**This article was updated at 5:20pm PST when the Sierra Avalanche Center updated their report with a report directly from a skier who was in the group of the skier caught in the avalanche, an avalanche accident analysis, and two photos of the avalanche from today.
A backcountry skier was carried 150-vertical-feet by an avalanche and partially buried on Elephants Back off Carson Pass (hwy 88) near Lake Tahoe, CA yesterday. He was able to dig himself out and was uninjured.
The Sierra Avalanche Center is reporting that the avalanche was 12″ deep, 30-feet wide, and 150-feet long. The avalanche occurred at
Here is the Sierra Avalanche Center report directly from the skier who was caught in the avalanche on Elephants Back yesterday:
“Party of three (one splitboarder two skiers) traveled to Elephants Back off Carson Pass [hwy 88] on Novemebr 11th. My first day on snow, within three days for others in the party. Arrived to the northeast face of Elephants Back in the late morning. Observed three tracks coming off directly below the steep cliff bands with no signs of avalanches. Objective was just skier’s right of the observed tracks. Approaching the top of the line, the person in front on the skintrack noticed a crack that he caused a few feet just below his skis. We noticed an increase in snow depth near the top of the line, due to wind loading.
The person in front transitioned and was getting ready to drop when the slab released and carried the person an estimated 150 feet until stopping where the slope flattened out. He was partially buried, and was able to get out of the debris and ski out. He was unharmed. Remaining members of the party skied down the avalanche bed with no further activity. Estimated crown height was 12 inches.
There were clear signs of danger that everyone in the party discussed afterwards. Most significant was likely the wind loading that was apparent directly where we intended to ski. Additionally we saw the three tracks with no signs of failure which gave us a false sense that the snowpack was stable. As we were prepping to drop, we acknowledged that we had triggered a crack in the snow, but did not decide to backtrack down the skintrack, or take an alternate route down. Safe to say a lot of this could be attributed to the early season excitement of actually having some snow to slide on in early November, and not wanting to abandon the turns.” – Witness to the the avalanche yesterday via the SAC
This is a very dangerous time of year in the backcountry as the snow is very shallow and rocks and stumps are lurking just below the surface. If you end up in an avalanche right now, it’s very likely you will hit rocks that could badly injure or kill you.
Sierra Avalanche Center’s Avalanche Observations:
“Apologies that I didn’t get a better photo. You’ll have to zoom in to see the slide – the crown is right below the cliff band, around the center of the photo. Also, I did not see the slide in action but arrived at the spot from which I took the photo and encountered the group that had just triggered it. It was a wind slab that slid on storm snow from the Sunday/Monday storm. The flat top of Elephant’s Back had been heavily scoured during (or after) the most recent storm, and the snow had been deposited below the cliff band. Several folks had followed what I’m told is a common skin track beneath that cliff band (clearly visible in the photo) and had put in tracks toward the center of the bowl. The triggering skier reported that he followed these tracks and went slightly skier’s right of the last track. Apparently, it ripped on one of his first couple turns. Luckily, the slide slowed on a small bump in the slope above a scree field (just off the picture to the left), where the skier wound up partially buried. Another reminder that early-season conditions don’t mean avalanche-free conditions. There were pockets of wind slab a few inches thick on lee and cross-loaded slopes throughout our tour, which took us up to the Round Top saddle and back. We experienced a some collapsing on flatter slopes and triggered a few wind slabs on test slopes, but didn’t see any other slides during our tour.” – Sierra Avalanche Center today
Please be careful out there, snow humans, and please follow avalanche terrain etiquette: one at a time, don’t ski above anyone, keep group sizes small, don’t ski alone.
There were 2 other skiers caught in avalanches in the USA yesterday and 15 skier triggered avalanche on Hatcher Pass, AK yesterday:
- Avalanche at Alta, Utah yesterday that took a skier for a 200-foot ride over sharp rocks and partially buried him. Very scary because that was exactly how Jamie Pierre died at next door Snowbird, UT in an early season snowpack on November 13th, 2011.
Lets all learn as much as we can from these three avalanches with skiers in them yesterday and use that information to make better decisions in the backcountry this winter.