The avalanche debris ran into a terrain trap. This terrain feature is probably an old terminal moraine with a deep hollow just upslope.
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.
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.
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.
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 wrists, and hat and goggles on. He was wearing an Avalung pack, but the mouth piece had not been deployed (zipped into shoulder strap).
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.
Find more information from the accident report, including snow pit profile, detailed weather and additional images, at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s website.