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Safety Precautions in the Backcountry...

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
last sentence of this article says it all...

Snowboarders trapped in Provo Canyon Avalanche

(you may have to sign up for the NYTimes - it's free)
post #2 of 16
Why not save the bears some hassle and cut and paste?
post #3 of 16
CNN Report:

Snowboarders feared trapped after avalanche
Rescue teams searching near Sundance, Utah

Friday, December 26, 2003 Posted: 9:06 PM EST (0206 GMT)

(CNN) -- About six snowboarders were missing after an avalanche swept down a cliff in Utah and possibly buried them, a sheriff's spokesman said Friday.

A seventh snowboarder dug out, but authorities were still searching for the others as night fell and temperatures began to fall from the high 20s, said Deputy Dennis Harris of the Utah County Sheriff's Office.

The avalanche occurred in the Aspen Grove area outside Sundance.

Authorities were alerted to the incident around 5 p.m. (7 p.m. ET), when a man crossing nearby on snowshoes called 911 and said he saw the avalanche.

"He said there were approximately seven kids that were up there snowboarding when the avalanche had gone down," Harris told CNN. "He couldn't see them any more."

The avalanche occurred during a day of heavy snowfall, about three miles outside Sundance, he said.

"A lot of kids go up there, and they love to snowboard there."

Harris said he did not know if the snowboarders were in a restricted area.

"We have some of our guys checking into that right now," he said.

Rescuers from Utah County and adjacent counties joined the search.

"I'm hoping that it's not going to be as bad as it sounds, but we're very concerned," Harris said.

Conditions were so treacherous that helicopters were not allowed to join the effort, he said.

"They've restricted some of the officers from using their sirens up in the canyon because of the avalanche danger ... the avalanche danger is extreme," Harris said.
post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 
Originally posted by Xdog:
Why not save the bears some hassle and cut and paste?

Hunt Continues for 3 Snowboarders in Utah

Published: December 27, 2003

PROVO, Utah (AP) -- A helicopter crew dropped explosives on a mountainside Saturday to break up potential snow slides so search teams could safely resume looking for at least three snowboarders feared dead in an avalanche.

The search had been called off Friday night because conditions were too dangerous, with loose snow still trickling downhill and masses of snow clinging to slopes above the search area. Explosive charges were dropped from a helicopter Saturday morning to trigger controlled avalanches.

Before searchers on the ground could be sent back in, the helicopter crew flew over the area again to determine if the avalanche threat had been eased.

``We've been informed that it's more of a recovery effort at this point, but we're still holding out hope that by some miracle we'll find one of them alive,'' Utah County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Dennis Harris said Saturday morning.

Two other snowboarders who had been with the missing men when an avalanche hit Friday in Provo Canyon, about 25 miles northeast of Provo, managed to dig their way out after being buried up to their chests.

One of the survivors -- ages 18 and 20 -- was hospitalized with a leg injury, Utah County sheriff Jim Tracy said. The two Utah County men refused to speak to reporters.

Witnesses reported seeing at least two other groups of skiers, but that had not been confirmed, Tracy said.

A snowshoer reported the avalanche Friday afternoon in the Aspen Grove area of Provo Canyon, about a mile north of Sundance ski resort, said Utah County Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Dennis Harris. The area is considered backcountry and has no avalanche control.

There were three avalanches in succession, Tracy said. The first swept the five snowboarders a half mile down a narrow chute above Aspen Grove. Snow piled up 4- to 14- feet deep at the bottom of the slide, which Tracy said was about three city blocks wide.

The two slides that followed were smaller, he said.

The avalanche hit near the end of a storm that dumped 29 inches of snow in the Sundance area in 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service.

It appeared the main avalanche broke away at the top of the chute and that none of the skiers or snowboarders appeared to have triggered it, Tracy said.

None of the snowboarders carried standard avalanche safety equipment such as radio transmitters, shovels or probe poles, Tracy said.
post #5 of 16
I feel sorry for the family. But damn, what a bunch of jack-asses. Going OB w/o the avy gear, and apparently no training or regard for the conditions. Putting searchers in harm’s way to recover their long dead bodies. Hope the freshies were worth it.

RIP morons.
post #6 of 16
Originally posted by Tanglefoot:
I feel sorry for the family. But damn, what a bunch of jack-asses. Going OB w/o the avy gear, and apparently no training or regard for the conditions. Putting searchers in harm’s way to recover their long dead bodies. Hope the freshies were worth it.

RIP morons.

This *might* be a situation where they weren't as utterly stupid as you're assuming.

From the reports (including photos and topos) I've seen, it looks like they may have been playing around on a pretty low-angle portion of that slope. It appears the main slide started naturally over 2,000 vertical feet above them and around a ridge.

