Entries in Ski Accident (3)


Three Advanced Skiers Killed in Avalanche

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Three advanced skiers died Sunday when an avalanche pushed them down the back side a mountain pass and ski area in Washington's Cascade Mountains, while a fourth survived the slide by using an inflatable safety device.

"We were at the top of our run and we were going through the protocol that we use to take when we're out in the back country," Pro skier Elyse Saugstad, the survivor, told Good Morning America today. "I think there were a few of us that were down below the avalanche. We thought we were in a safe zone, but ended up being swept in the avalanche.

"It happened really fast, ultimately I think you don't have much time to react," she added. "The first thing that came to my mind was to use my airbag device.

The deadly avalanche surprised a group of 15 skiers who were exploring outside the resort boundaries in search of fresh powder at Stevens Pass, about 80 miles northeast of Seattle. Skiing outside the boundaries as a practice is not illegal, but it is considered dangerous.

"It's public land so the Forest Service basically requires to have open boundaries so people can ski out in the open ski area if they want, if they are on their own," John Gifford, general manager of Stevens Pass told ABC News.

The Northwest Avalanche Center had put out a warning telling the public of a high-avalanche-danger alert for areas above 5,000 feet, indicating that warm weather could loosen snow. Police officials confirmed the group knew about the warning.

"Everyone that is skiing was an experienced skier, and they were all wearing their avalanche beacons," Deputy Chris Bedker of the King County Sheriff's Search and Rescue said, referring to a device worn to help find people who have been buried in snow.

Around noon Sunday the avalanche took three men and one woman downhill almost 3,000 feet. Among the three men who died were free-skiing world tour judge Jim Jack, Stevens Pass Marketing Director Chris Rudolph and skier John Brenan. ESPN's free skiing editor Megan Michelson was also skiing with the group but was not caught in the slide that killed the three men.

Saugstad ultimately survived the avalanche, too, and crediting her airbag for saving her life.

"[Saugstad] was wearing an avalanche rescue system -- an ABS -- it's basically an airbag system that she deployed and assisted her in surviving the avalanche," Deputy Bedker said Sunday.

Such devices typically contain two airbags that allow a person to float on top of an avalanche slide rather than being buried beneath it.

"It's a relative new thing in America," Saugstad said. "There's a system where you have a lever on the chest part of the backpack. You pull a lever ... it keeps you so you're staying on top of the avalanche. It's not like an inner-tube ride. It's kind of like you're in a washing machine.

"You don't know which way is up, but the system keeps you up above. It literally was like being in cement. All I could do was keep the snow off my face and wait for my friends to come [help] me," Saugstad said.

The other skiers in the group were able to free themselves from the snow, and quickly made their way to dig out those still buried. Reports of the avalanche reached the sheriff's office shortly after noon and ski patrol officials had reached the group by 12:50 p.m.

Stevens Pass is one of the most popular outdoor recreation destinations on the Northwest, particularly for skiing, snowboarding and backpackers.

About two hours south at Snoqualomi Pass, a snowboarder was killed after another avalanche struck Sunday and he went over a cliff. Rescue video taken earlier this month shows a man being rescued when an avalanche buried him next to his snowmobile.

There have now been 13 avalanche deaths this winter season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Experts have said that a weak base layer of snow caused by a dry winter has lead to the dangerous conditions.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Sugarloaf Ski Accident Investigation: Winds to Blame?

Photo Courtesy - Liz Hinckley/ Facebook(CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine) -- Investigators will take a close look Wednesday at a Maine ski lift that broke Tuesday morning, sending five chairs of people plummeting more than 20 feet to the snow-packed ground below.

At least six people were injured when a line on the chairlift at the Sugarloaf ski area suddenly snapped. The resort said none of the injuries were life-threatening.

Longtime skier Rebecca London said everything seemed normal as she rode the chairlift until it stopped for a second time.  Then, without warning, she suddenly realized she was falling.

"It [the lift] kind of jerked backwards and then all the sudden I could feel myself falling and see the chair in front of me falling as well," London, 20, told ABC News Wednesday.  "It was happening so fast I really didn't have time. ... I didn't even realize what had happened until I was on the ground."

Investigators are reportedly looking at wind as a possible cause of the accident on the Spillway lift, given that there were 40-mph gusts at the time.  The lift had been closed earlier in the day because of the high winds but reopened half an hour before the accident.

Witnesses also said a worker appeared to be in the middle of repairing part of the lift tower at the time of the accident, which a spokesman for Sugarloaf could not confirm.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Wyoming Skiers Killed in Deadly Collision; Crash Highlights Risks

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CASPER, Wyo.) -- In a tragic Christmas Eve event that could generate new awareness around the importance of ski and snowboard safety, five-year-old Elsie Johnson and 23-year-old Craig Shirley died after a collision on the slopes at Hogadon Ski Area in Casper, Wyoming.

Elsie and her mother, Kelli, were stopped in the middle of a black diamond trail when Shirley came snowboarding down the path at a high speed and crashed into the two of them, Lt. Mark Sellers of the Natrona County Sheriff's Office said.

All three were taken to Wyoming Medical Center, where Shirley and Elsie were both pronounced dead. The hospital said Kelli Johnson was in stable condition.

Officials initially said that none of the victims of the accident wore helmets, but a Wyoming coroner later reported that Elsie was in fact wearing a helmet at the time of the crash.

Shirley's father told the Casper Star-Tribune that the trail was covered in ice.

Sellers said the circumstances of the collision are still under investigation.

"This is certainly a tragedy," National Ski Areas Association spokesman Troy Hawks said. "This really speaks to the idea that wearing a helmet is not the silver bullet defense, and skiing in control and being aware of others should be the first line of defense of safety on the slopes."

There are no state laws that require helmets or other safety gear when hitting the slopes, although some ski areas, like Aspen and Vail, require children who take a skiing or snowboarding lesson on the mountain to wear a helmet.

"People wearing a helmet can still have a fatal accident while skiing and riding, since there are other ways to incur a fatal injury," Hawks said. "I suppose [the steady numbers] speak to the inherent risks of the sport."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio