Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center
Place: Mt. Tom; Elderberry Canyon
Summary: 5 skiers caught in 2 seperate avalanches, 1 injured, 2 buried and killed
****INITIAL PRESS RELEASE****
Official Report will be posted when available.
Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center
Robert ?SP? Parker
March 29, 2005
Mt. Tom avalanche kills 2 skiers and injures one other
On Saturday, March 26th, 2005 the Eastern Sierra saw its first two avalanche fatalities in
almost 10 years. This is a tragic accident that is deeply affecting members of the local
community. While it is extremely important that we get information out to the public quickly
and effectively, it needs to be done with care to assure that all the details are accurately
reported. We appreciate your help in this matter.
Mt. Tom (13,652?) sits as one of the landmark peaks of the Eastern Sierra, just west of
Bishop, Ca. One of its most popular ski descents is Elderberry Canyon, a long glacially carved
canyon that swoops from the North Ridge of Mt. Tom near 12,000 ft. to the mouth of the
canyon at 5,400 ft. near the Pine Creek road outside Rovana.
From March 19th to March 25th, the eastern Sierra received 5-8 inches of water with snowfall
amounts of 66 inches recorded at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (Please see
patrol.mammothmountain.com Wind loading associated with these storms created
extremely unstable snowpack conditions with many skier triggered slides reported from both
the backcountry and the ski area.
A group of 7 skiers, comprised of Eastside locals and visitors, climbed Elderberry Canyon on
Mt. Tom on Saturday, March 26th. The group planned on skinning the canyon to the
North Ridge, where they would ski back down the way they came up. By 1:30pm they had
reached the ridgeline (right around 12,000?) at the top of the canyon and were beginning their
descent. The first two skiers safely skied a broad east facing bowl-like portion of the canyon,
just below the ridge. The remaining portion of the party waited in a safe zone above as the
3rd and 4th skiers entered the slope. Just after doing so, the entire slope released on them in a
soft-slab avalanche. Crown sizes varied from approximately 2 to 4 ft. In addition, one of the
flanks ran from the top of the bowl down the south ridge approximately 700 to 1,000 ft. Both
skiers were caught and carried down the slope with the large amount of debris about 1,500?
before being buried on a large bench-like moraine.
After seeing the slide, the remaining 3 skiers above quickly hurried down to begin the rescue.
Upon doing so, they caused a second avalanche, slightly higher and to the north of the first
slide. This slide caught all 3 skiers. One was able to escape, one rode the slide, staying on
top for roughly 1,000? and a third escaped after a short distance after breaking her fibula.
Once the 4 uninjured skiers reached the deposition zone, a beacon search began. The first
victim was recovered within 20 minutes. The second victim was buried under 3.5 meters of
debris and took about an hour to reach. CPR was attempted. One victim is a middle-aged
male from Bishop, Ca, the other a middle-aged female visiting from Montana. Names are not
being released at this time.
No crown profile or formal avalanche observations were made at the time of recovery. A
large number of natural releases had occurred on all aspects over a wide range of elevations
in Elderberry Canyon. It is also important to note the amount of snowfall over the past few
days, as well as the strong ridge-top winds which had transported a large amount of snow
into the canyon.
As more information becomes available, we will release it. For more information on this
accident, please contact Nate Greenberg at the info above.