Until more is known about their level of avalanche knowledge, I'd withhold the "moron" moniker. To me, a moron is someone who knows a moderate amount about avalanches but still does something stupid. To me, hanging out near the bottom portion of a full-track apron might be more a question of just not understanding what could be hiding several thousand feet above.

post #7 of 16
Bob, ya hit the nail squarely. The area this occurred has long been a playground for snowshoers, boarders who are simply into building a kicker andf launching it and families who don't want to spend money at a ski resort but want to enjoy some snowplay. In the spring its a great place for watching nubile young babes doing the sunbathing thing.
The reports I have read make it clear this could have been much worse, up to 15 people were near or in the runout when the slide(s) occurred. Death from above was the last thing on anyones mind but a bit of education and public awareness could have prevented this.
post #8 of 16
Here's the incident summary from the Utah Avalanche Center (photos)

post #9 of 16
Originally posted by Bob.Peters:

Until more is known about their level of avalanche knowledge, I'd withhold the "moron" moniker. To me, a moron is someone who knows a moderate amount about avalanches but still does something stupid. To me, hanging out near the bottom portion of a full-track apron might be more a question of just not understanding what could be hiding several thousand feet above.
That looks like a pretty obvious slide path. The aspect above was 40 degrees (last slide). They were at a choke point when it started. It had just snowed. All in all, a sketchy situation.

Photo of slide path
post #10 of 16
Bob I hear you and understand that all the facts aren’t known (that’s never stopped me from rushing to judgment) steps on soap-box I am sick and tired of people with no respect for the alpine environment showing up uneducated, unprepared and becoming a hazard to themselves, others on the mountain and their rescuer’s. end rant

Please correct me if I am wrong, but they were out of bounds following a large storm dump in a known run-out area without any avy gear?

BSR - any idea what the b/c gate situation was like in that area?
post #11 of 16
Not sure if this is the same path, it's labled as "Elk Point running big above Sundance UT, Photos by Dan Judd" 1997 avalanche in the elk point area (photo)

Looking at that topo from the avalanche center, is that the North Face of Timpanogos? Utah Avalanche Center list shows that sloughing on December 24th also. edit, topozone.com sez no

UAC List

[ December 29, 2003, 08:37 AM: Message edited by: Tanglefoot ]
post #12 of 16
Preliminary Accident Report 12-27-03 by Bruce Tremper – Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center

Elk Point Avalanche Incident – Mt. Timpanogos, north of Sundance – 3 missing snowboarders

Time and Date of Accident: December 26, 2003, around 4:30 pm.

Location: Elk Point, which is a backcountry area just north of Sundance Resort on Mt. Timpanogos near the Aspen Grove Campground. The road is plowed past Sundance Resort just a couple more miles to Aspen Grove, where there is a campground (closed in winter) and a parking lot, which is a popular trailhead to access the east side of Mt. Timpanogos in winter.

Elk Point avalanche path is a very large and very steep, north-facing avalanche path, which begins around 10,800’ on the east side of Mt. Timpanogos and runs about 4,000 vertical feet onto the apron near the Aspen Grove Campground at an altitude around 7,000’. This area is an easy 10 minute walk from the parking lot at the end of the plowed road. It has become a popular place for backcountry snowboarding and short family outings. You often see snowboarders building jumps on this slope and riding it.

Description of the accident: It seems that four different groups were in the area with 13 people total. Three different groups of snowboarders and snowshoers were playing in the runout apron of the Elk Point avalanche path and one other family of four was walking just north of the runout. A group of five snowboarders aged about 18-21 were walking up, carrying their boards and had gotten high on the apron, near where the avalanche path narrows down to go through some steep-walled cliffs (see diagram). The slope is about 35 degrees at this narrow section. At the same time, two others from another group were tucked under the cliffs just to the viewer’s left of the avalanche path. Also, two other boarders were walking up more in the middle of the apron, below the other two groups.

Around 4:30 pm, 12-26-03, they heard an avalanche descending as it poured over the cliffs above them. All the groups on the apron ran in an attempt to get out of the way. Two people were tucked under the cliff and were not caught. The group of two on the middle of the apron ran to the viewer’s left. One made it to the side and was not caught but the other was caught near the edge, was carried down and partially buried.

The upper group of five ran down the slope. Some veered off to the viewer’s left and some to the right.

One person (number 4 on the diagram) was carried a long way down the slope and totally buried on the viewer’s left edge of the debris. He was buried shallowly enough that he was able to get himself partially out when a second avalanche hit and buried him again. Once again, he was able to get himself out.

