Forest Service to investigate avalanche deaths
Aspen, CO Colorado
JACKSON, Wyo. ” U.S. Forest Service officials say they plan to re-examine local and nationwide avalanche control procedures following avalanche deaths at Western ski resorts.
Already this season, three people have been killed while skiing in-bounds at resorts. They include 31-year-old David Nodine, of Wilson, who died Saturday at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Avalanches have killed others at the resorts in Snowbird, Utah, and Squaw Valley, Calif. Nonfatal avalanches have caught skiers or ski patrollers at Jackson Hole; Mammoth, Calif.; and Colorado’s Vail, Telluride and Arapahoe Basin resorts.
Ray Spencer, winter sports administrator for Bridger-Teton National Forest, said he would investigate two avalanches at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, including a slide Monday that damaged a restaurant.
“Any fatality on national forest land we’re required to investigate,” he said. “We’re cooperating with (the resort) and the Teton County Sheriff’s Office.
“Public safety is going to be the first and foremost for the administration of the ski area permit.”
He said the resort had fully cooperated with the inquiries and the Forest Service would recommend policy changes if necessary. He said the Forest Service already would have closed the resort for public safety if it felt the resort wasn’t adhering to the agency’s instructions.
Spencer said the Forest Service guides the resort’s activities, including avalanche control, through an operations plan that is updated every year. He said details about avalanche control are addressed in the resort’s ski patrol manual, which is not kept on file with the Forest Service.
Doug Abromeit, director of the Forest Service National Avalanche Center in Ketchum, Idaho, said the recent avalanche activity is unusual.
“It has been a crazy, crazy year,” he said.
He said similar weather has affected snowpack across the West: A dry autumn that created a layer of icy, crusty snow, followed by heavy snow starting in mid-December.
Active avalanche control efforts were underway at all three resorts where skiers were killed. Ski patrol used explosives or howitzers on all three slopes and weren’t able to release avalanches before the slopes failed with skiers on them.
“The ski patrollers have been out there pounding it, trying to make it safe,” Abromeit said. “I wouldn’t call it a wakeup call because I don’t think anybody has been asleep. These were an extraordinary string of events.”
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”