Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2006-03-11
Submitted By: UAC; Lees & Kobernik
Place: Ogden Mtn., Taylor Canyon
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowboarder caught, buried, and presumed dead. Remains missing.

Taylor Canyon ? One Snowboarder caught, carried and killed.

Investigation by: Lees & Kobernik, special thanks to Doug Wewer and the Snowbasin Ski patrol for helping compile data.


Sub-drainage of Taylor Canyon near Mt Allen and Mt Ogden.

Accident Summary:

We still have not talked directly to the witness so we are missing some information on the accident. What we do know is that two people left the Snowbasin ski area Saturday, March 11th and headed into Taylor Canyon. Both of them were snowboarding and neither of them had avalanche rescue equipment. At around 3 pm one or both of them triggered an avalanche that caught one of them and buried him. It broke about 15? above them. The person that was not caught searched for about an hour starting in some trees just down the slope from the fracture line which was the last place he saw the victim. The witness continued down the avalanche path with no luck locating the victim then continued out the drainage into Ogden where he alerted authorities. A helicopter was dispatched to survey the area and avalanche workers were able to locate the avalanche along with a few others that had run as well. Time was too short late in the day to dispatch an initial response team so the search was called off until morning.

Rescue Summary:

Efforts were organized early Sunday morning but weather did not permit a snow safety team to do control work on slopes that had the potential to avalanche onto the area where the search party would be. Lees and Kobernik along with G.R. of the Snowbasin patrol attempted to travel to the fracture line. Unstable snow and very radical terrain kept them from doing this safely so the mission was aborted. Some clearing was taking place by late Sunday and avalanche control work was performed. Explosives did produce avalanching that covered the initial debris pile. The initial search party was dispatched but unable to locate the victim. The Weber County Sheriff had closed the Taylor Canyon access from Snowbasin until the search is done so that potential skiers above the rescue party don?t put them in danger. On Sunday the witness was questioned by the search teams and it was determined to conduct a search in the trees near the starting zone which was the last place the victim was seen. This was not done the night before because lack of time. Dogs immediately picked up the scent and the victim was found about 150? below the fracture line where he was hung up on a tree. It appears he was slammed into a tree and died of trauma.

Viewers from the helicopter put the fracture line at around 8,400? and it was confirmed later to be at 8,900?. It was 200 feet wide and around 2 feet deep but averaged less then a foot and ran around 1000 feet vertical. It was on a northwest facing slope 38 to 40 degrees in steepness. The debris ran into a narrow gully that was around 50 feet wide. The victim triggered a fresh wind slab that had formed the night before from southeast winds. A wind slab over light density snow was found in areas near the fracture line and we suspect that this was the culprit. The crown is now buried with some new snow but was still visible late Sunday. What was left of the crown was investigated by snow safety personal during the recovery on Monday.

A rain crust was formed earlier in the month with a few other storms that landed on top of it. On Thursday, March 9th, around 10? of light density snow fell. On Friday night, March 10th, southeast winds picked up and blew the new snow into sensitive drifts. The light density snow under these new drifts was the weak layer and once the slide got moving it took out snow down to the rain crust.


A copy of the Utah Avalanche Center?s daily advisory is regularly posted at the access gate to Taylor Canyon. That day it warned of fresh wind slabs and not to be surprised if you trigger an avalanche. It is not known at this time if the victims consulted the advisory. Many people consider backcountry terrain adjacent to ski resorts to be an extension of the ski resort with the same dangers as within the area boundary. Often, they ski in this terrain regularly and take for granted that the snowpack receives no avalanche control work and does not see the same amount of skier compaction as within the ski area. Since they are familiar with this terrain, it is difficult for them to pass it up when there is fresh snow to ski. However, this terrain has a backcountry snowpack where new weakness and persistent weakness can exist even though it is so close to the resort.

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Family and friends hold out hope for snowboarder

By Jason Bergreen and Michael N. Westley

The Salt Lake Tribune

OGDEN - Ryan Smedley's family said he was full of adventure, but he was not reckless. He had been snowboarding for about 20 years, and the canyon near Snowbasin where crews searched for his body Sunday was "his backyard."

The 34-year-old and a friend triggered an avalanche Saturday afternoon after snowboarding from the top of Snowbasin into Taylor's Canyon. The friend, John Pincombe, 32, escaped, but Smedley was buried.

By Sunday afternoon, search and rescue crews from Weber County referred to their efforts as a recovery, but Smedley's family held out hope.

"We're praying for a miracle," said his older brother, George Smedley. "We're obviously hoping he's OK."

Ryan Smedley, of South Ogden, and Pincombe, of Pleasant View, were part of a group still close even years after their days at Clearfield High School. The 30 or so pals called themselves BHC - the Basin Hardcore Crew.

Many of those friends drank coffee, smoked cigarettes and hugged one another Sunday at the search command center in a cul de sac at the foot of Taylor's Canyon. Someone brought a fire pit and a pile of wood. They vowed to keep vigil until their friend was brought off the mountain.

"We're all kind of just in shock," said Eddie Buckley.

Ryan Smedley and Pincombe climbed to the top of Snowbasin around 4 p.m. Saturday and launched off the west side of the mountain, triggering the avalanche in a chute, Weber County Sheriff Brad Slater said.

