Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: CAIC
Place: Battle Mountain, Vail sidecountry
Summary: 1 snowboarder caught, buried, and killed
*** OFFICIAL REPORT FROM THE CAIC ***
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This accident involved two separate avalanches that joined in the track. The fracture in the eastern start zone above the burial site was 4m wide. The crown face was 0.6 m deep. The fracture in the western start zone was 8 m wide and the crown face was between 0.6 and 0.8 m deep. Although we cannot be certain, it appears the victim was on a downward traverse through the western start zone when both slopes released. He was caught in the eastern start zone and swept down hill into the trees. This was a relatively small avalanche that occurred in a small clearing in dense timber. The accident occurred during a period of significant avalanche activity that includes several other partial and one complete burial. The small avalanche swept the rider down into a stand of trees, leaving a portion of his snowboard exposed. All backcountry travelers should travel with a partner(s) and carry an avalanche transceiver, shovel, and probe pole. In this case a partner, even without avalanche rescue gear, most likely could have saved this young manís life.
The 2009/2010 winter was marked by heavy snowfall in October, a dry November, and periods of moderate snow in the latter half of December and January.
The snow that fell in October formed a thick layer of depth hoar at the base of the snowpack. Although significant snowfall occurred during December and January, the generally shallow snowpack and cold temperatures produced a weak structure of faceted snow. Snowfall in early January overloaded this weak structure and produced a widespread avalanche cycle in the Eagle and Summit County areas from January 1 through January 11th. During this time the avalanche danger in the CAICís Vail/Summit zone was considerable to high in near and above treeline areas and moderate below.
Events Leading to the Avalanche
We will never know the exact events that led to this avalanche. The victim was last seen on the morning of January 6th and the accident site was discovered on January 14th. It is likely that the victim exited the Vail Mountain ski area through a backcountry gate in the Blue Sky Basin area sometime on January 6th. He traversed approximately 0.8 km toward the Miller Cliffs area on Battle Mountain. He then dropped below the ridgeline to ride through a densely forested area that would eventually take him back into the boundary of the Vail Mountain ski area. During this descent he triggered the avalanche and was buried near a small stand of trees.
A snowboarder was caught, partially buried critical, and killed in a avalanche sometime between January 6 and January 14. The snowboarder was caught approx 8 m below the crownface and carried 30 m into a group of small pine trees.
On January 14, 2010, two skiers traveled into this area and saw a small portion of a snowboard sticking out of the snow. While they were attempting to retrieve the board, they realized it was attached to a body and that the rider was deceased. They reported their finding and the location of the body to the local authorities. The body was recovered later in the day. The victim was not carrying any avalanche rescue equipment (avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe pole).