1 Backcountry Skier Rescued by Helicopter After Huge Fall in “Ripper Chute” Off Tioga Pass, CA

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Steve Romeo skiing the Ripper Chute in 2010. photo: tetonat.com
Steve Romeo skiing the Ripper Chute in 2010. photo: tetonat.com

According to the Mono County Sheriff’s Office and the CHP, 3 backcountry skiers have been recovered from the “Ripper Chute” area on the Dana Plateau just off Tioga Pass (hwy. 120) in Yosemite, CA on Sunday.

One of the skiers, a 24-year-old man, lost both of his skis and fell to the very top to the bottom of the Ripper Chute – a 2,000-vertical-foot fall.  He injured his hip in the fall and was unable to get out under his own power.  The other two skiers called for help.

CHP sent a helicopter, but the heli couldn’t land near the injured skier.

Two search and rescue personnel were brought in by helicopter.  They were able to put the injured skier in a basket and the helicopter whisked him away.  The injured skier went to Mammoth hospital for his injuries.

The other two skiers skied out of the area with the two search and rescue personnel under a the light of a full moon.

This is a great example of something to be ready for on your next backcountry adventure.  If some one breaks their leg, will you be able to get them out, keep them warm, feed them, attend their injuries?

 

FULL REPORT FROM SKIER IN INJURED SKIER’S GROUP:

“On 2/21/16 myself, a splitboarder, and an additional skier set out to skin up V Bowl in Lee Vining, assess conditions of the Dana Plateau, and then decide to ski a line up there, or drop into one of the V Bowl Chutes.

The three of us left the car parked at Lee Vining Creek around 10am on the 21st and topped out on the V Bowl Bench around 11:20am. The sky was clear, temperature quite warm, and there was very little wind. As we ate some food, we discussed the options which included simply heading to one of the V Bowl Chutes for a quick day, or continuing up to the Plateau via Coke Chute to look at Ripper Chute with the option to just ski Coke if conditions didn’t seem good. We all agreed there was plenty of daylight and that we all felt good about heading up to the Plateau.

We topped out on Coke Chute around 1pm, regrouped and headed to Ripper Chute. Snow in the chute was firm stiff wind board, though relatively smooth. A small cornice had formed across all but the skier’s right side of the chute making the entrance a little extra challenging. We all assessed the terrain and conditions and talked through our levels of comfort. All of us felt ok about dropping in, though it would be the most challenging line the victim had ever skied.

I down climbed into a small alcove (3’x4′) on the skier’s right side of the chute and stomped out a small platform to put my skis on. The snowboarder geared up and dropped in between the end of the cornice and my location and stopped just after the choke. I attempted to make room for the other skier but quickly realized that the position I was in was too precarious to wait. After telling the skier my plan for skiing through the choke and pulling out in a safe spot, I dropped in a made challenging hop turns on firm conditions.

As I dropped into the line the skier put on his skis (Dynafit Huascarans with Dynafit Radical ST bindings). He stepped into both leaving the toe lever in the down/ski position as recommended by Dynafit. Once I was in a safe spot on the skier’s left side of the couloir, he dropped in. As he landed his first hop turn his downhill ski released on him, followed almost immediately by his other ski. Though he made several attempts to self-arrest using the Whippet he had, he was moving too fast and conditions were too firm.

He slid directly toward me, landing on the tips of my skis as he went past. Though he managed to avoid hitting either wall of the couloir, he did tumble over a small pile of rocks before going out of sight to the bottom of the couloir. We shouted to him several times but got no response. We collected his gear (a pole above me 40′) and skis below us and headed down to find him where the couloir reaches the small basin and the slope angle mellows to 20º. He was in a lot of pain, complaining of his right hip which he felt was dislocated.

After performing a very basic assessment, I was able to call 911 and initiate a rescue shortly after 2pm. Given the potential severity of the injury, our location, and resources we had on ourselves, I inquired about helicopter support. I provided SAR with several pictures of the terrain and scene via text, and traded several text messages and phone calls over the following three hours. Shortly after 5pm the patient was hoisted into CHP H40, flown to the staging area on 120, transferred into an ambulance and taken to Mammoth Hospital. Luckily, the principal injury was a dislocated hip. He was discharged that night.

There are a number of learning experiences to take away from this, and as I process and talk to more people, things keep coming into my head about how it could have gone differently – better or worse. When I asked him what happened at the bottom, however, the first thing he said was that pre-released from his binding. When I asked if he had locked out his toe pieces, he indicated that he just stepped in and didn’t realize that it was a good thing to do in terrain and conditions like this.

I know that the Dynafit user base is divided into two camps on this point, and that the manufacturer recommends just stepping in to ensure that they will release. Certainly if you are skiing in avalanche terrain or in a scenario where you want your ski to come off in a fall, that is best. But in conditions and terrain like we were skiing that day, when avalanche hazard is minimal yet the risk of losing a ski could result in serious injury or death, locking them out is probably the lesser of two evils.

Regardless of your perspective or individual decision, my recommendation is that you understand how all of your gear works and practice with it before heading into the backcountry. In addition to the standard avy gear, carry a headlamp, space blanket, cell phone, and always keep in the back of your mind a rescue plan if sh*t goes wrong.” – skier in the group of the injured skier via Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra

Climbing the Ripper Chute in 2010. photo: tetonat.com
Climbing the Ripper Chute in 2010. photo: tetonat.com

RIPPER CHUTE STATS:

  • Steepness = 45º
  • Top = 11.500′
  • Bottom = 9,500′
  • Vertical = 2,000′
The chutes off the Dana Plateau including Ripper Chute. image: wolverine publishing
The chutes off the Dana Plateau including Ripper Chute. image: wolverine publishing

related post:

“What Rescue Gear Do You Take Into the Backcountry?”

Skiing out of the backcountry under a full moon with cool SAR people after playing with helicopters, skiing a cool chute, and knowing your buddy is ok sounds pretty good.
Skiing out of the backcountry under the light of a full moon with cool SAR people after playing with helicopters, skiing a cool chute, and knowing your buddy is ok sounds pretty good.

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