Another person (number 5 on the diagram) ran to the viewer’s right and was carried down and partially buried partway down the apron. When the second avalanche hit, he was carried farther down near the toe of the debris and partially buried again. The family of four was standing near the viewer’s right side of the debris and helped dig him out and then went to call for help.

The final three people in the group are still missing as of 12-27-03.

All the witnesses report that several avalanches ran onto the debris. It’s still unclear how many releases and the timing between the releases. Elk Point is an avalanche path with at least three distinct starting zones which all deposit debris in the same runout.

Rescue: Utah County Search and Rescue responded that evening and used avalanche rescue dogs to search the area but they had no success. They decided that conditions were too dangerous to continue because of continued snow, high winds, and darkness. Elk Point is a classic avalanche path with multiple starting zones, making it especially dangerous. If one path released, then others will probably do so as well, and they all deposit their snow in the same area.

The following day, Wasatch Powderbird Guides flew a helicopter and threw 18 shots in an attempt to trigger any lingering hazard above the rescuers. They got minimal results, partly because most of the slopes had already slid. Rescuers again ran avalanche search dogs over the debris but without success, then called in teams of people to run probe lines in likely areas. Probing and dog searches were difficult because nearly all of the debris was very deep. The 2 to 2.5 meter (7-10 foot) probes did not touch the ground and the debris appears to be about 10-20 feet deep in most places. Also, the avalanche debris covers a huge area about the size of 10 football fields.

Weather and Avalanche Conditions: The storm was one of the largest winter storms to hit Utah in many years. Snow began early Christmas morning and reached a peak precipitation intensity Christmas night and on the day after Christmas, the day of the accident. By the time of the accident, 3-4 feet of snow had fallen. The Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center issued an avalanche warning the morning of the accident calling for a high avalanche danger and upgraded the warning to extreme around noon that day. This warning was distributed through media outlets and on NOAA weather radio.

Snowpack: Well defied fracture lines were visible from the helicopter the morning after the accident. In the photos of the fractures, it appears that the avalanches broke on old snow layers and in some places it broke to the ground.

This report was taken from the UAFC website, hope it clears up some of the misconceptions. SLC is a big city with a lot of recreationalists who just don't get it at times, living so close to a major mountain range while in an urban enviroment can lead to things like this happening.
post #13 of 16
From this am's Salt Lake Tribune. It answers the question if they knew of the avalanche danger....

Avalanches pose constant Utah danger []

By Brett Prettyman and Mark Eddington.
The Salt Lake Tribune

Fresh deep powder creates a dilemma for Utah's winter sports enthusiasts: Do they head for the backcountry to enjoy the best snow in years -- and risk an avalanche -- or wait for their friends to call, bragging about what a great day it was?
The five snowboarders caught in Friday's deadly avalanche near the Aspen Grove campground in the North Fork of Provo Canyon were torn that way.
J.D. Settle, one of two members of his party to come off the mountain alive, said the group was aware of the avalanche danger. Earlier in the day, the friends had snowboarded lower in the canyon before being drawn to the deep powder in the chute.

"We were debating coming up here and figured we would wait until the end of the day. We decided to come up here because it is a great place to snowboard, even though it is a dangerous spot. You couldn't really ask for better snow than there was right there in the chute," Settle said Sunday after trying to help rescuers pinpoint where to look for his lost friends....

Rest of the story at--->
post #14 of 16
The conditions were ripe for a slide. They knew The danger. They choose to go up that chute without any avalanche gear no transciver no probes no shoves nothing! From what I have heard there are two bodies still buried. They just told The Families That they won't go in to look for them untill spring.
post #15 of 16
So whats your point 49? A beacon or a shovel is useless in a slide of the magnitude that engulfed those guys. The only thing a beacon would have done was make finding the body easier. People are killed all the time making a bad pass on a double yellow line at night on a curve, why bash some dead snowboarder for a poor decision. Its my experience that people in that age group feel invincible and act accordingly.
Education begins with good communication, when you point fingers and say things (not you per say) like stupid, dumb etc. the ears close and the people don't learn a thing.
post #16 of 16
Sure there is a big difference between communicating educating and name-calling. BSR I appreciate where you are coming from. Successful patrollers are the communicators and teachers, not the bittermen - Agreed. I knew I was playing the grouch card when I spouted Moron - it was cathartic for me and in the context of this forum, I don’t see the harm done. I hope I don’t project that attitude on the mountain, that's why I vent in the comfort of a community that generally is a little more mountain savvy.

Communication and education aren’t going to do any good for those corpses either. I hope that something can be done so others learned from those mistakes. I’m not sure things are getting better. Locally the snowmachiners are becoming more aware – the industry marketing machine seems to ignore safety issues IMHO.
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