Skier Buried and Seriously Injured in Large Avalanche on Jones Pass, CO

AvyBrains | | AvalancheAvalanche
caic, colorado, avalanche, jones pass
Looking up at the crown of the avalanche. The red curve shows the approximate location of Skier 1’s descent. Credit: Dale Atkins

There was a close call in the Jones Pass, CO area yesterday reports the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) when a skier triggered a large persistent slab avalanche on an above-treeline southeast-facing slope. His partner was caught, carried, buried up to his neck, and seriously injured.

We are very grateful the outcome was not even worse, and our thoughts and best wishes go out to the victim. We wish the victim of this avalanche a full and speedy recovery. Our intent here is not to cast judgment, but to learn from this event, and help others from triggering a similar avalanche in the coming weeks. – CAIC

caic, colorado, avalanche, jones pass
Looking up at the avalanche. You can see the face of the crown along and just below the summit. Credit: Dale Atkins

The following report is from CAIC:

The images illustrate the kind of avalanche we are warning about in the forecasts. The terrain is steep, wind loaded, and rocky. This means there are lots of thinner spots in the snowpack where it is easier to trigger these thick stiff slabs.

caic, colorado, avalanche, jones pass
An avalanche on an above-treeline, southeast-facing slope that caught, partially buried and injured a skier north of Jones Pass on December 18, 2018.Credit: CAIC

The avalanche was either triggered remotely from the descending skier or possibly from the below by the waiting skier who was caught and carried. Either way, this is classic behavior for persistent slab avalanches. They are often triggered and fail in unpredictable ways. The skier who was caught and carried was waiting below the rock outcrop for his partner to descend. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see this was not a safe place to wait. We can all learn from these events. This is a unfortunate reminder for all of us to consider how we manage moving safely through avalanche terrain. Given the unpredictable nature of persistent slab avalanches, give yourself large buffers around avalanche terrain when selecting safer areas to watch or wait for your partners.

If you choose to enter steep wind-loaded slopes, you can decrease your chances of triggering an avalanche by choosing terrain that does not have lots of thin shallow spots. Slopes with lots of exposed rocks or obvious pockets of wind-drifted slabs separated by thin snowpack or dry ground are good slopes to avoid. Some terrain features don’t offer a good place to stop. This means riding the entire slope and moving to a safer area out of the runout zone.

caic, colorado, avalanche, jones pass
A Google Earth image of the accident site. The red polygon shows the approximate location of the avalanche. Credit: Dale Atkins

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