Five people caught in an in-bounds avalanche at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on Saturday morning all survived the slide.
Resort spokesperson Anna Cole told the Jackson Hole News and Guide at least one skier triggered the slide around 9:55 a.m. The avalanche’s crown was roughly two feet deep and 150 feet wide on the southern end of the Expert Chutes.
Witnesses to the slide, along with a Jackson Hole Ski Patrol search team armed with two dogs and a Recco device and beacons, immediately rushed to the aid of those beneath the snow. Among them was a 24-year-old skier who was on his second run of the day from the top of the Thunder lift. He dropped off skier’s right and followed close to a dozen Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club members down the Amphitheater run. He watched the skiers trigger the avalanche before sweeping into action.
“Right as they dropped in a pretty moderately sized shelf slid and kind of followed them down the mountain,” the skier said. Because of his connections with Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, he asked for his name not to be released. “I think six of the seven kids skied it out. One of the kids was buried almost completely, and I think he was the first one to be uncovered. As I saw it happen, I knew I needed to keep my eyes out and start scanning for anybody who had been buried.”
The skier noticed a pair of mittens and ski poles in the avalanche debris, skied toward the gear and began digging.
A woman “was completely buried,” he said. “Her face was covered. She was choking on snow. She had snow in her mouth.”
The woman and the remaining skiers were pulled out quickly, he said. Jackson Hole Ski Patrol conducted a large-scale search and probing of the area to ensure that no other skiers or riders were buried.
Around 11:20 a.m. ski patrol concluded the search; however, the Thunder lift stayed closed as patrollers continued to “conduct avalanche reduction efforts” throughout the afternoon.
Avalanche danger in the area was “considerable” above 7,500 feet Saturday, according to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center. The resort announced that morning via social media that it had received 12 inches of new snow in the previous 24 hours and seven inches since the lifts closed Friday.
Cole said precautions were taken Saturday morning to alleviate danger from the recent snowfall, and she said that mitigation work on the slope had been taking place for much of the past week.
“Our ski patrol did extensive mitigation work this morning, particularly in this area, knowing the conditions at hand,” Cole said. “They did the best of their ability, and they are actively trying to review and understand how this pocket released.”
Following the slide, the Avalanche Center’s Sunday morning bulletin for the Teton area noted that the area had seen extensive avalanche mitigation work and warned that backcountry skiers could see similar events and conditions Sunday.
Cole said the last significant in-bounds avalanche that involved the public was in 2008, when Wilson skier David Nodine was killed after a slide in the Paintbrush run buried him under eight feet of snow. Cole praised the work of all those who helped after the slide released, noting that a quick response time in such a situation can limit injuries.
“Rescue efforts were starting to take place as soon as our staff arrived, and they were on the scene in five,” she said. “Within those five minutes, people were already responding. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances, but people went above and beyond.”