1 Killed and 5 Buried in Avalanche in Closed Backcountry Area of Crystal Mountain, WA

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Silver Basin, Crystal Mountain, WA. Credit SnowBrains

A 66-year-old man was killed and five others buried after an avalanche struck their party just outside Crystal Mountain Resort, WA. A foot of snow had fallen on the area in the previous 24-hours, and wind gusts were as high as 100-mph.

On Saturday morning, December 11, a party of six backcountry tourers were traveling uphill in a closed section of the Crystal Mountain Ski Area known as Silver Basin. The party triggered a large avalanche on an N to E facing slope at approximately 6500 ft. While all members of the party were initially caught, four were partially or fully buried. A nearby party of two witnessed the event and immediately assisted in the rescue. Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol was also notified and responded to the scene. Unfortunately, one of the fully buried victims did not survive. NWAC and Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol will provide additional information as it becomes available. Our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and community.

– Preliminary Report from the Northwest Avalanche Center

The six skiers were traveling uphill when they triggered the slide in the Silver Basin backcountry area of the mountain just before 11 am. The resort says the area was closed due to the forecasted storm, and no avalanche mitigation had been performed.

All skiers were wearing beacons, and witnesses say five of the skiers were successfully pulled from the snow. It’s unknown if any of the survivors were injured. The sixth person was found unresponsive, and resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful.

“At the time of the original call, two of the members of the party were still trying to find the other four members of their party. And over the next few minutes they were able to locate everybody. Unfortunately the sixth individual was encountered with a pulse but not breathing, and was unable to be revived.”

– Frank Deberry, president and chief executive officer at Crystal Mountain Resort

All six of the group were experienced backcountry skiers and had been warned of skiing in the area just inside the boundaries of the Crystal Mountain Resort. The area is adjacent to the public land of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie-National Forest, so there is nothing to prevent skiers from going there. According to Frank Deberry, president and chief executive officer of the resort, all six held an uphill travel pass for the ski resort. The pass is given out by ski patrol and is only available to people who participated in an orientation on how and where to access the backcountry adjacent to the resort and know how to check the conditions before leaving the ski boundary.

“Skiers are free to move anywhere in the national forest. They were out in the woods, but have returned to the (resort’s) boundaries where this slide occurred.”

– Frank DeBerry

As the incident happened outside the ski boundary, operations at the resort continued as usual. The Mount Rainier gondola was closed due to high winds, only beginner and intermediate lifts at the resort remained open, and only the lower mountain was lift serviced.

avalanche forecast,
Saturday’s forecast. Credit: NWAC

There was a “considerable” avalanche risk for the Olympics, Snoqualmie Pass, and the west and south slopes of the Cascades Saturday, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) forecast. There was a “high” avalanche risk for the northern slopes of the Cascades.

The fatality is the first avalanche-related death in the USA this winter and the second in North America.

silver basin, crystal mountain, avalanche, washington
The Silver Basin area just outside the Crystal Mountain Resort, WA, boundary.

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3 thoughts on “1 Killed and 5 Buried in Avalanche in Closed Backcountry Area of Crystal Mountain, WA

  1. The area was not closed (despite Crystal’s statement that included that word). It is public land and the skiers complied with Crystal’s uphill travel policy. Whether they were wise is something I don’t know enough to address, but they broke no law.

    This article sheds some light on the status of that area:


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