Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2005-01-12
Submitted By: NWAC
Place: Snoqualmie Pass?CLOSED Ski Area
State: WA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 skiers caught, 1 partially buried, 1 buried and killed

Date: 1-12-2005

Prepared by: Garth Ferber, Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center

Place: Snoqualmie Pass?Alpental Ski Area(CLOSED)

State: WA

Fatalities: 1

Summary: A pair of back country skiers toured on skins from the base

of the Alpental ski area up a run known as Lower International midday

on 12 January 2005. The ski area had not been in operation so far this

season and therefore conditions were similar to back country

conditions. The two apparently switched backed up the northeast facing

slope on which the avalanche occurred to about 4400 feet and stopped

where one of the skiers removed his skis in the early afternoon.

Apparently while stomping out a platform or short trail on the 40

degree slope immediately below some cliffs he triggered a generally 1

foot deep by about 220 foot wide soft slab avalanche.

Both of the men were caught; the one without his skis on ended up

partly buried and the other completely buried. The avalanche ran about

400 vertical feet. Apparently the avalanche was witnessed by 2 other

nearby skiers. One of these skiers went to the base of the ski area

for help. The partly buried man dug himself out and with the

assistance of the other nearby skier located the victim using

transceivers. The buried victim was apparently buried prone about 4

feet below the surface and dug out within about an estimated 10-15

minutes. Ski patrol assistance arrived at about the same time and CPR

measures were administered for about an hour. The victim was then

transported by helicopter to Seattle but never revived.

Weather conditions that likely contributed to the avalanche were

strong west winds and new relatively warm dense snow that day,

accumulating over colder lower density snow and buried hoar frost

layers, in turn over a firm layer of snow from December which provided

a bed surface for the avalanche. Skiers earlier that day noted signs

of instability such as triggered settling of the snowpack and

propagating cracks in the snow which was reported on a web site on the

the Internet.

This is a preliminary report subject to change.

MEDIA REPORT

Alpental avalanche kills one man, injures another

By JESSICA BLANCHARD

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

One man died and another was injured after being buried in a small

avalanche at Snoqualmie Pass yesterday.

The two men had apparently converted their alpine skis to Nordic skis

and climbed a steep, rugged section of the Alpental Ski Area that had

been closed for lack of snow, said Jon Pretty, Summit at Snoqualmie

spokesman.

They were resting shortly after noon near the avalanche-prone

International Cliffs when a roughly 100-foot section of snow sloughed

off, carrying them partway down the mountain, he said.

One of the skiers was only partially buried and was able to pull

himself out of the snow and start trying to find his companion, Pretty

said, but the other man was completely buried.

Two other men who had been skiing nearby came to help. One began

searching for the buried skier while the other traveled down to alert

Alpental Ski Patrol, Pretty said.

By the time rescuers arrived about a half-hour later, the two men had

managed to pull the skier from the snow, but he was unconscious.

Rescue crews' attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. He was

airlifted to Harborview Medical Center, where he died later that

afternoon. He was 28.

The King County Medical Examiner's Office has not released his name,

pending notification of relatives.

Though avalanches are not uncommon at Snoqualmie Pass, deaths from

them are rare.

In the past decade, only one other person has died in an avalanche

there -- a snowshoer who was buried while hiking near a creek across

from the Alpental area in December 2003, Pretty said.

The Alpental area contains some of the mountain's most challenging ski

runs, and even the most experienced skiers are warned to take

precautions such as carrying shovels and wearing avalanche beacons.

Both of the men were wearing beacons, which sped up efforts to rescue

them, Pretty said.

Although the men had ventured into a section of the mountain that was

closed to skiers, Summit at Snoqualmie staff have no plans to pursue

penalties against the skier who survived, Pretty said.

Until the Alpental Ski Area receives more snow, it will remain closed,

Pretty said.

A lack of snow caused late starts to ski seasons at several regional

resorts this year, and some that have opened are only offering limited

access to their slopes. But recent storms have helped build up snow

bases, and another storm was expected to deliver between 4 and 8

inches of snow on the west slopes of the Cascades by this morning,

according to the National Weather Service.

P-I reporter Jessica Blanchard can be reached at 206-448-8322 or

jessicablanchard@seattlepi.com