Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2007-02-18
Submitted By: Utah Avalanche Center
Place: Hells Canyon, backcountry near Snowbasin Resort
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 skier caught, buried, and killed

UAC Preliminary Accident Report

This information was relayed verbally to the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center from the Snowbasin ski patrol the night of the accident, so the information is incomplete and some of the information may not be correct. The Utah Avalanche Center staff will visit the site and compile a more complete report on 2-18-07

Date: 2-18-2007


Hell?s Canyon ? backcountry area north of Snowbasin

One Fatality

Victim: 17-year-old male

Events leading up to the accident:

A father and his two sons were skiing at Snowbasin resort. Earlier in the day, the ski patrol saw them heading out of bounds in the Porky area and talked to them to make sure they knew that they were on their own when out of bounds and they pointed out a recent avalanche and talked to them about the potentially dangerous conditions. A little later in the day, they headed out of bounds into the Hell?s Canyon area, north of Snowbasin. While descending, the sons got out ahead of the father and the father did not see the avalanche his sons triggered. He came upon the fresh avalanche and found his one of his sons, who was not caught. He also found his other son?s ski sticking out of the debris at the bottom, and his son was missing. Two other snowboarders near the bottom went out and reported the accident to the Snowbasin ski patrol around 3:00 pm.


Snowbasin ski patrol responded immediately. Since the victim was not wearing an avalanche rescue beacon, they searched the debris with avalanche rescue dogs. The dogs alerted on blood stains several times but did not seem to alert on the victim. The ski patrol formed a probe line and located the victim buried 5-6 feet deep in an upright, sitting position and was extricated around 5:30 pm. The victim appeared to have been killed by traumatic injuries. He was then hoisted by Life Flight to the base of Snowbasin.

Avalanche Information:

The avalanche occurred around 8,500? on a north-northeast facing slope about 35-45 degrees in steepness. The avalanche descended about 600 vertical feet and the debris pile was 10-12 feet deep and about 60 feet wide. The avalanche descended through gladed trees. Total snowpack depth was around a meter and a half deep (50 inches). The slab was most likely composed of new, dense snow from one storm last weekend and another on Thursday. The weak layer is assumed to be the extremely weak depth hoar that made up the entire snowpack before the recent storms.

The Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center called the avalanche danger CONSIDERABLE, meaning that human triggered avalanches are ?probable?, and they issued press releases on Friday as well as the morning of the accident, warning the public of especially tricky and dangerous avalanche conditions for the backcountry. It is believed that the father and sons did not consult the avalanche advisory or media reports. Since they were visiting from the Massachusetts, it is assumed that they knew little about avalanches. They entered the backcountry through a backcountry access gate, which displays the standard signage for potential avalanche danger and no ski patrol services.

Names are still withheld pending notification of next of kin.


Weekend deadly for snow fans

After four die in avalanches, forecasters warn those playing in the backcountry

By Jeremiah Stettler

The Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated: 02/19/2007 02:05:05 AM MST

When two snowshoers unleashed an avalanche early this month near Pfeifferhorn that swept them over a cliff edge and into the hospital, avalanche watchers warned that more trouble was sure to come.

And it did . . . more brutal than before and claiming the lives of three people in Utah and a Utahn snowmobiling in Idaho.

A cascade of avalanche-related deaths hit Utah on Saturday as snowmobilers and skiers traveled into the backcountry for a long Presidents Day weekend. Among them was a 16-year-old, whose snowmobile was caught in a 300-foot-wide slide that buried him and his machine. On Sunday, a 17-year-old skier also died in an avalanche.

Craig Gordon, a forecaster for the U.S. Forest Service's Utah Avalanche Center, warned that more avalanches could follow as snow settles into the mountains this week.

"We're not out of the woods yet," he said.

The trouble lies beneath the fresh powder expected in the mountains today.

Dry January conditions have created a weak, sugary foundation that could collapse if the snow on top becomes too heavy.

When it does - whether by snowstorm, wind or a backcountry sportsman - the top slab cracks like glass and slides down the mountainside.

That's what happened Saturday as Zachary Holmes, a Farr West teen, joined his cousins for a snowmobile outing about 14 miles southeast of Heber City in Wasatch County.

The group triggered a slide as wide as a football field that traveled about 200 vertical feet and piled debris up to 10 feet deep.

The Tower Mountain region was ripe for an avalanche. Snowstorms had dropped 18 to 30 inches of powder in the mountains since the previous weekend and northwesterly winds heaped the snow even higher, Gordon said.

The avalanche buried Holmes - who was wearing a beacon and a helmet - beneath 3 feet of snow with the snowmobile on top of him.

His companions dug him out and administered CPR, but the teen later died at University Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Another man died in Sevier County while climbing Signal Peak on a snowmobile. The 44-year-old Richfield man was caught in a slide that buried him in about 8 feet of snow.

According to search and rescue teams, the avalanche had tumbled about 150 vertical feet in an 80-foot swath.

The Sevier County Sheriff's Office had not released the man's name late Sunday. A police dispatcher said authorities had not yet notified the family.

An avalanche struck an Ogden snowmobiler, whose party of four was riding near Palisades Peak in southeastern Idaho. Nicholas Steinmann, 26, was buried beneath 8 feet of snow in a slide that partially buried two of his colleagues.

His fellow snowmobilers probed the area with tree branches. With the help of a search and rescue team, they found Steinmann and administered CPR, but Steinmann died.

And another avalanche in Weber County, this one in the backcountry of the Snowbasin ski resort, claimed the life of a 17-year-old Massachusetts boy who was skiing with his father and brother Sunday. Witnesses told police the boy triggered the avalanche around 2 p.m. His body was pulled from under 6 feet of snow about two hours later, said the Weber County Sheriff's Office.

Gordon hopes the weekend's tragedies will serve as a wake-up call for backcountry enthusiasts who may feel a little too safe in the mountain snow.

''Is it tricky out there? You bet it is,"" he wrote in a Sunday avalanche advisory. ""There are plenty of steep slopes you can ride without incident, giving you a false sense of snow stability [and] luring you deeper into the avalanche dragon's den.''

He urged snowshoers, skiers and snowmobilers to check avalanche advisories daily at and to watch for clues to instability - such as naturally caused avalanches.

The National Weather Service expects more snow today. The mountains could receive 6 to 10 inches by midday with larger accumulations of 8 to 12 inches in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.

While Gordon could not say for sure whether the snow would trigger a new batch of avalanches, he said people ''need to be on their toes.''