Outdoors

Piles of new snow a joyous danger to skiing powder hounds

A rare stellar snow crystal retains its fragile form after landing atop a mountain pass in the Lolo National Forest in Montana. (Photo Archive / The Spokesman-Review)
A rare stellar snow crystal retains its fragile form after landing atop a mountain pass in the Lolo National Forest in Montana. (Photo Archive / The Spokesman-Review)

WINTER SPORTS — Following the big storms is a thrill for skiers and boarders, but noting yesterday's close call with an avalanche at Crystal Mountain, please enjoy the powder of today's incoming storm with a measure of caution.

This near-tragedy follows the burial of skiers at Schweitzer Mountain Resort earlier this month.

Today's Associated Press report has details:

Young woman buried

in WA avalanche rescued unhurt

CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN, Wash. (AP) — A young woman buried by an avalanche for at least 10 minutes Tuesday at Washington’s Crystal Mountain ski resort was rescued unharmed, the head of the resort’s ski patrol said.

She was part of a party of three skiing in a steep area of expert terrain when the trio triggered a small avalanche, said Paul Baugher, ski patrol director. Two young men were partially buried but able to dig themselves out.

They or nearby skiers immediately called the Crystal Ski Patrol emergency number and a ski patrol member reached the spot within five minutes, Baugher said. Ski patrol personnel and other skiers equipped with collapsible metal probes searched the area and found the buried woman.

“They were able to get this gal out in 10-15 minutes,” Baugher said Tuesday night, adding she was checked out by a doctor and was fine. He didn’t have additional details about the skier.

The buried skier was not equipped with an avalanche locator beacon or an air bag. Baugher estimated she was “a couple of feet down.”

“There is air in the snow, you can breathe that for a while,” he said.

A major storm this week dumped more than 40 inches of snow on Crystal in about 36 hours, Baugher said.

“This is one of those things that creates phenomenal powder skiing but with that comes an increase in the avalanche hazard,” he said, adding avalanche control crews had been working all day.

Ski patrol personnel were pre-positioned in the area because they had just completed some avalanche control work nearby. No avalanche control work had been done in the “random little pocket” where the slide occurred because “you would never expect an avalanche in this particular place,” Baugher said.

He stressed that “this came out great” because everyone was prepared — the young woman was skiing with companions who could report where she was last seen, skiers had the direct number for the ski patrol, patrol personnel were nearby and everyone involved had the equipment needed for a quick, effective search.

“There’s always luck,” he said. “But when a good outcome comes, we make a lot of that. The skiers helped make some of their own luck.”

Crystal Mountain is located on the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington’s Cascade Mountains.
  




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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