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Wolf Creek Avalanche Official Report 8 December 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing.
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The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has released its official report on the death of Scott Kay, ski patrol director at Wolf Creek. And the report is, essentially, “We still don’t know.”

I’ve copied it below because I don’t think it holds any copyright protections. If it does, however, please leave a comment and I’ll take it down. You can also view the full report on the CAIC’s website, here: http://avalanche.state.co.us/acc/accidents_co.php

Avalanche Details

  • Location: Wolf Creek Pass Ski Area, Glory Hole Point
  • State: Colorado
  • Date: 2010/11/22
  • Time: 7:30 AM (Estimated)
  • Summary Description: Ski patroller caught, buried and killed
  • Primary Activity: Ski Patroller
  • Location Setting: Ski Area – closed area

Number

  • Caught: 1
  • Partially Buried, Non-Critical: 0
  • Partially Buried, Critical: 0
  • Fully Buried: 1
  • Injured: 0
  • Killed: 1

Avalanche

  • Type: SS
  • Trigger: AU – Unknown artificial trigger
  • Trigger (subcode): —
  • Size – Relative to Path: R3
  • Size – Destructive Force: D2
  • Sliding Surface: O – Within Old Snow

Site

  • Slope Aspect: NE
  • Site Elevation: 11676 ft
  • Slope Angle: 45
  • Slope Characteristic: Planar Slope

Avalanche Comments

The avalanche debris ran into a terrain trap. This terrain feature is probably an old terminal moraine with a deep hollow just upslope.

Weather Summary

A strong storm had moved into the southern San Juan Mountains the day before this accident. The ski patrol had recorded 16″ of new snow since the morning of the 21st, with 1.85 inches of water. Strong southwest winds blew the day and night before the accident.

Snowpack Summary

The area of the avalanche had a variable snow depth ranging from boulders to some 2 to 3 feet of snow on the ground prior to the avalanche. The avalanche ran on a firm melt freeze ice crust which had formed on top of the October snows. The crown face ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet deep.

Events Leading to the Avalanche

On the morning of November 22 the ski patrol assembled to conduct avalanche hazard mitigation before opening to the public. This involved multiple groups on several portions of the ski area. The individual involved in this accident was in radio contact with ski patrol dispatch. There were no witnesses of the avalanche and therefore the exact details of the event are unknown.

Accident Summary

A ski patroller conducting avalanche hazard mitigation at the Wolf Creek Pass ski area was caught buried and killed. The accident occurred within the ski area boundary, but before the resort was open to the public.

Rescue Summary

There were no witnesses to this accident and therefore we do not know the exact time of the avalanche. Other ski patrollers reached the site about 50 minutes after the victim’s last radio communication. The victim was located using avalanche rescue beacons and pin pointed with a probe pole. Due to the depth of the burial and topography of the burial site, it took a half hour to expose the victims head after the initial search was complete. The debris piled into a deep hollow, which made it difficult to remove snow from the burial site. The victim was buried under 4 feet of snow. He was found with both skis on (telemark equipment), pole straps around his writs, and hat and goggles on. He was wearing an Avalung pack, but the mouth piece had not been deployed (zipped into shoulder strap).

Comments

The CAIC’s report on this accident covers the snow and avalanche issues. This accident involved a professional avalanche worker in a workplace environment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the USDA-Forest Service (USFS) are both conducting reviews of the accident, which is standard procedure for industrial accidents.

 

Avalanche Kills Wolf Creek Ski Patrol Director 23 November 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing.
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Wolf Creek, February 2010

At 7:45 this morning, while conducting avalanche mitigation work, Wolf Creek Ski Patrol Director Scott Kay was engulfed by a slide. He didn’t survive, and for the first time in more than 17 years, an in-bounds avalanche had claimed the life of a patroller. It was so unlikely, so astonishing, and so terribly terribly sad.

The mountain had already received 52″ for the year, and the 13″ Wolf Creek reported overnight was the largest total in the state according to Colorado Ski Country USA, the trade association representing all but Vail’s ski areas in Colorado. The wind had howled through the night, loading snow into slabs on top of an unstable snowpack, and this morning, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) upgraded its avalanche watch to a warning for the San Juans.

But patrollers at Wolf Creek deal with dangers like throughout—at Colorado’s snowiest resort, they have to. A team from CAIC will visit tomorrow to learn more about the cause of the slide, standard procedure in the event of a fatality, and Wolf Creek will reopen in Kay’s honor after closing for the day. For the time being, we’re left wondering how and why the slide occurred.

I write about this because I have skied Wolf Creek before, spending time on “Glory Hole” where the slide occurred but never really consider the mitigation work necessary to make ski areas safe for the millions of skiers who descend on the slopes each year. We complain so often about ropes and closed terrain, but an in-bounds avalanche as anything other than the result of control work is almost unheard of. Patrollers do all the heavy-lifting to provide an essentially effortless ski experience. Just ask the folks who do ski backcountry lines: they’ll spend thousands of dollars on gear and tens of hours in avalanche training classes to feel prepared for only the tamest slopes. There’s a lot to learn.

Certainly, skiing claims lives every year, but the tragedy strikes home when the victim is one of the sport’s own, reminding us that even the proper precautions sometimes fail to suffice. Every time I ski powder in the trees, I’m reminded of the two instructors who died last year in Colorado, in Steamboat and Wolf Creek I believe. They’d lost sight of friends in the forest—just a little ahead or behind as seems to happen all the time when skiing in the trees–and had fallen into tree wells. Both died before anyone could find them.

We can all imagine ourselves in such a scenario, and perhaps that explains the overwhelming support following tragedies like last year’s and today’s. So I’ll join with the hundreds of others in offering my condolences. It’s a sad day for the Colorado ski community, but tomorrow brings another day and another storm, the reasons we joined that community in the first place, and the reasons we’ll ski again.