Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2006-12-21
Submitted By: CAIC; E. Greene
Place: Hanging Valley Wall, Rayburn Area
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 skier caught, buried, and killed.


Rayburn Area of Snowmass Ski Resort

December 21, 2006

1 skier caught, completely buried and killed

Events Leading up to the Avalanche

On December 21, 2006, two skiers were skiing in the Hanging Valley area of the Snowmass Ski Resort. The two reached the top of a ski run called Rayburn?s Chute. There was a closed sign at the entrance of the chute, so they moved to the left over a cliffy area. This steep rocky area was covered with snow. About 15 vertical meters below them there was rock feature capped with the rootball of an old tree. They decided to ski down a narrow subridge and jump off of the rocks next to the rootball.

The first skier descended the line and skied off of the rootball jump with very little speed. He landed and penetrated into the snow with his skis. He then skied off of the lower slope to the skier's left, toward a ski run called Lower Ladder. The second skier skied down the same line and carried more speed off of the rootball jump. He landed approximately 2.5 meters lower on the slope than the first skier. His skis penetrated into the slope as well. He turned to the left to join his friend. As he skied to the left of the slope, an avalanche released. He tried to ski out of the slide, but was caught by the debris and washed through a stand of trees.


The first skier yelled for his friend and began searching the debris pile. Neither were carrying avalanche safety equipment. After about 5 minutes of searching, four bystanders joined him and began searching. The group probed and dug with their skis and snowboards. Approximately 20 minutes after the avalanche released, the ski patrol arrived on the scene with rescue equipment. At about the same time a fifth bystander also joined in the search. The fifth bystander was lower on the slope than the rest of the party. He walked onto the debris pile and began probing with his ski pole. Within just a few probes, he struck the helmet of the buried skier. The ski patrol and the group of skiers and snowboarders dug out the buried skier. They used first-aid and advanced life support to attempt to revive him, but were unsuccessful.

Avalanche Details

The avalanche was not very large, but a medium sided slide compared to what the slope could produce. It was triggered by a skier and broke into old snow layers. The specifics of the avalanche and slope are:

Classification: SS-AS-R3D2-O

Average crown face depth: 105 cm

Average width of fracture line: 25 m

Average distance traveled down the slope: 40 m

Aspect: 30-50?

Average slope angle in the starting zone: 36?

Elevation of start zone: 11,750 feet ASL

Snowpack Details

The snowpack at the crown face was between 1 m and 1.3 m deep (Figure 1). The weak layer was a thin layer of well developed depth hoar crystals at the top of a think layer of basal facets. The hardness and grain size changed dramatically at this interface. At the time of the profile (~26 hours after the accident), stability test results were in the Hard category with a high shear quality (CTH22 and 24 Q1).


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SNOWMASS - A 25-year-old man was killed in an avalanche in the Aspen valley on Thursday.

Authorities with the Snowmass Ski Area say the man was in extreme terrain that was closed and had not opened for the season yet. It is an area called Hanging Valley Wall.

The avalanche happened around 1 p.m. and search crews found 25-year-old Nicholas Blake Davidson of New Castle at around 1:30 p.m. They attempted to revive him but he was pronounced dead at 2 p.m.

The Pitkin County Coroner is investigating the incident.