Report of January 28th avalanche from Central Oregon Avalanche Center
A group of four of us were skiing at Paulina Peak. After assessing the most recent snowfall on the snowpack, we skied four laps in the morning on the East aspects and experienced phenomenal powder skiing conditions. We did not experience any reactivity in the snowpack and the slough was moving quite slow.
After building some confidence riding mellower to gradually steeper terrain on the East aspect, we traversed into a North aspect. My ski partner ski cut across the slope and triggered a significant avalanche. Luckily, he got to a safe zone and didn’t get caught. There was approximately a 60cm crown X 30ft wide.
After him, I ski cut across the slope on the bed surface and triggered the remaining slab between me and the cliff wall above me. The remaining slab was approximately the size of a Limousine, maybe twice that size (30ft wide and about 60cm deep). I almost made it across the slope to a safe zone before I was taken out by the Limo size slab. My skis popped off and I slid down the bed surface at an alarming rate of speed. I was in a state of no control. I dislocated my shoulder as I was sliding with the slab, attempting to keep my head above the sliding debris. Instinctively, I went into a fetal like position and tried to protect my face head. I started backward somersaulting / sliding / rag-dolling for about 800-feet and fell over a 10+ feet cliff in the middle. I came to a stop about a 300ft distance between me and the trees below.
My skiing partner immediately pulled out his transceiver and skied the chalky firm terrain down the slope to discover the 10ft cliff (not completely vertical). My ski partner sidestepped down the cliff carefully and skied toward me in a timely fashion (Less than 10 minutes). I was not buried, just injured and really shaken up.
As we looked up the slope, it appeared that the first ski cut triggered subsequent avalanches across the remaining North facing aspects, approximately 200 feet wide in total.
There were some mistakes we made as a group I will admit:
- Confidence built through experience throughout the morning on a different aspect.
- Changing aspects from the original one we had assessed.
- 3/4 people in our party had radios for effective communication.
- 3/4 people had avalanche airbags to deploy. I did not have my airbag during the avalanche.
- Moving too fast in avalanche terrain that hadn’t been skied all season long and during a storm cycle. Limited information.
- Ski cutting the slope a 12-foot distance from the cliff band. It would have been less consequential if the slope was cut, hugging the cliff wall.
- Catering to the ability of the least experienced rider. Usually, this is a good thing, but in this case, it was not. We chose easy terrain for that rider. Said terrain was nearby to the steep expert terrain we chose to ski. Best of all persons in the group dynamic is of equal ability or similar experience in snow science.
Two of us are extremely lucky to have lived through this experience and I hope that everyone has an opportunity to read this and learn from our experience.
There have been many deaths at Paulina Peak over the years, both skiers/snowboarders and snowmobilers, and I do not recommend to anyone to ski out there as snowpack information is limited or completely non-existent.
If you do choose to, please learn the snowpack, terrain, weather conditions and group dynamics. Take an avalanche class, purchase the best shovel, probe and beacon the is available. Learn from a mentor that has a wealth of experience in the area you plan on skiing. Hire a guide if you are incompatible with the terrain and snow conditions.
Observation Date/Time: Tue, Jan 28, 2020 – 10:20 PM
Reporter(s): Rex Shepard
Location/Elevation: Newberry Crater Area / 7500′
Report Type: Avalanche Activity Caught, Buried, or Injured Person
Travel Mode: Ski or Snowboard
Sky Conditions: Scattered (3/8 – 4/8)
Precip Type/Intensity: Snow / S2 Moderate snow
New Snow: 60cm cm
Wind Direction/Speed: SW / Moderate: 17-25 mph