Details: Blacksmith Creek, California Sierra Avalanche Fatality

Post by blogger | February 6, 2006      

Most of the details are in on this one. Check here. I found this accident to be particularly tragic and appalling. It is another example of how tough it can be to spread a group out enough, and thus expose only one person to hazard. On top of that, you couldn’t have a more experienced party — they were all ski patrollers! And the photos in the report hit close to home as the trees they presumably used as a safe zone were similar to the trees on many outcrops and ribs that I use as “safe zones” myself, but would be no help if a larger slab fractured above (as in this case).

As always, the key with this sort of avalanche terrain is to spread out farther than is perhaps socially acceptable. Using small two-way radios could help with this. Anything but having everyone get ‘lanched at once.

While reading through the Sierra incidents, I found it interesting how the bulk of the fatal accidents involved groups where the avalanche swept away all or most of a party. Some Sierra skiers I know are quite nonchalant about their avalanche safety procedures while on their home turf — with good reason as they’re usually traveling on bomb proof snow. But could those attitudes have something to do with the number of group accidents we see in the incident reports?

And least I sound like I’m singling out the Sierra, many avalanche accidents around North America involve more than one person being caught in the same slide. It’s an alarming trend that avalanche safety educators should pay more attention to.

Message to ourselves: Stomp Rutschblock till we’re blue in the face, but put some energy into proper travel procedure as well.

Lastly, the grumbling masses are saying they’d like to see more details in the avalanche reports, such as what gear people were using, whether releasable bindings helped, how equipped they were for first aid, etcettera. I’ll add my voice to the grumble.

Open for comments.


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5 Responses to “Details: Blacksmith Creek, California Sierra Avalanche Fatality”

  1. ham February 6th, 2006 8:50 am

    Perhaps “proper travel procedure” means finding a different route, aborting an ascent, or even staying home for the day. If I have to spread a group out so far to minimize risk that I need a radio maybe I shouldn’t be in that spot to start with. I’m definitely not judging the party in this incident, in fact I find it personally disturbing because I could see myself doing the same thing they did.

  2. Mark February 6th, 2006 9:16 pm

    Guess this one shows that a relatively small slide can kill by trauma. It is hard to conceive of soft snow being so physically devastating and destructive.


  3. Clyde February 7th, 2006 2:40 am

    Lou, if you look at the avalanche report forms (links at the top of that page), you’ll see that the “professional” agencies are not even asking questions about equipment. Until the AAA updates the forms, nobody will have any good data on releasable bindings, helmets, beacon models, shovel and probe reliability, etc.

    In the meantime, we get 3 new dangerous tele bindings coming, split-boarders galore, shoddy shovels sold as life saving devices, helmets that don’t protect, and lip-service from the outdoor mags and on forums. Despite fancy beacons and avalung packs, the backcountry is getting more dangerous.

  4. Tom February 7th, 2006 8:13 am

    Travel Techniques never trump Terrain Selection – all the stomping on rutchblocks leaving you blue in the face will still get you killed if you think you can mitagate the risk by spreading out – a myth that will live on in the bc so long as people continue to place travel proceedures above appropriate terrain selection for the conditions. (see Taylor Mountain, at Jackson Hole fatality – basically the same deal)

  5. Ron February 7th, 2006 11:53 am

    It’s a little hard to believe that one of the major tele binding manufacturers, G3, is coming out with the new “ascent” (i.e. touring mode) binding that does not release.

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