East Vail Backcountry
2 skiers caught, 1 buried and killed, 1 partially buried and self-rescued

January 12, 2008

PRELIMINARY REPORT

Around 10:00 two skiers triggered and were caught in a large avalanche in the East Vail backcountry. The avalanche was in an avalanche path known as King Tut’s. This path is an east aspect near treeline at 11,400 feet.

Topo map

Topo map, with the approximate dimensions of the avalanche in red.

GE image

Image from Google Earth, with a 7.5 minute topo map overlay, and the approximate avalanche dimensions marked in red.

Skier A was partially buried, with only an arm free. He managed to keep an air pocket, and was able to slowly dig himself out. As soon as Skier A reached his cell phone he called 911 around 11:00. Another group of skiers in the area noticed tracks and then avalanche debris in King Tutís. This group went over to investigate. The group searched the debris with avalanche beacons. They found Skier B on the uphill side of a tree, buried head down, with his boots near or on the surface. Rescue teams evacuated Skier A, and then used explosive to reduce the risk to other rescue workers. Control work did not release the large amount of hang fire in King Tut’s, but did trigger a remote avalanche slightly smaller than the skier triggered avalanche. The rescue teams then recovered Skier B.

Looking down

This photo was taken from the ridge, looking down the chute in King Tut’s. The crown of the fatal avalanche is out of view below the rollover. Debris is outlined in red, and the avalanche extended a considerable distance to the left of the photo. Debris from the sympathetic avalanche is outlined in yellow.

THE AVALANCHE

This was a large avalanche relative to the path, and capable of breaking trees (SS-AS-R4D3-O). The highest part of the crown was in a very steep, narrow, east facing chute through a rock band. The crown was lower in the chute than usual, downslope of a rollover. At the top of the chute, the crown was 4 feet deep, 30 feet wide, on about a 40 degree slope. Below the chute, the avalanche propagated to skier’ left along the base of a cliff band and spread 260 feet wide. The crown remained 4-5 feet deep along its full width. The majority of the skier’s left side of the avalanche ran through large trees. Stauchwalls and step-down fractures were scattered through the upper trees. The bed surface was an old, faceting crust near the ground. The avalanche ran about 600 vertical feet.

DANGER RATING

On the morning of the 01/12, the CAIC forecast said that “the avalanche danger in the Vail Summit Zone is CONSDIERABLE on north, northeast east, southeast, and south aspects at all elevations.”

Logan, 20080113