Avalanche hazard was rated as ‘considerable’ in the area, with a high likelihood of triggered and natural releases
By Summit Voice
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SUMMIT COUNTY — A pre-season excursion to the high Wasatch near Salt Lake City ended with the death of pro skier Jamie Pierre, 39, who triggered a slide on a day when the avalanche danger was rated as considerable. Pierre was carried several hundred feet through rocky terrain in the Gad Valley, between Snowbird and Alta.
A report from the Utah Avalanche Center indicates that Pierre was partial buried and likely died of trauma. According to the report, neither Pierre nor his partner carried any avalanche rescue gear. The report says that, while neither of them had and formal avalanche training, they apparently were familiar with the terrain, and by inference, the potential avalanche risks after big early season snows in the area.
Pierre and his partner triggered another large avalanche while climbing up Peruvian Gulch, but the avalanche center’s report says it’s “unclear” whether they knew that they had triggered that first slide.
An Oct. 5 storm dropped up to 18 inches of snow to start the season, and while most of that snow subsequently melted, some remained on northerly aspects, transforming into large, non-cohesive faceted grains.
After an early November storm, the first few avalanches were reported, including a small slab in Collons Gulch, an indication of how the snowpack was setting up. During the first few weeks of November, backcountry travelers reported numerous signs of a weak snowpack.
The Utah Avalanche Center issued a Nov. 13 advisory, rating the avalanche danger as considerable to high, meaning that both triggered and natural slides were likely.
“The fatal avalanche had the same snowpack structure as that of all the collapsing and other avalanche activity over the week of Nov 6 through Nov 11,” the avalanche center report concluded.
The center’s experts also faulted the behavior of other backcountry travelers who continued to ski and ride the area, triggering avalanches while rescuers were in the field recovering Pierre’s body.
Here’s the graph from the center’s report:
“The rescue teams from the ski areas and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue often put their necks out on the line to access and evacuate an injured party. It was reported that other parties at Alta continued to ski and knock down avalanches into Greeley Bowl while the rescue was in progress. Creating another incident during this situation is unacceptable.”