Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Forecasters Warn of Avalanches That Could Kill After Two Buried
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Forecasters for the Sawtooth National Avalanche Center took this picture of the slab that broke loose mere feet from the ski area boundaries.
 
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

PHOTOS COURTESY USFS Sawtooth Avalanche Center

Sawtooth Avalanche forecasters are urging extreme caution in the backcountry after a skier and snowboarder were caught in an avalanche in the Warm Springs Creek drainage.

Avalanches big enough  to bury and kill people will remain likely while the weak layers of snow near the ground adjust to the weight of all the new snow that has fallen in January, forecaster Ethan Davis said Monday. It will take days or weeks for many slopes to stabilize, especially if storms continue to move through the area.

 
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The avalanche carried debris into the trees.
 

The two who triggered an avalanche on Sunday were riding in the sidecountry or out-of-bounds terrain on Bald Mountain. They were outside the ski area boundary in a chute known as Bruce’s Chute on Sunday, Jan. 20.

They triggered an avalanche 150 feet wide and one to feet deep. The slab slid off weak sugary snow that is characteristic of the snow pack throughout the Wood River Valley, Smoky, Boulder and Sawtooth mountains right now.

The avalanche, triggered at about 8,000 feet on a northwest-facing slope, came after three inches of snow fell overnight on Baldy. Saturday’s storm followed one on Thursday that dumped 8.5 inches on Bald Mountain.

The skier was fully buried and able to dig himself out of the debris in 25 minutes. The snowboarder was partially buried with his head and torso beneath the snow. But he was able to extricate himself, as well.

 
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The debris set up like concrete where it came to a stop.
 

Neither were hurt.

“This was an extremely close call,” said forecaster Ethan Davis, who visited the site Monday. “These individuals are fortunate they were not seriously injured or killed. The terrain in this area is heavily treed so most people caught in avalanches here sustain significant trauma. Picture riding a bike downhill at 30 miles per hour and jumping off into a forest—it usually doesn’t end well.”

Davis added that the fact that these slopes are so close to the controlled and patrolled terrain inside a ski area sometimes gives riders a false sense of security. The snowpack can be dangerous just a few feet outside ski area boundaries.

“Ski area personnel go to great lengths to mitigate avalanche hazard inside their boundaries, but they do not evaluate or reduce hazard on the slopes outside the ski area boundary,” forecasters noted. “Safely riding in backcountry avalanche terrain, including areas right outside ski area boundaries, require specialized education, equipment and experience.”

In many places the depth of the snowpack has more than doubled in the past two weeks. Baldy now has gotten five feet of snow for the season and the new snow was windblown on all aspects of the mountain Monday, although the skiing was sweet.

The cumulative loading of the past several days is stressing the snowpack to its breaking point and human-triggered avalanches have occurred every day for the past four days, Davis said on Monday.

Several slides were visible from Highway 75 near East Fork and north of town on Monday. And a few small slides could even be seen in off-piste areas on Baldy inside the ski area on Thursday following heavy snow in the early morning.

 The risk of avalanches was considerable at upper and middle elevations and moderate at lower elevations in the Wood River Valley, Boulder, Sawtooth, Smoky and Soldier Mountains. But avalanches can be triggered even from flat ground below steeper slopes, forecasters cautioned.

Visit www.sawtooth.avalanche.com for daily forecasts and updates on conditions.

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

The Sawtooth Avalanche forecaster Chris Lundy will discuss “Managing Uncertainty in the Backcountry” in a free presentation at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Ski Tek on 191 Sun Valley Road West in Ketchum.

The presentation, part of the Sawtooth National Avalanche Center’s new “Digging Deeper “ series, acknowledges that when it comes to deciding whether to go or not to ski, board or snowmobile on a given day, sometimes it’s what you don’t know that’s most important.

 

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