Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2004-12-10
Submitted By: UAC
Place: Twin Lakes Pass in Big Cottonwood Canyon
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 skier caught, buried, and killed

Accident Report Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center

Friday, December 10, 2004

Avalanche Fatality near Twin Lakes Pass

Provisional report


Twin Lakes Pass area in the Alta/Brighton/Solitude backcountry. The slope was the first avalanche path up toward Patsy Marley on the east side of the pass.

Accident Summary:

A local 23 year old male triggered a 1-3? deep hard slab avalanche in which he was caught, carried, and buried. The victim was traversing a 35 degree northeast facing slope when it fractured 80? above him and 200? wide. His partner, waiting in a safe zone, immediately began the search, but upon recovery, found no signs of life.

Rescue Summary:

The victim?s partner was able to make a 911 call on his cell, which alerted the sheriff?s department and WBR. Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, in this case consisting of Solitude ski patrollers, was soon on the scene and able to efficiently extricate, package, and transport the victim to a landing zone near Twin Lakes. Life flight then transported the victim to a hospital in Salt Lake City.

Avalanche Data:

HS-ASr-R5D3-O. It was a large hard-slab avalanche, which broke up to 1-3? feet deep and 200 feet wide. The slab was composed of hard, dense new snow and wind-deposited snow and the weak layer was faceted snow and surface hoar that was deposited on the snow surface during November.

Weather History:

Northern Utah experienced a huge snow storm with very strong winds on December 8th and 9th with snow lingering into the morning of the 10th. This overloaded the buried weak layers and combined with a rapid temperature rise produced widespread avalanche activity in the proceeding days. An avalanche warning was in effect through the midnight on the 10th/11th with the danger rated as HIGH.



Avalanche claims skier in Big Cottonwood Canyon

By Lisa Rosetta

The Salt Lake Tribune

An avalanche in Big Cottonwood Canyon minutes before 5 p.m. Friday killed a backcountry skier, the first avalanche death in Utah this winter.

The victim and a friend were skiing in Grizzly Gulch in the Twin Lakes Pass area when the slide began, burying one man in 2 to 3 feet of snow, said Salt Lake County sheriff's Lt. Robert Sampson. Both skiers were wearing avalanche beacons; it took the other man about five minutes to find his friend. He dug him out and called 911 on his cell phone.

"[The victim] wasn't breathing on his own," Sampson said.

The victim's friend and Solitude ski patrollers administered CPR until a helicopter landed in the upper parking area of the Solitude ski resort at about 6:20 p.m. The victim, 23, of Salt Lake County, was taken to LDS Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:52 p.m.

It was unclear Friday evening what caused the avalanche, or how far the victim was carried by it, Sampson said.

Friday morning, the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center issued an avalanche warning for the northern Utah mountains and extreme southeast Idaho through midnight. Recent snow, strong winds and rapidly warming temperatures contributed to high avalanche danger, with avalanches occurring at unusually low elevations, according to the Forest Service's Web site.

"We've received a tremendous amount of snow and it's added a lot of weight to some very weak layers within the snowpack," said Craig Gordon, an avalanche forecaster for the Salt Lake City-based Avalanche Center. Add to the mix high winds, which create slabs, and "it's a great combination for increasing avalanches in the backcountry," he said.

"People without well-developed avalanche skills may want to think about skiing in the ski resorts," he said.

The fatal slide happened about two miles south of Solitude resort.

A resort employee confirmed the avalanche and directed the quick-response members of the ski patrol to the site. About 10 ski patrollers from Solitude used snowmobiles or skis to reach the site, said Marvin Sumner, director of the Solitude Ski Patrol.

About 10,000 avalanches occur each winter in Utah, and of these, people unintentionally trigger about 100. About 20 people get caught in the slides, on average, and four people die each year, according to the Avalanche Center's Web site.

Last year, three snowboarders were killed in a massive slide the day after Christmas in Provo Canyon. A fourth person, a snowshoer, was killed two months later in Daly Canyon near Park City.