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Backcountry Skier Dies in Avalanche in Wasatch

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Backcountry Skier Dies in Avalanche in Wasatch

Postby Ed F » Wed Jan 27, 2010 11:26 pm

Looks like they were skiing the Meadow Chutes in Silver Fork. No good details yet on the actual avalanche. Very sad.

Skier dies in avalanche near Solitude

Update: UAC Second Hand Report

Accident & Rescue Summary:

Preliminary details of fatality in Meadow Chutes of Silver Fork from talking with the Solitude Ski Patrol

Meadow Chutes is a popular area for backcountry skiing, which are a series of east-facing, open slopes just west, and across Silver Fork drainage from Solitude Ski Area.

The party consisted of 3 skiers. One descended from the ridge while the other two stood on the ridge. About 5-10 turns down, the skiers on the ridge felt a collapse and they saw the avalanche start down below them and they saw the dust cloud descend into the bottom of the canyon and up the other side of the drainage.

They quickly descended and began a beacon search. The victim was buried about 6 feet deep. After about 5 minutes of digging, the ski patrol from the nearby Solitude Ski Area showed up, who were presumably notified by a 911 call. After about 20 minutes of digging, they recovered the victim. He did not have pulse or respiration and he appeared to have suffered quite a bit of trauma, presumably from hitting the many aspen trees on the slope. Many trees were also buried in the debris. Initial estimates of total burial time is around 40 minutes.

The avalanche broke near the top of the slope, 3-4 feet deep and 200 feet wide on a 35 degree, east-facing slope. It crossed over the creek at the bottom and ran partway up the opposite side of the canyon.

We will investigate this accident further and include more detail and photos as more information becomes available.
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Postby mountaingazelle » Thu Jan 28, 2010 1:20 am

They were able to rescue him but he later died from his injuries sustained from the avalanche. This is the second fatality in a few days. Another man died in Hells Canyon above Ogden last weekend. That area has high avalanche danger.
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Postby Ed F » Thu Jan 28, 2010 2:04 pm

mountaingazelle wrote:They were able to rescue him but he later died from his injuries sustained from the avalanche. This is the second fatality in a few days. Another man died in Hells Canyon above Ogden last weekend. That area has high avalanche danger.


Yeah, very sad. I thought I read that he never regained a pulse after they dug him out, but that could have been wrong. He was under the snow for 40 minutes.

The guy in Hells Cyn slipped the gates at Snowbasin and did not wear any avalanche gear and appeared to have no training at all, so his situation really offers no learning value to the touring community. This party seems to have at least been wearing beacons, so I'm very curious to get the full story on this one for learning purposes. It sounds like the slide basically tore out the entire first Meadow "chute," and ran up the other side of the canyon. That's a hell of a slide.
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Postby mountaingazelle » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:36 pm

You’re right. He died of trauma and never regained a pulse after they dug him out. The people in Hells Canyon were not wearing beacons and were not prepared for the conditions they were in. This isn’t the first time that accidents and fatalities have happened in that area.

Rescuers had to cut down some trees to retrieve the body of a backcountry skier who was swept more than 800 feet down a slope Wednesday by an avalanche, police said. The 51-year-old Utah man was buried for more than 15 minutes in four feet of snow Wednesday, but probably died of blunt-force trauma, said Unified Police Lt. Don Hutson. Ricardo Presnell was with a group of skiers outfitted with avalanche beacons and shovels.

He stepped first onto the slope and triggered an avalanche about 400 feet wide and between 800 and 1,000 feet long. Another skier found Presnell's location using a beacon signal but was able to dig out only one of the skier's boots before members of Wasatch BackCountry Rescue arrived to finish the job. He was pronounced dead about 3:15 p.m. Wednesday. Presnell was a geologist for Kennecott for more than 20 years; he most recently worked as a consultant. Kennecott sends their condolences to his family. Police say Presnell was married and lived in Cottonwood Heights.

The slide occurred on an east facing slope at a 35 degree angle, the Utah Avalanche Center reported. The center rated the avalanche danger considerable for Wednesday. Between 4 and 7 feet of new snow has recently fallen on top of a layer that was weak, said Craig Gordon, a forecaster for the center. Along with recent strong winds, said Gordon, "that's a perfect recipe for large, dangerous avalanches." "In the past week we've had a lot of close calls. There have been dozens of unintentionally-triggered avalanches, and now two fatalities," Gordon says. "So, people who even have a lot of backcountry experience -- years of experience in the mountains -- are getting tricked by these conditions."

It was the second avalanche death of the week in Utah's Wasatch Range and ninth for the season in the West, according to the U.S. Forest Service's National Avalanche Center in Ketchum, Idaho. The other Utah skier died Sunday in the backcountry outside Snowbasin ski area. The Utah Avalanche Center was urging people to stay out of the northern Utah Mountains, which have received more than seven feet of snow in the past 10 days. Officials rated Wednesday's avalanche potential "considerable," which means human-triggered slides are likely.

That rating, two steps below "extreme," is often misconstrued by skiers to mean the backcountry is relatively safe. It's also the rating under which most avalanche fatalities happen. The Utah Avalanche Center said many slides are breaking loose three to seven feet deep, taking out the entire season's snowpack and making it almost impossible for a skier to survive an avalanche. Wednesday's fatality occurred off Big Cottonwood Canyon, just east of Salt Lake City, on a popular backcountry slope called Meadow chutes in Silver Fork Canyon. Rescuers reached the victim from nearby Solitude Ski Resort.
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Postby Ed F » Thu Jan 28, 2010 5:16 pm

That rating, two steps below "extreme," is often misconstrued by skiers to mean the backcountry is relatively safe. It's also the rating under which most avalanche fatalities happen.


Truth.

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Postby TyeDyeTwins » Fri Jan 29, 2010 4:09 am

Here is a picture that I got today (from Willow Fork) of the avalanche in the Silver Fork Meadow Chutes that killed a backcountry skier.
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