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Inbounds Avalanches Rock Ski Country

Unstable conditions and quick snow accumulation have led to two deaths and two injuries so far this season.
posted: 12/17/2008
by Pieter Van Noordennen

Photo By: Jay Beyer

A glut of early season snow led to two slides within the boundaries of U.S. ski resorts this week.

Sunday afternoon, skier Heather Gross, 27, died after being buried in a slide on the hike-to steeps on Mount Baldy in the Eye of the Needle area at Snowbird Resort. The slide was triggered at 12:30 p.m., and Utah authorities and avalanche experts are still investigating how the slide happened. Snowbird and Alta are renowned for the avalanche prevention techniques, making this slide all the more strange. The resort extended its deepest sympathies to Gross and her family. Read the release here.

Also on Sunday, two skiers set off a slide in Blue Sky Basin in Vail, expert terrain located beyond the Back Bowls but nonetheless controlled by ski patrollers. Skier Matt Jones was caught, but swam through the debris and was only buried up to his waist when the debris settled. His partner was carrying a shovel and dug him out. “I can officially say that a slide is crazy scary,” Jones wrote in a report posted on the forums at “I don't want to ever go thru that again...ever. I am also ALWAYS going to wear my gear now, no matter the boundary.”

Out of bounds avalanches have been off the charts in this early season, as well, with one claiming the life of a 26-year-veteran of the Aspen Ski Patrol last weekend. Recent storms—and more coming—have left the backcountry snowpack with little to no stability. As Bruce Tremper, famed head of the Utah Avalanche Center, writes in his latest report: “Let's be clear: the backcountry is exceedingly dangerous right now. You will trigger an avalanche if you decide to ski a steep slope at the mid and upper elevations.”

That said, the chances of setting off a slide on a blue cruiser at your local resort are next to nil. But expert skiers traveling to the periphery of the resort boundaries—say, hike-to shots or remote bowls—should heed Jones’s advice to ski with a partner and bring a pack and shovel, if not beacons and probes. Here are some suggestions for gear from the editors at Skiing Magazine. Ski safe.

Adventure Medical Kits Thermo-Lite 2.0 Bivvy

Backcountry skiing is great until a storm blows in, temps drop, and you’re stuck overnight in a snow cave. Carry this 6.9-ounce bivy in your pack and it just may save your life. —Ryland Mauck-Duff, Contributor,

Click Herefor more info and other gear Skiing recommends.

Buy it Now!

Pieps Freeride Beacon

Pieps thinks a $400 beacon is a big enough impediment to make casual backcountry skiers roll the dice. So they brought us the Freeride, a single-antenna beacon with a digital readout that’s half the price of others. It works on flux lines, which takes a little more practice to learn, but when you have it, you’re golden. —Jake Bogoch, Editor

Click Herefor more info and other gear Skiing recommends.

Buy it Now!

Ortovox Grizzly 2 Shovel

The new Grizzly 2 has an extendable handle, a massive metal blade, and a serrated edge that slashes through the densest avalanche debris. And if your two-wheel drive gets stuck in a snowbank, flip it into hoe mode for chunk-slashing power.

Check Out other life-saving gear for the backcountry.

Buy it Now!

Black Diamond Quick Draw 230 Probe

Probes function pretty much the same, but the difference between a good one and a great one is ease of assembly. The eight-ounce, carbon-fiber Quick Draw 230 is tapered at the end of each section, so it slides together in just three moves—grab, toss, and pull.

Check Out other life-saving gear for the backcountry.

Buy it Now!

Black Diamond Covert with Avalung Winter Pack

From the get-go, the concept of the AvaLung intrigued me: As you're getting buried in a slide, you bite down on the device's mouthpiece and it delivers your poisonous CO2 harmlessly into the snowpack behind you till someone comes and digs your ass out. -- Marc Peruzzi, former Editor

Read More about this incredible backpack.

Buy it Now!


"Sounds like patrol is still doing control work, they must be somewhere on the backside," I thought to 642-446 myself as I began to get my camera out. Staying focused on the task at hand, my next thought was, "This would be a good angle to have Tim ski right to me this time." I turned my head uphill to tell him this, but never got a word out. Instead, my jaw dropped open in shock and awe. It was a sight I will never forget as long as I will live: a wall of snow 10 feet high and some 642-642 100 feet wide rushing and rumbling down the wide gully known as "P3," heading straight for *Rob, a good friend and ski partner of ours who had just taken a fall at the top of the wide apron below. He was still cleaning out his goggles 642-825 and gathering himself up as I shouted over to him, "ROB, AVALANCHE!!"Rob looked back over his shoulder, saw what was happening and tried to get up and out of the way, but the slide was moving much too fast and it was already nearly upon him. In my last view of him, again, another sight that is now burned permanently into my brain,

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