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Avalanche control failed where Las Vegas teen died

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
LAS VEGAS (AP) - No avalanche control measures were taken on the slope where a 13-year-old snowboarder was swept off a chairlift to his death, a southern Nevada ski resort administrator said Monday.

Explosive charges on another slope failed to release snow on the slope where the avalanche took place, said Brian Strait, general manager of the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort

"In our view, the resort was safe yesterday. That's why we chose to open," Strait said.

Strait attributed the avalanche that killed Allen Brett Hutchison, a Las Vegas eight-grader, to an unusual combination of circumstances during the latest in a series of powerful Western winter storms.

"The magnitude, the amount of snow and the amount of snow that was released at one time was unique to that chute in the 40 years of the resort," Strait said.

Avalanche control technicians spent Sunday morning detonating eight charges by cannon and four by hand on another slope. Strait said they did not work on the slope where snow gave way.

Reopening the resort will be delayed, a U.S. Forest Service official said, until investigators determine why a wall of snow roared down a chute that Strait said was usually considered at low risk for avalanche.

"It will remain closed until the cause is known and I can make absolutely certain that the area's safe for the public," Tim Short, district ranger for the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area in the Humboldt-Toyabe National Forest. The forest service lets the ski area operate by permit.

The agency had issued an "Extreme Avalanche Potential" from Friday to Monday for the region, but exempted the ski area.

"The ski area does carry out avalanche control," Short said.

Strait said avalanches are common in the upper reaches of the ski area 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Sunday's was much lower - about one-third up the mountain.

Investigators will try to determine whether rushing snow or an "air blast" pushed ahead of it swept the boy off the 20-foot-high lift, Strait said. The lift travels a little more than a half-mile on a moderately difficult slope. Chairs have no safety restraining bars.

Strait said the lift was stopped as the avalanche rushed toward it.

"We had eyewitness accounts that this young man was taken off the lift by the force of the avalanche," Las Vegas police Sgt. Chris Jones said. "It caught him and the force of it took him."

Other skiers yelled for help and those suspended in chairs watched while volunteers and Ski Patrol members started digging. Initially, they found the teen's snowboard and at least one boot, officials said.

Within hours, more than 100 police, firefighters and ski area employees joined the search. Down the hill, some workers matched ski rentals and returns, and police contacted registered owners of parked vehicles to determine if anyone else was missing.

"We determined it was just one victim we were looking for," Jones said.

About six hours later, while searching a half-acre area downhill from the lift, a police dog led searchers to the boy's body buried beneath 6 to 10 feet of snow.

He died of asphyxia, but also had multiple blunt force injuries, the Clark County coroner's office said Monday.

Police were handling the case as an accident, Jones said.

Strait said he expressed sympathy and condolences to the boy's parents, who were at the ski area while searchers worked into a cold and snowy night. The family could not immediately be reached Monday for comment.

"We feel terrible about this," the ski resort manager said. "It's a tragic event.
post #2 of 18
Ohhh my shit, damn that's messed up. He was on a lift and got hit by a avy?
post #3 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by kev259
Ohhh my shit, damn that's messed up. He was on a lift and got hit by a avy?
I wonder if this is a first... being blasted out of a chair by an avi. That is messed up.

They didn't say, but mentioned that it might have been the air blast that pulled him out of the chair. That would be my guess, because if the avi had hit the chair, it probably would have pulled the cable off the towers, and destroyed the chair, and probably many other chairs.
post #4 of 18
No kidding, I've never heardof that before, can't imagine what that kid saw before it hit him Guess there are downsides to having alot of snow dumped...
post #5 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by tahoetr
... Chairs have no safety restraining bars. ...
Is this common out West? Chair lifts without restraining bars? Perhaps that would have made a difference. Really so utterly sad it makes me cry.
post #6 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by wbroun
Is this common out West? Chair lifts without restraining bars? Perhaps that would have made a difference. Really so utterly sad it makes me cry.
It's actually not that common. Most chairs that I'm familiar with do have safety bars.

Now that you mention it, that's a pretty disturbing question. Based on the three or four news accounts I've read of the incident, it sounds like it was air turbulence that basically shook him off the chair. If there had been a safety bar, and if he'd been using it, who knows? He might have been banged up but might have stayed in the chair.

