Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Scary Day at JHMR

Working in the rental shop today was pretty hectic. We were completely mobbed for most of the day. At noon I had an hour and a half ski break. It was fairly short and I wasn't planning on doing anything extreme, so bringing my avy gear didn't even cross my mind. I figured I'd just go out and take a few laps. Brandon, AJ, and Erik were already on the mountain, so I took the tram up to meet them on the Sublette chair. The snow was fairly tracked and a little choppy in places, so I took out my Motherships.

I was by myself skiing down from the Tram. Visibility was extremely poor at the top of the mountain and there was a pretty good wind crust making the snow hard to ski. I was noticing that the top two or three inches wanted to slide pretty easily. That didn't give me much confidence in the snowpack, especially with all the new loading.

After meeting up with the guys, they pointed out an avalanche that had released in one of the Alta chutes within the last couple lift rides up. Later I heard that a guy was buried up to his waist from it.

After a run and about 20 minutes later, we were at the base of Toilet Bowl next to the debris of a large inbounds avalanche. We must have reached it within a minute of it sliding. We were there before ski patrol. It was felt eerie. There were two guys in it, one was okay and climbing up the debris looking for his buddy, who was buried. He was wearing a transceiver. Without our avy gear, we were pretty much useless. It was hard to be right there unable to help...we would have just gotten in the way.

Within minutes, there were at least 8 or 10 ski patrol and some bystanders with equipment searching. An avy dog was on-site after about 5 minutes. The search was well coordinated and there was a lot of communication within the group. They knew what they were doing. I stuck around for about 10 minutes, but couldn't keep watching. I didn't want to see the outcome.

I was pretty shaken up after returning to work. Word of the avalanche spread fast and I had received a number of phone calls making sure I was okay.

While there was probably more terrain open than there should have been for the given conditions, but the area that slid was relatively low angle. I would never have guessed a slide that big...just goes to show that anything can happen. Thanks to all the ski patrollers who risk their own lives every day to keep the mountain safe. With everything that JHMR is going through at the moment, they are doing one heck of a job.

Tonight, I head the news that the victim did not survive. He was buried about 8 feet down and was wearing both a tranciever and a helmet. I learned today that you can never be too careful and if conditions are at all questionable, you should always have your beacon, shovel, and probe...even inbounds.

Be careful and stay safe out there.

Teton AT Blog Post (I had been skiing right along the trees at the bottom of that photo.)

Jackson Hole Daily Article

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