Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: John Groom, Payette Avalanche Center
Place: Black Lee Drainage 7 miles NE of McCall
Summary: 4 skiers caught, 2 buried, 1 injured
Trying to ascend slope on lowest angle terrain 32 -35 degrees, 4 skiers in skin track criss crossing slope, while the 5th was farther below taking photos (not caught in slide). fracture broke out on steeper slope above 1st skier in line as he made a switchback in the skin trail. fracture broke on a 40 degree slope/ wind pillow approximately 30yards above and to left of first skier. 4 skiers were carried and deposited in a fan formation lower in the small bowl. Individuals carried between 30 and 50 yards. 2 individuals #3&4 almost completely buried, 1 had only an arm sticking out and one had one boot liner (on foot) sticking out of snow. avalanche ripped ski and boot shell off of foot. both individuals faces were burried approximately 6inches to a foot under the snow. Two remaining individuals #1&2 were carried and deposited almost on top of debri. Group had dug a pit lower on the same slope, N facing, received CT scores of 8 & 13 and an RB 5 with known poor back wall isolation. tests broke out on same layer as avalanche. decided to continue up slope trying to stay on lowest angle terrain.
Two individuals #1&2 carried by avalanche and deposited on top of debri quicly started yelling for their friends, looked and noticed arm of one buried individual and foot of other. quickly dug and uncovered faces of buried individuals. approximate time of face burial 30seconds to one minute. one buried individual reported air space between blocks of debri around his face while other buried individual reported trying to hold his breath. skier #1 dislocted shoulder either during swimming motion during slide or during digging action. no other injuries sustained. group regathered including skier #5 who was not caught, searched for lost gear, took some photo's and descended slope back to snowmobiles parked at bottom in main drainage. came back into town and called the avalanche center in evening.
SNOWPACK AND WEATHER:
Avalanche Hazard for steep north facing slopes in high alpine areas was rated as Considerable or very serious during time of accident. Weak layer was left over from weeks of high pressure during January and beginning of February.
Current Conditions during time of accident. clear skies, warming temperatures with up to 15 inches of new snow deposited previous night.
BY TOM GROTE
Four backcountry cross-country skiers narrowly avoided serious injury or death on Saturday when they were swept away by an avalanche northeast of McCall.
One minor injury was reported in the accident, which left two of the skiers with just a foot and an arm visible, said John Groom, a forecaster with the Payette Avalanche Center who interviewed the victims.
"They are very lucky; it could have turned out very differently," Groom said.
None of those involved in the incident wanted to be identified, but Groom said there were five people in the group, including three from McCall.
The skiers rode by snowmobile into Lake Fork Canyon about six miles from the end of the paved portion of Lick Creek Road, Groom said.
The party arrived at a location south of Beaverdam Peak where they decided they would spend the day skiing. But first they dug test pits in the snow to determine avalanche danger, a standard precaution.
The test pits showed there was a good chance of an avalanche being triggered by the skiers, but they decided to set out anyway and stay on shallow slopes, Groom said.
"It was a blue-sky day," he said. "There was two feet of powder that fell in the last day or two - it was the lure of the powder that took them into a place they should not have gone."
At about noon, three men and one woman in the party were skiing at about 7,600 feet while the fifth person, a man, took photos from below, Groom said.
The first skier heading uphill triggered the avalanche about 30 yards above them.
The slide, estimated at 50 feet wide and up to six feet deep, knocked the skiers off their feet and swept them downhill a couple hundred feet before halting, he said.
Two of the skiers were buried for up to a minute until the other two skiers could dig them out. Only an arm of one skier was visible, while only a hand of the other skier could be seen above the snowy rubble, Groom said.
People wearing skis tend to be dragged down by an avalanche, and one skier reported a ski and boot pulled from their leg, he said.
One of the skiers suffered a dislocated shoulder, but the party was able to move everyone to safety without the need to call rescuers, Groom said.
Three members of the party had undergone advanced avalanche training, and all the skiers carried locator beacons, shovels and poles to find buried victims.
However, the party would have only had time to successfully dig out one skier if they were buried under several feet of snow. Any other buried skier would have died from suffocation before they could be reached, Groom said.
The conditions that caught the ski party as well as a Lewiston snowmobiler near Brundage Mountain on March 1 are the result of a long dry spell that started in January.
The snow is especially unstable on north and northeast facing slopes at higher elevations, he said. Fresh snow falling on top of the weaker snow set up prime avalanche conditions.
The dangerous conditions likely will remain until the spring thaw, but Groom did not discourage snowmobilers and cross-county skiers from venturing into the mountains.
Conditions should be relatively safe as long as travelers avoid high-elevation slopes facing north and northeast, he said.