It was an early start for Weston D. and I on Sunday morning. Leaving our house in Park City by 6:30am was a deal I had struck with Weston the night before (He’s not much of an early morning guy) but the promise of less people on the mountain and me driving was enough to coax him into it.
So, we were in the truck trying to stay on the snow covered dark and foggy roads when he recieved the days UAC Avalanche forecast. The UAC was calling for “Considerate” in terrain above 9500 on northwest through east facing slopes. Rising to “HIGH” by the afternoon.
“Make no doubt that conditions are ripe for someone to get caught in an avalanche.” –Brett Kobernik
Upon reading the forcaste, Weston and I re assessed our original plan of skiing Alta’s Gunsight. The realization that Gunsight was a North East facing aspect that is a natural terrain trap and in the elevation zone that Kobernik warned, we decided to ski the shorter, less steep more easterly facing slopes of the shoulder.
We went up with our friend Whitney Thompson and despite hitting a rock on the initial pitch, had a great run! Face shots and hoots all around. It seemed that the season might really be getting under way.
We decided to take another shorter lap just off the more Northerly facing aspect, but much lower down from the area we thought was in the danger zone.
As we were reaching the intended zone I made note of a little crack, but still decided to go in front of Weston to ski the next little shot over. No more than 10 feet ahead I felt and heard a huge settle and “Whoomph”. I stopped, and a guy on the ridge yelled that a pocket had just released. I looked down just in time to see the zone I had planned on skiing billowing down into the trees.
Yes, I just remotely triggered a soft slab avalanche. It went about 150+Ft. across and ran about 200ft. down into the trees bellow. The crown ranged anywhere from 3inches to 2ft deep. Not enough to bury you, but definitely enough to strain you through the trees and take you out for the season or more. The culprit: The buried October week layer over a shallow zone of rocks and shrubs.
For our group that was the mark of the days end. So around 11am we headed down on some nice mellow easterly facing runs. On our way down we talked to several groups who told tales of small pocket releases on similar aspects. As we were getting to our car we heard reports of a man getting evacted from Gunsight after it released and took him down with it. A partial bury and suspected broken femur was the result. Accident report: http://utahavalanchecenter.org/accident_gunsight_11132011
Feeling more lucky than smart we drove back down the canyon. As we passed Collins base area and then passing Snowbird we were in awe of the number of people hiking, skiing, and even jibbing at the bottom. We looked at each other, gave a high five for the early morning start and early finish and breathed a sigh of relief.
It wasn’t until cozy back in our home over a bowl of chilly that I started reading report after report that the UAC was giving over Twitter. One avalanche, Then a second, and third
….then the fourth….”One more avalanche incident @ Snowbird. This one does not sound good.”….
Hours later they would report that the 38 year old victim was ski legend Jamie Pierre. Our hearts, thoughts, and prayers are with his family and friends. He will always remain in our memories.
For more on the incident head to: