Episode #16 of The SnowBrains Podcast
Mark Staples – Director of the Utah Avalanche Center
“27 Avalanche Deaths in Only 29-Days in the USA…
Why Did the US Just See Its Deadliest Avalanche Cycle of All-Time?”
This is another podcast that’s gonna a little different.
The USA just went through its deadliest avalanche cycle in history with 27 avalanche fatalities in only 29-days from January 30th, 2021 to February 27th, 2021.
This terrible streak of avalanche deaths is very much affecting our mountain communities.
My guest today is Mark Staples, the director of the Utah Avalanche Center who is here to talk us through what’s happening in the Utah snowpack right now and why we are seeing so many avalanche fatalities & multi-victim avalanches in such a short time period in the USA.
This podcast was recorded on February 22, 2021. Within an hour of recording this podcast, Mark had texted me an article about an avalanche fatality that occurred that very day in Wyoming. Since recording this podcast one other person passed away in an avalanche on February 27th, 2021 in Idaho.
The USA has now seen 33 avalanche fatalities this season. We are now only 3 avalanche deaths away from the worst avalanche season on record.
If the US continues seeing avalanche deaths at the current rate, the final total would be over 40 avalanche deaths this season.
In this episode, Mark Staples tells us the Mill Creek avalanche story where 4 people perished in a deadly avalanche in Utah in February 2021.
MILL CREEK AVALANCHE STORY
“There were two groups one came from Big Cottonwood, and one came from Little Creek. They had actually done three laps down, so they’d put a total of 14 tracks on the slope, that’s the slope that avalanched. So that gives you some sense of the nature of these avalanches.
They were on their way back up, and they were going to head out. Near the top of the slope. Meanwhile, Another group of three had approached from the bottom… So this group of three was down below, and this other group was a group of five, but one of them opted out…
Of that group at the top, that group of four, three of them are carried down and buried. The fourth person lunges for a tree, Grabs onto it, hits it so hard it knocks the wind out of him. He musta been on the uphill side. He somehow managed to hang on. Because this never happens. No one ever hangs on. He hangs on, is totally engulfed in the Avalanche, total blackness.
Meanwhile, the avalanche goes on, and catches and buries the three people below. So now you have six people buried in the avalanche when it comes to rest…
Steve and Chris head down to try to find everyone involved. The thing was, they didnt know there was another group below them. So they go down, they get their first beacon signal. They probe, they strike someone, they start digging, they uncover the first person, his name was Nate. As soon as they see who he is their first thought is “Who the heck are you?”
They don’t waste time. They get him out, they turn off his beacon… They start giving him instructions. “Get your shovel out, turn your beacon off, lets get to work” … Immediately they pick up Ethan, who was buried about two feet away from him. Chris and Steve, now with the help of Nate, who was unconscious just a few minutes ago, Dig out Ethan, unconscious but breathing… They get another signal, and this time, and this time its Chris’s partner and Long time girlfriend, Sara. They dig her out, but she’s unconscious and not breathing… Chris continues CPR on her while Nate and Steve go to look for the next person. They find the next person, start digging, and at that point, Chris joins them. Having to walk away from his partner, realizing that at this point CPR wasnt going to do any good, and there were other people still buried…
They dug out six people who were all buried anywhere from two to six feet deep”
- Mark Staples told The SnowBrains Podcast” on February 22, 2021
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The SnowBrains Podcast Episodes:
- Episode #1: Why Is The Colorado Backcountry the Deadliest in the USA?
- Episode #2: Are Ski Resorts Safe To Visit During COVID-19?
- Episode #3: Why Do Skiers Tear Their ACLs So Frequently?
- Episode #4: What’s The #1 Tool Available To Skiers & Riders in Avalanche Terrain?
- Episode #5: Renaming Squaw Valley, CA & Squaw Alpine’s 2020/21 COVID Strategy
- Episode #6: Alta Ski Area – Skiing First, COVID, Canyon Traffic, & Possible Mt. Baldy Tram
- Episode #7: Andrew McLean, The Big Mountain Scientist [Part 1]
- Episode #8: Andrew McLean, The Big Mountain Scientist [Part 2]
- Episode #9: Whistler Blackcomb – Climate Change, The Future of Summer Skiing, COVID
- Episode #10: Chris Davenport – Legendary Freeskier, Ski Mountaineer, Mountain Guide
- Episode #11: Cody Townsend – Star & Producer of The Fifty Project
- Episode #12 | Randall Osterhuber – Winter Survival Instructor, Search & Rescue Badass, Snow Scientist, Avalanche Forecaster, Mountain Guide
- Episode #13 | Adrian Ballinger – Climbing Mt. Everest & K2 Without Supplemental Oxygen
- Episode #14 | Bode Miller – The Winningest American Male Ski Racer of All-Time
- Episode #15 | Dr. Ethan Greene – Why Did The USA Just Have Its Deadliest Avalanche Cycle in History?
Episode #16 | Mark Staples | Director of the Utah Avalanche Center
“27 Avalanche Deaths in Only 29-Days in the USA… Why Did the US Just See Its Deadliest Avalanche Cycle of All-Time?”
Recorded on February 22, 2020, in Jackson Hole, WY (Miles Clark) and Salt Lake City, UT (Mark Staples).
This episode was edited by Robert Wilkinson.
Host, producer, and creator = Miles Clark.