Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: NWAC
Place: Mt Rainier National Park (just west of Crystal Mountain Ski Area Boundary)
Summary: 1 skier caught, buried and killed
Date: Saturday afternoon, 2/24/2007
Location: Mt Rainier National Park (just west of Crystal Mountain Ski Area Boundary)
Elevation: 6700 feet
Aspect: West, ~ 40 degree
Victim(s): 1 skier caught, buried and killed
Avalanche: SS-AS-R4-D3-O, slide traveled ~1500 ft vertical, ~4000 ft path length
Rescue: Victim recovered by transceiver search after approximately 25 minutes
Preliminary incident narrative: After taking multiple ski runs within the area, two long time local skiers decided to leave the Crystal Mountain ski area boundary at around 2:50 PM on Saturday afternoon, electing to ski down toward closed Highway 410 within Mt Rainier National Park. Although this section of Hwy 410 is normally closed during winter-time due to numerous avalanche problems, it provides a return to the open portion of the highway from those desiring to descend the at times difficult and dangerous terrain on the back side of the ski area. While it is unknown whether the victim had avalanche training, he did carry a beacon, probe and shovel as well as a spare beacon which he loaned to his partner. Unaware of either the avalanche forecast or the current danger levels, the party may have concluded that snow stability outside the ski area was similar to what they had experienced within area, and they did not consult with any of the ski patrol about the potential danger prior to leaving the area. However, an avalanche watch had been issued by the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC) the previous day for a substantial increase in the danger on Saturday, and a warning had been issued Saturday morning for high avalanche danger above 4000 feet and considerable below.
In any case, shortly after entering the top of the uncontrolled and west exposure, out of area slope, the victim triggered a three foot wind slab. The resultant slide, releasing on some faceted snow above an old crust formed about a week prior to the incident, caught and carried the skier about 1500 feet vertical, 4000 feet path length, sweeping him through or over numerous trees in the process. Upon witnessing the event, the victim?s partner used his cell phone to summon help. Within 15 minutes of the event, the Crystal Mountain ski patrol arrived on scene and discovered the victim?s tracks leading into the avalanche. The patrol quickly traveled down the avalanche path, searching for and locating the victim near the toe of the debris by beacon within 10 minutes. As rescuers reached the victim, they noticed that while a portion of his hip was visible, his head was extricated from under about a foot of snow. Despite resuscitation efforts, the victim did not respond and was transported by toboggan toward the highway below. The rescue team reached a snowcat sent up the closed road around dark (~7 PM). Though not confirmed, it appears that trauma was the probable cause of death.
A more thorough incident investigation is underway currently, and a more complete report will be posted at www.nwac.us when it becomes available.