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 Post subject: Cowboy Mt avy discussion
PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 7:56 am 
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Alpine Slogger
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Location: Too far from a summit
I'm starting this thread to move any additional discussion on the recent avy accident and fatality. There are some lessons to be learned here, but I'm also going to ask that we REFRAIN FROM FLAMING those that were involved. Lets keep this civil, and try to learn from it. Remember, a 20 year old is no longer with us b/c of the accident!

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 8:02 am 
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Alpine Slogger
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Location: Too far from a summit
Ok, I'm moving the relevant links here for people:

Here is the blog thread that Craig found:
http://easyloungin.com/forum/topic.php?id=7392

And since some of our members can't handle sifting through it. I'll paste what I found and thought was useful, and clearly challenging, explanation of what took place:
From the blog's owner, who was witness to the accident, and who's friend died -

"Q13 pretty much nailed it. We were riding off the backside of Cowboy Mountain coming down the final 800 or so vertical feet of a zone known locally as Tunnel Creek. To get to the zone you have to climb to the top of the ridge above the 7th Heaven chairlift and since there is no snow control performed back there whatsoever, we dug a pit at the top of the ridge. We didn't observe any significant instability so we strapped in and dropped into the bowl on the backside. The snow was fantastic.. heavy spring powder up to your knees and a firm crust underneath which the snow had bonded well with. As we got down below the 4,000' level of elevation the snow got very soft and wet, turning into deep spring corn. The last 800 vertical feet or so to the logging road which takes you back to the highway follow underneath a powerline. There's an access road which zig-zags underneath the lines and we were ripping off the top of that, catching some air.

The first friend hit it and it was all good. Then the victim hit it and landed in the backseat. Like any of us would do he hammered a hard heelside turn to get his balance back and that's when the slide started. It was a shallow wet slide but it grew rapidly and pushed him down to the left side of the clearing and into the trees. We went into rescue mode immediately. Since he wasn't wearing a beacon we had no other choice than to slide down the avy path yelling and looking.

We found him within a minute, partially buried wrapped around a tree. We had his face unburied within the first 2 minutes and he was all blue and not breathing. We extracted him within another minute or so and had him on his back. At this point the 3rd group member was already calling 911 and was being redirected to Ski Patrol to discuss our location and options. After checking his vitals and finding no pulse I immediately began CPR (within the first 5 minutes of the accident). His airway was totally free of snow and obstructions but despite our efforts we couldn't bring him back. Not knowing what to do and talking to the 911 dispatchers, we just kept doing CPR, not willing to give up.

About 30 minutes in, the 3rd group member was sent out to the clearing to flag down the rescuers. Unfortunately they had incorrectly guessed our location and didn't arrive for almost 90 minutes. I was still doing CPR when they arrived, utterly exhausted but still clinging to some hope. After patrol examined him with a portable AED and administered CPR for 15 minutes or so they pronounced him dead. Other patrollers came behind with a toboggan to extract the victim. In doing so they triggered another small wet slide which propagated into the zone we were in and partially buried me and the two patrollers as well as sent my snowboard and one patroller's skis down the hill. One of the other members of our group was able to extract the patrollers and myself.

About 3 hours after the accident happened we finally got the toboggan in. As it was getting dark and it was apparent that it was going to be a long haul out with the toboggan, Patrol split up to escort us out to the highway. Since I had no snowboard, I had no option other than to ride the victim's board down and look for my own gear. By the time we reached the logging road below it was pitch black. A patroller waiting down on the logging road to guide everyone out said they'd found my gear and they were bringing it down for me. My other two friends and a patroller headed out to the highway while I waited. Finally, I swapped the victim's board for mine and left with the patroller who brought my gear out for the highway... carrying the victim's board with me. We reached the highway about 5 hours after the accident occurred and spent the next hour talking to the sheriff, forest service ranger, and head of Patrol. After they got statements regarding the accident and our contact information they let us go home.

The ride home was an emotional one and even though we didn't want to talk or even think about what happened, human nature forced us to. Turns out the victim was only 20... he'd never tasted a beer at a bar, had a steady girlfriend or graduated college. We didn't get home until after midnight and I doubt many of us slept more than a handful of hours. Since waking up this morning I've gotten several calls from the media I've turned down as well as comforting calls from friends and family. The victim was a member of the snowboard club at school, as were the rest of us involved with the tragic incident, so it's hitting a lot of people hard. Today is the first day of what should be my last quarter in school yet I can't motivate myself to get to campus much less class. It's going to be a hard spring around here... thanks for all the wishes and prayers, guys."

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"Where the clouds can go men can go; but they must be hardy men."
- Andreas Maurer


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 8:27 am 
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Alpine Slogger
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Location: Too far from a summit
My analysis:

They dug a pit before dropping in high on the mountain, and felt it was stable, however when they transitioned into wetter snow lower, a re-evaluation of the snow pack should have taken place, as well as heightened concern over terrain features/traps. Group was still charging hard, and lulled by the first of the group not setting off an avy, and probably the familiarness with the area. Right now when things go, the go big, and it seemed that a small surface slide, triggered a larger, deeper slide. Victim was not wearing a beacon, however it does not seem that would have changed the outcome as it appears to be trauma that caused the fatality.

Also I thought it was interesting that some of the rescuers were partially buried during the operation, again these operations put others at risk, not just you and your group.

Other thoughts?


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 8:43 am 
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Longshanks
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It seems to me that the most important lesson here is that snow conditions are variable. A pit dug at any given location will not be representative of all the terrain you encounter. Snow conditions need to be continually re-evaluated as aspect and elevation change. Obviously, this is hard to do when you're screaming downhill, having a blast.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 30, 2011 5:22 pm 
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Cap'n Wingspan
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Brian,
Thanks for posting the relevant sections. I think your analysis is pretty good, and highlights one of the unfortunate aspects of pit digging and snow analysis in general: the pit and analysis only tells you what's going on at that spot, and we really don't have any good ways (at least that I'm aware of, correct me if I'm wrong) of figuring out how generalizable those results are.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 31, 2011 6:50 am 
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experienced hiker of the climbing club
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Certainly matches up with conditions we saw down low on Saturday. In what I find to be fairly typical for a consolidating snow pack, the upper several inches are isothermal mush, with little bond to the snow below. Even on snowshoes, if the top layer starts sliding, it can be hard to stop and, on a snowboard making a hard turn, I expect that initial entrainment is even larger.


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