The slide was about 150 yards long, 30 to 40 yards wide and about 15 to 20 feet deep at the toe, according to the Sheriff's Office. It was in an area owned by the U.S. Forest Service - not the ski resort - and not maintained against avalanches.

When it gave way, the slide swept past Pincombe and swallowed Smedley, said Buckley, who spoke to a shaken Pincombe about 6 p.m. Saturday.

"He said it hit Ryan from behind and shot him down the hill," Buckley said.

The Utah Avalanche Center listed the avalanche danger for most of the state, including the Wasatch Front, as moderate last weekend, although forecaster Craig Gordon said that means a human-triggered slide is still possible.

"If you're heading into backcountry terrain, you need to always be prepared for self-rescue," he said. That means bring gear like an avalanche beacon and a shovel.

Neither man had a beacon. Pincombe searched for Smedley for about an hour before hiking to a house where he called for help.

Snow, clouds and 20 to 30 mph winds forced the Sheriff's Office to call off the search about 10 p.m. Saturday. Low clouds and snow hampered efforts Sunday, preventing a helicopter from shelling the mountain in order to trigger more avalanches and stabilize the area.

"We still have a treacherous avalanche potential environment," Slater said.

The Sheriff's Office took George Smedley and another brother up in helicopter to show them the area, so they could see for themselves why it was so hard for the searchers. When he returned, George Smedley said he understood. Snowbasin is 10,000 feet tall, and the search area was at about 8,200 feet elevation, above the cloud level.

Still, he said, the waiting was "really hard."

While they waited, friends described Ryan Smedley as an experienced snowboarder and a free spirit who traveled to Hawaii, Mexico and Florida to surf.

"Ryan is his own barrel of monkeys," said friend Dave Beson.

Intermittent snow flurries swirled around the group of friends, who took comfort in their ever-growing numbers. Don and Debbie Noseworthy, who watched the group gather outside their east-Ogden home, carried pot after pot of chicken noodle soup to the hungry crowd. With three children of their own, all of whom love to snowboard, they said, the couple felt for the friends and family of the missing man.

"They're just people that need help," said Don Noseworthy. "We're all interconnected in some way."

A break in the weather around 4 p.m. allowed avalanche control efforts to continue. Within the hour, as many as 20 searchers from the sheriff's office and the Snowbasin Ski Resort ski patrol were scouring the slide, said Weber County Sheriff's Capt. Klint Anderson. Many were dropped onto the slide by helicopter.

Ryan Smedley was not married and didn't have any children. He was the youngest of seven children who grew up in Syracuse, and six of his siblings were at the searchers' command center Sunday. His mother died when he was 3 and his father died of cancer four years ago.

The owner of Lucky 7 Construction, he employed many of his Clearfield High School friends and was in the process of building a home for his stepmother.

Buckley said he and half a dozen friends usually accompanied Smedley to snowboard Taylor's Canyon, and he almost went with Pincombe and Smedley on Saturday.

Although Smedley's family says he wasn't reckless, Buckley described a risk-taker.

"We've all seen avalanches, and several of us have survived them," he said, adding everyone knew it was dangerous. "Those guys know better, too, but [Smedley's] a gambler."

The way Ryan Smedley apparently died really didn't surprise some of his friends.

"This was very much his fashion," Buckley said. "If he was going to go out, he was going to go out with a bang."

Searchers were called off the mountain around 8:30 p.m. With the helicopters no longer available, the rescuers were forced to hike for about an hour to the command post where they were de-briefed and sent home around 10 p.m., Anderson said. The search was scheduled to resume this morning at 8 a.m.


Boarders caught in avalanche; one thought dead

By Lisa Rosetta

The Salt Lake Tribune

A 34-year-old Weber County man was presumed dead Saturday night after he disappeared in a large avalanche on the south side of Taylor's Canyon, near the Snowbasin ski resort.

The victim and his 32-year-old friend, also of Weber County, ascended to the top of Snowbasin around 3 p.m. and launched off Ogden Face, triggering an avalanche in a chute, said Weber County Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Malan.

The buried snowboarder's friend searched for him for about an hour before calling 911. The men did not have shovels or avalanche beacons, Malan said.

As LifeFlight and Department of Public Safety helicopters hovered above, a Weber County Search and Rescue team, along with Snowbasin Ski Patrol and three search dogs, scoured the area until poor weather forced them to halt their search about 8 p.m.

A cold, upper-level storm system that parked over the Wasatch mountains caused high winds and dumped heavy snow in the Snowbasin area.

"We kind of panicked," Malan said. "We wanted to get our people off [the mountain] before dark."

Avalanche danger was moderate Saturday, with damp to wet avalanches possible on steep, sun-exposed slopes, the Utah Avalanche Center reported.

Malan said the avalanche - which search and rescuers initially presumed to be relatively small - turned out to be fairly large, with snow between 10 and 15 feet deep at the toe of the slide.

"It's fairly extensive," Malan said. "They [search and rescue] didn't have much time to mess with it" before the search was called off.

Recovery efforts were to resume early this morning, weather permitting, Malan said.

The snowboarder is the second person to perish in a slide this season. A Salt Lake City snowshoer was swept away in an avalanche Dec. 31 in the Timpanogos Mountains. His body has not been recovered.

Last season, eight people were killed in the state, making it one of the deadliest avalanche seasons since records have been kept.