Sunday, December 30, 2012

Avalanche--Aspen Ski Patroller Swept Off Cliff

An Aspen Ski Patroller was fatally injured today after being swept off a cliff by a small avalanche. This is the first avalanche related fatality in Colorado this season.

The name of the ski patroller has yet to be released. Apparently, the ski patroller was skiing alone in a permanently closed area when they triggered a small slab avalanche that swept them off a cliff. It is unknown whether the ski patroller was buried though the circumstances certainly point to trauma as the cause of death.

A dry early winter in Colorado has produced a dangerous structure to the snowpack--not uncommon in continental areas--where well developed  facets are sitting at the base of the pack.

It is not known whether or not the Aspen Ski Patroller was wearing an airbag or if the victim was even buried. However, this incident should remind us of the dangers of skiing above exposure--cliffs, crevasses, and terrain traps minimize our margin of safety dramatically. Safety equipment is severely limited when avalanche victims come face to face with consequential terrain.  In fact, a deployed airbag will possible force the victim to move faster and further in an avalanche, perhaps making contact with the exposure more likely.

It is not uncommon for me to ski above exposure in my home areas of the Tetons and the Chugach Mountains. This is a vital reminder that even a small slide or sluff can have disastrous effects when coupled with exposure.

Our condolences to the friends and family of the Aspen Ski Patrol.

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