Monday, May 14, 2012

Skier Crevasse Fall

Crevasse falls for skiers are relatively rare as compared to climbers:  the "bridging" effect from skis helps to distribute a skier's weight better, hence decreasing the chance of punching through a snowbridge, plus skis can quite literally bridge some cracks.

Around this time last year on Rainier was the first ever confirmed skier crevasse death in the Washington Cascades (although a missing solo skier in 2008 whose body was never found on Mount Baker might have also died in a a crevasse).  According to Amar:
"However, it looks like a non-standard place for them to have been skinning up, right beside a bunch of exposed seracs and partially open crevasses. It's more dangerous in that area (as confirmed by the accident), while the safer standard route is down the obvious central fall line of the upper Nisqually Glacier, a few hundred feet farther west. That is the most snow-filled and least crevassed portion of the upper Nisqually, and the line that almost all parties ascend and ski as far as I know. The standard line is not very far west of where the accident occurred, but a hundred feet left or right can be an entirely different route in some places on a glacier, with an entirely different degree of crevasse hazard. But it's also appealing to ski and photograph near exposed seracs and open crevasses, so it's easy to understand why they might have taken the line they did."
The 2011 Rainier party of four was skinning up unroped, and the victim did not appear to have any experience with glacier travel (at least according to all the various remembrances).  The other party members sought assistance from another party, although unclear from the various accounts whether this was because the victim's party lacked the gear and/or skill to extricate the victim, or because the crevasse fall was so deep that additional assistance was necessary.

Now almost exactly a year later from the Blackcomb backcountry comes another reminder about how even skiers are not immune from crevasse falls, albeit a relatively short fall, yet complete with a very detailed account from the victim:

Hiking Forum with pictures
Skiing Forum, w/o pictures, but with comment from other skiers

Also available is a SAR account, although it incorrectly describes the party of two (who had just met on the chairlift) as two solo skiers.

Then again, since they were skinning up unroped, and without any crevasse rescue gear, the situation wasn't all that different than two solo skiers, with the lead skier fortunately noticing that the following skier was no longer in sight.

Curiously, the victim's account goes on at great length about how important a partner is crevassed terrain (true, but so true as to hardly merit mention), and about how he probably would not have been able to climb out of the crevasse even had be been equipped with climbing gear (perhaps true). But he says nothing about how he could have been skinning roped up to his partner, or about how even if they had been skinning unroped, then still, his partner could have had a rope and other crevasse rescue gear . . .

Outstanding vantage points in this video:
[Note that both the voice over and the text repeat the mistake in other news stories, grossly exaggerating the the depth by apparently taking the victim's account in feet and then incorrectly applying the meters:feet conversion ratio.]

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