I figured I share a short story from this past weekend just to remind everyone to play super safe out there in the winter.
Myself and a few friends were wanting to head the backcountry this weekend for some skiing. We decided to head into a cabin on Saturday and ski fresh lines on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The avalanche conditions weren't too good (high in the alpine & at treelike, moderate in the trees) and someone else had actually died in a nearby slide a few days earlier, so the goal was to take things super safe and stick in the trees.
A big dump occurred Wednesday night and the skier who was recently killed was in the alpine on Thursday when they died, so we figured we were much safer because (1) it was now 3-5 days later since any significant snowfall and (2) were were going to stay out of the alpine.
On Saturday we skied some mellow lines in the trees. It was pretty tame but still fun. On Sunday we still stayed in the trees but went for some lines were a bit steeper and more loosely treed so we could open the throttle a bit more. We did two big laps that day. Before both laps we dug pits at the top and evaluated the snow pack. Everything tested super solid....the compression test results were actually the strongest I'd seen yet this season.
That night at the cabin we talked about how great the runs were and how super stable everything seemed. There was an ACMG (Canadian Mountain Guide) at the cabin as well with his wife and he agreed that everything had really settled/stabilized out in the days since the storm. All 7 of us planned to ski one of the same great runs we had skied that day but via a different entrance on the same aspect.
The last morning (monday) the ACMG and his wife headed out first and beat us to the top of this run by about 15 min. They had already dropped in when I got to the top and we couldn't see them because the 1600' run rolls steeper. We knew the temperature had changed over night from a constant 10F (-12 C) the previous 2 days up to about 23F, but we didn't re-evaluate the snowpack because (1) the pit tests were so solid yesterday, (2) there was no sun on it and (3), the ACMG and his wife had already just skied it. I remarked that there really was no need for a new pit test since obviously the ACMG knew more than we did and he deemed it safe enough to ski. Obviously this was a mistake.
About 20 min after the ACMG & his wife had dropped in, we figured they were long clear so I told my wife it was her turn to drop in first via a separate entrance (about 50' away on the same aspect) and get the freshest line since she hadn't gone first on a run yet. She was just about to, when a split-boarder in the group (who is normally the most cautious one) yelled 'shotgun' and dropped. He cranked one big turn right across the mouth of the run (another mistake) and the whole thing slabbed. He was taken for a 1600 foot ride down to the bottom.
With the run now just bare ice, I jumped it and got down as quick as I could, followed by the other 3 people still at the top. I saw the ACMG running around at the bottom and figured it was lucky they hadn't gotten too far away that they could come back and help so quickly. I didn't realize at this point they were actually taking the run super slow and had been in the run still.
His wife had gotten swept down the last 1/4 of the run by the avy, while the ACMG had clung to a tree just out the avalanche path. He later described this and being like 'hanging out the window of an airplane'. She wasn't buried and wound up with a fractured vertebrae and a missing ski. My split board buddy wasn't quite so lucky, but he's going to be okay.
He said he was inside the avy for the entire way down. When it started to slow down, he tried to swim to get to the surface. He wound up buried but with his hands close to his mouth. When it stopped, he tried to create an air pocket with this hands around his month, which actually succeeding in opening up an airway to the surface as his head was only about 6" buried. We dug him out, but it was obvious he was hurt badly. We went sent one person to ski out to the road to call search and rescue.
To wrap things up, three hours later Search and Rescue got him out with a heli. He suffered a broken pelvis, a heavily damaged knee (torn ACL etc.) and 2 broken ribs. He's in good spirits, but he's going to be in bed for the next month and then crutches for a while after that. He was wearing a helmet which got split open, but his head is fine. He was the only one in the group wearing a helmet.
Anyways, I just figured I'd share this story to remind everyone to play as safe as they can. I think what happened is that cross winds in the night had wind loaded the entrance to this run. It was calm the previous few days so it wasn't as wind loaded. The ACMG entered cautiously and didn't trigger the wind load, but the big turn my buddy put across the second entrance broke it loose. So just remember to wear your helmets, check the conditions every time even if they seem the same, and remember it's always still a risk.