By: randosteve|Posted on: January 24, 2012|Posted in: People, Random Teton Posts, The Tetons | 256 comments

Taylor Mountain avalanche, January 24, 2012.

Today, a highly experienced local avalanche guru caused a stir on Taylor Mountain and the Coal Creek region on the west side of Teton Pass when an intentionally triggered avalanche resulted in more than he bargained for. The slide grew in size quickly, pulling out far to the skier’s right and left sides of the main south facing avalanche path on the mountain. The resulting avalanche gouged an impressive path all the way to the bottom of Coal Creek and stimulated calls to Teton County Search and Rescue, who responded via helicopter to investigate. No one was caught or injured in the avalanche.

At around 1:30pm, after multiple descents of the South Face of Taylor Mountain the day before, the skier was attempting to kick off some remaining hang-fire above a natural slide that had occurred earlier. His partners were in a safe zone and he must have hit the sweet spot and more-or-less, the whole south face of Taylor ripped, sending a huge volume of snow in the bottom of Coal Creek. Numerous parties where in the area and the slide created a stir due to how loud and audible it was.

Teton AmPASSador Jay Pistono stands next to the 10-12′ high avalanche path. If you were
to be caught in this slide, there is NO WAY (ABS?) you could possibly survive.

After the slide occurred, parties in the area stood by while the skier that triggered the slide skied downhill to search for any avalanche transceiver signals coming from anyone that might have been caught in the slide path. None were found. The snow debris pile from the slide is said to have covered 100’ of the summer trail and skin-track that goes up Coal Creek from the parking lot, and 30’ up the opposite side of the canyon. On-scene parties report the crown of the avalanche to average about 50-55”, with a maximum height of 6’.

Man, there are numerous things going through my rando-obsessed brain right now relating to this event. I’m pretty sure deep instabilities in the snowpack can be really unpredictable. Even when we are extremely knowledgeable about snow science and the terrain we are skiing (the skier who triggered this slide probably has nearly 1000 descents of Taylor Mountain under his belt, maybe 25 just this year), we are really just playing Russian roulette when we ski these bigger faces under these snow conditions. Holding back from getting into dangerous ground is imperative when we are above terrain traps, even when we think the slope is stable and after prior descents of the same slope.

Another take is that if one were to ski the slope normally (read…shred, haul ass, not load up the slope in the sweet-spot) under the same circumstances, and not try to trigger an avalanche, all that snow would still be sitting there. Food for thought?