A backcountry skier escaped unscathed after being buried during a wild ride in an avalanche Friday in Big Cottonwood Canyon, thanks to the quick action of his ski companions, the Utah Avalanche Center reported.
After ascending to the top of a ridge in Silver Fork, the skier was the third one in his group to descend an east-facing line known as “El Rollo” in the Meadow Chutes when the snow broke loose and carried the skier a short distance, according to a report posted on the center’s website. The burial was captured on video accompanying the report.
With the late arrival of heavy snow in northern Utah, the avalanche risk has risen. The center characterized it as “considerable” across the Wasatch.
“Today has accident written all over it,” forecaster Drew Hardesty wrote in Saturday’s forecast in all capital letters. Human-triggered slides hundreds of feet across and 2 to 4 feet deep “are likely” on steep slopes facing northwest to east, according to the forecast.
“Avalanches can be triggered from a distance, even hundreds of feet away,” Hardesty cautioned. “It’s also possible to trigger wind drifts and loose new snow avalanches in the upper-elevation bands.”
As of Saturday evening, no avalanche reports were posted on the center’s webpage devoted to such reports. Friday’s accident was one of seven skier-trigger avalanches reported that day to the avalanche center. All were in Mill Creek and Big Cottonwood canyons.
In their report, forecasters thanked the rescued skier, identified only as Jon, for reporting the accident, giving them a full account, and sharing the video clip of him getting caught.
“This information can save a life tomorrow,” forecasterTrent Meisenheimer wrote. The skier has been ski touring avalanche terrain for 20 years without getting buried — until Friday.
The group of three skiers had toured the Meadows Chutes on Thursday and returned the next day to resume enjoying the central Wasatch’s famous snow. At the top of El Rollo, they experienced a collapse in the snowpack, a sign of instability below the surface.
“Even though they knew that the collapse was a bad sign, they continued with their plans. As soon as they began skiing the deep powder, they reported only thinking about how good the skiing was,” the report said. “Jon had experience in the area but forgot how steep the breakover was.”
About a third of the way down the run, its pitch suddenly changed. It was at this point in Jon’s run that a slab about 18 inches deep and 100 feet across broke loose.
“Approximately two to three turns later, I saw out of my left periphery a fracture,” the skier told the center. “I checked to the right and saw it propagate all the way around to my right. I thought I could out-ski the slide, but as I reached the lower half of the slope, I got washed into some trees and knocked off my feet.”
The moving snow dragged him through small trees and deposited him fully buried, but close enough to the surface that he could punch a hole to daylight.
“I cleared a hole to get some air and began trying to extricate myself,” he said. “Due to the depth of my feet and having one ski that was still attached, I couldn’t get myself out.”
Jon’s two companions reattached their climbing skins to the bases of the skis and began searching for the missing man. They located him within 10 minutes and dug him out. The skier was unharmed other than scratches, and no outside assistance was needed.