Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2007-01-05
Submitted By: BTNFAC
Place: Rock Springs Drainage, Teton Range
State: WY
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: Three out of area skiers caught and partially buried, one killed

Date of Accident 1-5-2007

Submitted by: BTNFAC

Place: Rock Springs Drainage, Teton Range

State: WY

Fatalities: 1

Summary: Three out of area skiers caught and partially buried, one killed

At about 12:30 PM on Friday January 5, 2007 three alpine skiers who had left the boundary of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort were caught in an avalanche. The three skiers traversed and climbed onto a steep slope between cliff bands in the Rock Springs drainage south of the resort. This slope overhangs the Green River traverse, the main traverse to the Green River drainage and other popular backcountry drainages to the south of the resort. These skiers intended to jump the cliff below them.

The three skiers were on the same slope above a large cliff when a surface slab about one foot deep released under their weight and swept all three over the cliff. Two of the skiers were buried to their necks and the other was just below the surface and was quickly and easily uncovered without the use of traditional avalanche rescue gear. The victim was breathing when first uncovered but soon stopped. CPR was immediately administered at the scene.

This slope faced northeast and is at an elevation of about 9,500 feet. This resort received 12 inches of new snow with strong winds on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. This snow and wind had combined to form soft surface slabs to 18 inches upon a well developed surface hoar.

At the time of this incident skies were cloudy with snow flurries and temperatures were in the single digits. The avalanche hazard was rated as moderate. On the previous day seven backcountry skiers in the southern Tetons were involved with small surface slabs in steep cliffy terrain. One of these skiers was buried and rescued by companions.



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Slide claims OB skier

By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Date: January 6, 2007

An avalanche killed a skier in Rock Springs Bowl in the backcountry south of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Friday, witnesses and officials reported.

Teton County coroner Bob Campbell identified the victim as Justin Kuntz of Vermont. Campbell said an autopsy scheduled to be performed today would help determine the cause of death. He said he believed Kuntz to be in his 20s and others said that Kuntz was believed to be employed at or near Teton Village.

The avalanche ran at approximately 12:30 p.m. when Kuntz and two other skiers were on a slope above a cliff known as Fat Bastard. The cliff rises just above a well-traveled ski traverse between Rock Springs and Green River bowls. Observers characterized the terrain as ?extreme.?

Thomas Gatehouse was snowboarding with friends nearby when he saw the tragedy unfold. The slide occurred on a day when avalanche forecasters labeled the danger as moderate, while cautioning that dangers persisted in some locations and that avalanches had caught seven skiers the day before.

Gatehouse said he saw three people, including Kuntz, traversing at the top of a chute in the cliff. One of the three appeared to be backing off while Kuntz hesitated before committing to a run. Negotiating the chute would require a jump, given Friday?s snow conditions.

?At least one had intentions to jump,? said Gatehouse, who started his video camera several times to capture footage of the skier. ?All of the sudden he just points it. There?s this big boom and a big avalanche comes over the traverse.?

Gatehouse said the second skier appeared to fall backward into the avalanche with his or her skis pointed in the air. The slide exploded in a cloud of powder and when it settled he could see at least one of the skiers in the aftermath.

Gatehouse and his friends started to head toward the scene, but were told as they approached that their assistance wasn?t needed. Rescuers reached the victim in short order and uncovered him from debris. Reports varied about the time taken to free the victim; by all accounts it was fewer than five minutes and perhaps as fast as one.

Mountain Resort spokeswoman Anna Olson said in a release that the slide swept all three skiers over the cliff, that the resort called the county?s search and rescue crew, and that resort ski patrollers rushed to the scene. They immediately began to treat Kuntz.

He was breathing when first uncovered, but stopped soon after. Rescuers summoned a life-flight helicopter from Idaho Falls, and were at least considering preparing a landing zone nearby.

But resuscitation efforts ultimately failed. One report said a doctor at the scene declared the victim deceased. Olson said the other two skiers were treated for minor injuries.

Resort President Jerry Blann offered condolences to the victim?s relatives. ?The staff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort join me in expressing our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the victim,? he said in a statement.

The skiers reached the slope by using resort lifts and then leaving the ski area for the backcountry through one of several open gates. The resort and the Bridger-Teton National Forest operate an open gate policy, but Olson cautioned that venturing into the backcountry brings risks that are not encountered in bounds. She urged backcountry travelers to check the daily forecast at or at 733-2664.

The victim is the seventh person to die in an avalanche this season in North America, and the fifth to be killed in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Four other deaths in the region all were snowmobilers.

Bridger-Teton National Forest avalanche forecaster Bob Comey at Teton Village said skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers need to pay keen attention to the daily forecast. ?I wouldn?t mind taking my kids down Rock Springs,? he said, because most of the terrain is not threatened by slides.

But the chute in question was steep, among cliffs and somewhat shaded, all of which made it suspect, he said. The snowpack in the Togwotee Pass and Greys River areas is shallower and more dangerous than that in the Tetons, especially for snowmobilers, he said.

Bridger-Teton National Forest Jackson District Ranger Nancy Hall also urged caution in a telephone interview.

?We?re hoping that the general public accessing remote backcountry areas after fresh snow ? like the last 24 hours we?ve experienced ? still use extreme caution even though our avalanche forecast may state moderate,? she said.

A rating of moderate means areas of unstable snow exist and that human triggered avalanches are possible. Friday?s forecast noted at least seven skiers caught in slides in the southern Tetons on Thursday. One was buried to his waist on Taylor Mountain, one was completely covered south of the resort and rescued by companions, three others were caught in that area and three more on a north aspect in Granite Canyon.

?Similar events are likely today,? the forecast said Friday morning.

?Michael Pearlman and Cory Hatch contributed to this story.