Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2005-01-01
Submitted By: Mike Jenkins
Place: Hells Canyon adjacent to the Snowbasin Resort
State: UT
Country: USA
Summary: 3 backcountry skiers caught, one seriously injured

Four skiers and one snowboarder triggered an avalanche in out-of-bounds, backcountry terrain in Hells Canyon adjacent to the Snowbasin Resort in Utah. Three of the men were caught and swept about 500 meters down slope and all were partially buried. The two other men were able to get off the slab and were not caught. The three buried victims did not have any beacons nor other rescue gear, but were able to extricate themselves. One man was seriously injured with a femur fracture, pelvis injuries, a broken arm and head injuries. The other two were not seriously injured. Immediately following the first avalanche two other skiers triggered a second, larger avalanche which funneled into the same drainage. The three original victims were able to move to the side of the gully below a terrain feature just as the large debris flow swept past them. The resulting deposit from the two avalanches was approximately 400 x 50 meters with maximum depths over 6 meters. The two men who triggered the second slide were not caught. The two survivors from the original party of five rejoined their friends below. One of them returned to the resort to get assistance and another called 911 on a cell phone. The Snow Safety Director at Snowbasin was informed of the incident and immediately organized an initial response. The survivors were quickly located and first aid was administered. A second column arrived with med gear and a ski patrol orthopedic surgeon. Life Flight was dispatched and the injured man was removed via helicopter hoist to an Ogden area hospital. The other survivors were escorted to ski patrol dispatch. There was concern that additional victims may be buried and a hasty search with beacons, Recco and probes was conducted. Three Snowbasin dog teams were brought to the scene by Life Flight and the debris was further searched. Additional patrollers also searched from the top of the slide down. Not finding any indication of additional victims the search was completed and all rescue resources returned to the base area.

The avalanche was a HS-AS-3-0. The crown depth averaged 30 cm and failed on a weak recrystallized layer resting on the hard surface of early season snow. The starting zone was NE facing at 2700 m approaching 40 degrees in steepness. During December many avalanches both N and AE were produced on this same weak layer/bed surface.

Snowbasin had received 18 inches of new snow during the previous two days accompanied by very strong winds from the southeast which favors cross loading in this starting zone. The Utah Avalanche Center rated the avalanche danger as considerable to high in the am advisory and had issued an avalanche warning for that day.

Mike Jenkins

Snowbasin Snow Safety Director