Skier Takes 400-Foot Ride in Avalanche in Lake Tahoe Today:

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Castle Peak, ca
Castle Peak, CA. Stock photo of north face on a deep snow year.

A skier rode an avalanche off Castle Peak on Donner Summit near Lake Tahoe, CA yesterday.

The avalanche took the skier for a 400-foot ride.  The avalanche was 60-feet wide.  The skier in the avalanche was hit by a secondary avalanche after being initially caught.

Screen shot 2014-12-16 at 11.00.09 PM
image: Sierra Avalanche Center

Sierra Avalanche Center Report:

Avalanche occurred during 3rd run of the morning on the lower half of the basin wall in Castle Peak’s north bowl. A combination of poor sight due to blowing snow, cloud cover and early morning light mixed with poor line choice resulted with a close to 400ft slide down a terrain trap. Having drifted further to the skiers right of the groups last couple of lines we found ourselves in a zone more exposed to easterly winds with greatly differing levels of snow. Knowing that we were in a less than ideal location I proceeded to check for slope stability by stomping on top of a convex roll over. The roll over instantly spidered sending shooting cracks directly across the choke of the terrain trap and began to slide. At first the slide was not big, nor was it moving very quickly. It did have enough force to instantly take my legs out from underneath me. Just as I thought the slide was slowing I was hit by a second wave of snow as the slope above the trigger point had also released and this now hit me, rapidly increasing my decent down the terrain trap. Fortunately, I was able to keep my feet underneath me the whole time as I was trying to “tread water”. This enabled me to ride smoothly over several large rocks in the slide path and when the slide began to slow I was able to stand up and ski away out of the path unharmed.

A couple of things to touch on:

The slope in question was not the steepest slope we skied that day. It was however exposed to the winds. This was unfortunately not recognized until too late. At the time I was also completely focused on the terrain bellow me and did not recognize the objective hazard above. Because of this I entered the slope right on the middle/choke and  triggered the slide with next to no effort.

Thankfully my two ski partners at the time were set up both above and below my position, so they were able to keep me in sight and would have been on scene almost instantly if I had have been buried. All of us in the group had kept up an ongoing discussion of snow conditions this morning and were actively looking out for each other.

I was wearing a pack with an avi-lung at the time of the incident. I did not, however, have the mouth piece exposed and ready to use. As the second wave of snow hit me I ditched my poles and tried to reach for the mouth piece. At the time i was not able to find the zipper and get the piece in my mouth. Like the trigger mechanisms for airbags, this technology is completely useless if you are not practiced and do not have the device out and ready to use.

This incident could have very easily been much worse. There is a lot of snow up high and terrain features are still largely uncovered. With moderate winds over the past few days and little time for new/old snow bonding there are many potential triggers out there right now. Early season stoke can easily blind decision making. Ski smart & travel smart.

Avalanche Details:

Avalanche Type: Dry Slab
Trigger type: Skier
Crown Height: 1 ft
Aspect:  North
Weak Layer: Storm Snow
Avalanche Width: 60ft.
Terrain: Near Treeline
Elevation: 8 400ft.
Bed Surface: Old Snow
Avalanche Length: 400ft.
Number of people caught: 1

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