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Video: J. Pierre's 265 Footer

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"According to a report from the Utah Avalanche Center, Pierre and an unidentified companion hiked into Snowbird from Alta on a recreational outing. Neither resort has opened for the season, and no avalanche control has been done. But both ski areas are on National Forest Land, which is open to the public, although Snowbird posted signs on Saturday saying that the resort was not open.


At about 2:30 p.m., Pierre dropped into what is called the South Chute in Snowbird’s Gad Valley, elevation 10,300 feet.


Although Pierre was known as a skier, he was riding a snowboard when he apparently triggered a slab avalanche on the 40-degree slope. The 16-inch slab swept him 700 feet down the rocky, narrow chute, said Brett Kobernik, a forecaster with the Avalanche Center.


"It was a pretty good slab he knocked off," Kobernik said. "It’s not unusual to have weak snow this time of season. This year, it’s a little weaker than usual."


The earliest season avalanche fatality among Utah skiers and boarders was on Nov. 7, 1994, according to Bruce Tremper, director of the Avalanche Center. Sunday’s fatality ties as the second earliest fatality with one on Sunset Peak in 1985.


Pierre was dead when rescuers reached him. Kobernik said that although he was not buried, he suffered trauma as he was swept over the steep, rocky mountainside."



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This incident is difficult for many reasons. We heard of over 10 human triggered avalanches on the day of the fatality, primarily in the upper elevation terrain in the unopened Alta ski area. Many of those touring these slopes know the terrain well and are used to riding the terrain when the area is open and the ski patrol has already conducted avalanche control work. There is always a reinforced feeling of safety. This terrain MUST be treated as if it were the backcountry, proper backcountry protocol must be adhered to (riding one at a time, not skiing on top of others, etc), and personal responsibility is critical (ie - be prepared with avalanche rescue gear, 1st aid equipment, and a repair kit.)


Another word on the incidents (Gunsight at Alta and this Gad Valley one). The rescue teams from the ski areas and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue often put their necks out on the line to access and evacuate an injured party. It was reported that other parties at Alta continued to ski and knock down avalanches into Greeley Bowl while the rescue was in progress. Creating another incident during this situation is unacceptable.



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