I know that I *never* use a bar if I'm riding by myself and I get mildly annoyed when fellow riders do. I might have to rethink that whole attitude.

Bob
post #7 of 18

was the norm

Bizzare incident!

It was very common for chairlift out west to have just the seat. The larger areas have mostly changed over with the advent of HS Quads, but older smaller areas still have older double chairlifts with no saftey bars.

So here are two different opinions in a row!!
post #8 of 18
locals can confirm it - but the one resort that i think has the most number of chairs without safety bars is - Alta.
post #9 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Peters
I know that I *never* use a bar if I'm riding by myself and I get mildly annoyed when fellow riders do.
Bob's Rocky Mountain machismo rears its ugly head AGAIN.

post #10 of 18
http://www.avalanche.org/av-reports/...p3?OID=5406924






Eye witness account.
I guess you just never know when it's your time.
post #11 of 18
Alta, and many other UT resorts are pretty devoid of bars, which is bizarre to us NY/VT skiers, where safety bars are mandatory.

Doubt a bar (without a legrest) would've been very helpful.

And Bob, your attitude on the subject is a bit surprising to me. Why would that annoy you?
post #12 of 18
I Bob was kidding.
post #13 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by xdog1
Alta, and many other UT resorts are pretty devoid of bars, which is bizarre to us NY/VT skiers, where safety bars are mandatory.

Doubt a bar (without a legrest) would've been very helpful.

And Bob, your attitude on the subject is a bit surprising to me. Why would that annoy you?
It annoys me as well. I know it shouldn't. On long rides I sometimes put the bar down myself, but on short rides, its a pita. I am over 6' and the bar is always hitting the top of my helmet when fellow skiers throw the thing open unnannounced.

I do always try to hook one of my arms around either the back of the chair, or the side support in case the bullwheel cracks Keystone style sending a tsunami the length of the chair throwing people off.

Poor kid. I don't know that he wouldn't have died anyway, but wearing a transceiver inbounds on big pow days seems like a good idea. No wonder so many people do.

nate
post #14 of 18
The article Slider posted makes it sound like the kid tried to hang onto the side pole. A safety bar may have helped, but it would depend on the size of the kid. A smaller kid may still have been pulled out, whereas someone larger may not have. On the other hand, even a small kid could have possibly hugged a safety bar enough to hang on for that few seconds of turbulence. But if he sat back, the turbulence could easily throw the bar up. No way to tell, what if....
post #15 of 18
man, when your number is up, it is up.

this may define the classic "oh sh**" moment----

my heart goes out to this poor kids family- there is nothing but misery in this----
post #16 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by xdog1

And Bob, your attitude on the subject is a bit surprising to me. Why would that annoy you?
Dog (and others):

Obviously, that came across a little differently than I might have preferred.

It's honestly not so much that I dislike safety bars, it's the leg rests I don't like. At my height (or torso length or knee-to-boot height or whatever), it's quite uncomfortable on my knees to have my feet on the leg rests.

I've had two knee surgeries on one knee, one on the other, and suffer from osteoarthritis in both knees and other joints. If I don't swing my legs on chairlifts, I can barely move my knees by the time I get to the top of the ride. So, I just don't like having the rests down because they interfere with my leg motion.

It's not like I ever protest or glare at people who put them down or whatever. My wife uses them all the time and I simply adjust. It's just that if I get on a lift and nobody puts down the bar, I'm a happier camper.

Back to the topic at hand, it's just mind-boggling to think that this kid's life might very easily have been saved by a safety bar. I would never have dreamed such a thing might be possible.

Condolences to his family.

Bob
post #17 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by slider
http://www.avalanche.org/av-reports/...p3?OID=5406924






Eye witness account.
I guess you just never know when it's your time.
From that article:

They described watching as the front edge of the white wall tossed a lone skier or snowboarder from his chair, four seats ahead. The unidentified person tried to grasp a bar designed to secure skiers to the lift, but the snow carried him away.
post #18 of 18
In any case, pretty lame response from the ski area. They're gonna lose millions in the lawsuit ... not that it will comfort the kid's fam.
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