Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2005-02-20
Submitted By: Steve Reynaud; Tahoe Nordic S & R
Place: North Bowl of Mt. Anderson
State: CA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 3 skiers caught, 2 partially buried, 1 buried and killed


Accident Report -Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue

North Bowl Mt. Anderson-Behind Sugar Bowl Ski area, Truckee, CA

Backcountry Skiing

3 Skiers caught, 1 self rescued,1 rescued, 1 killed

Mt Anderson is located on the Pacific Crest about 3 miles south of Sugar Bowl ski area and north of Squaw Valley ski area.

There was a group of 11 backcountry skiers staying at the Benson Hut located on the shoulder of Mt. Anderson. They had been there the night before and awoke to do some nearby skiing. They had talked about the avalanche hazard and decided not to go over onto the lee side of the crest due to the wind loading that had taken place the night before and stayed on the shoulder of Mt Anderson and the slopes below the hut. Most were experienced backcountry skiers and had been in this area before, all had avalanche rescue equipment.

The group had divided up and 7 of the skiers went to ski some other terrain in the area. The North Bowl had already been skied that morning when 3 skiers, at around 11:30am, began traversing up and onto the slope with climbing skins. They were approximately 200' below the top and all on the slope when the slide was triggered. One skier was partially buried, one was completely buried with a hand sticking out of the snow and the other was completely buried. The partially buried skier dug himself out and went over to his friend, who just had a hand sticking out of the snow, and dug him out. There was another skier at the hut who heard what was going on and joined the search. They all searched for the buried skier and after 45 minutes recovered her body with a beacon search and probing.

During the search time a call was made via cell phone from the rescuers to 911 which connected them to Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol who helped aid in the rescue efforts. The skier in the group who came from the hut is an off duty doctor who pronounced death at the scene. The debris field was very large 400' wide by about 600' long. The debris from the soft slab avalanche was deep and unsupportive, skis were needed to traverse the area. The debris piles were set up in two different areas, one ran into a densely treed area and another ran down a relatively open gully that continued another 200'. The victim, once caught in the slide, was forced through about 50' of very tight trees and ended up against a tree buried about 4' deep. All the evidence at the scene pointed that death was caused by trauma.

The North Bowl of Mt. Anderson averages about 35 degrees and is around 1000' long. The avalanche had a crown line 1' to just under 3' deep and the bowl went completely. Sugar Bowl ski area had reported storm snow of 8-10'' of high density snow. The winds averaged 30+mph with gust up to 70mph from the southwest. The bowl was being top loaded and side loaded during the storm and is reflected in the crown line profile. They had several releases in the ski area that had crown lines of 3'. On the way out to Mt. Anderson, the search team noticed many natural avalanches and 1 skier triggered avalanche that was closer to the hut. There was no formal slope or snow profile performed. The Truckee Ranger station had a considerable rating for the avalanche forecast.

Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team, Sugar Bowl Ski Patrol, Placer County Sheriffs Department and CareFlight all took part in the search efforts.

Steve Reynaud

Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue