Couloir.
Haas was a member of Jackson Hole Air Force, a close-knit fraternity of
elite skiers known to challenge themselves with technical lines in
rough, cliff-riddled terrain.
Jackson Hole Ski patroller and friend Kirk Speckhals described Haas as
the ?ultimate ski bum? who lived for the slopes. ?He was the ski bums?
ski bum,? Speckhals said.
Haas enthusiasm was matched by boldness, knowledge and expertise. ?He
knew all the complexities of different areas [and] was a very good guide
in terms of finding the terrain and knowing how to get there and get
back,? Speckhals said. ?He had a very high level of confidence in
himself to ski a lot of steep couloirs and technical runs that a lot of
people would have shied away from.?
Friend Mike Back said he and other members of Haas? tight crew had
decided to only discuss their fallen friend amongst themselves.
Speckhals said Haas favorite ski run was ?Cowboys and Indians,? but
declined to reveal the location of the run.
Speckhals said he has known Haas for the approximately 15 years Haas has
lived in Jackson. The friends skied together for the last time a week
ago in Jensen Canyon, which is south of the resort. Speckhals said he
believes Haas moved to Jackson from New York.
Speckhals, who worked with Haas at Evans Construction, said his friend
had a strong work ethic. ?As a worker at Evans, he was willing to be the
first guy in,? Speckhals said. ?That?s what he did, he drove dump trucks
and he skied.?
Evans? Human Resources director Ben Graham said that Haas worked for the
company each summer from 1993-2001, often working 50 hours per week from
April until November. ?It worked out well that he liked to ski so much
because our business slows down in the winter so that we don?t need as
Graham remembered Haas as a hard worker who always had a smile on his
face. ?He was a good worker who was dependable, hard working and got
along well with the other employees,? Graham said. ?Everyone here had
nothing but good things to say about him.?
Ski photographer Wade McKoy, a longtime acquaintance, said it was
evident how much joy Haas derived from skiing. ?He always had a smile on
his face and you always saw him in the tram line or out on the hill. He
skied every day,? McKoy said. ?It was great to cross paths with him
because he had a really positive attitude about skiing.?
Speckhals added Haas passion for skiing was not tainted by ulterior
motives. ?He didn?t ski for the cameras; he didn?t ski to brag in the
McKoy photographed Haas several times over the years but not for the ski
magazines. ?He?d be passing by and he?d ask me for a shot so he could
send them to his mom,? McKoy said.
Jerry Blann, mountain resort president, offered condolences to Haas?
family in a prepared statement that also detailed the resort?s policy on
closed areas. ?We permanently close certain areas for obvious reasons
including reducing the risk to guests skiing or snowboarding below. Our
ski patrol conducted a dog and transceiver search of the debris to
ensure no other skier or snowboarder had been unwillingly caught,? Blann
said. ?Although we are always saddened to see loss of life at the resort
and our thoughts are with the family of the deceased, the actions of
these two skiers cannot be condoned in any way.?
The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center rated avalanche danger at upper
elevations Monday as ?considerable,? which means ?dangerous unstable
slabs exist on steep terrain on certain aspects? and ?human triggered
At the upper elevations, new soft slabs to two feet in depth exist on
steep avalanche prone slopes, according to the center. These slabs
easily could be human triggered and have the potential to pull out
deeper layers of recent snow in rocky areas and near cliff edges.
The avalanche report is available at www.jhavalanche.org or by calling
Monday?s death is the fourth avalanche fatality in Teton County this
season and the fifth in Wyoming.
Teton County Search and Rescue on Feb. 1 found the body of a 27-year-old
Jackson snowboarder in avalanche debris in a gully on Teton Pass. He was
buried in the last week of January beneath Avalanche Bowl.
On Jan. 25, a Michigan snowmobiler died on Togwotee Pass. The county?s
first fatality was Jan. 5, when a French snowboarder died of trauma on
the north side of Teton Pass.
-Michael Pearlman contributed to this story.