More Information on the Avalanche that took Jamie Pierre

More Information on the Avalanche that took Jamie Pierre

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More Information on the Avalanche that took Jamie Pierre

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I did not know Jamie Pierre as well as many people in Little Cottonwood knew him. We skied together a few times and shot the shit at Inkline Boot Shop a couple of other times. Most of what I knew came from the ski movies. He was the guy that went bigger than anyone else and had an edginess to him that was tough to explain. He liked to push peoples buttons and talk some trash, but overall he was a strong skier with loads of passion for the same sport that the rest of us love. That makes him a brother in my book. Above is an interview with Jamie from shortly before his death. He had moved with his family to Montana just a few months ago.

Jamie Pierre Huck

Few details have emerged in the days since Jamie’s passing. We now know that he was snowboarding that day. I had seen him hitching up the canyon with a snowboard that morning, which I thought was odd.  I did not realize that he sometimes rode a single plank. I guess he was a pretty good rider as I have heard stories this week about him being one of the first snowboarders ever to hit Pyramid Gap way back in the day. 

We now know that the slide occurred at around 2:30pm in a zone know as South Chute. South Chute is located off the West side of the Cirque Traverse about 3/4 of the way to the Tower Three area and is not really a classic looking Chute. It is a steep rocky section of the mountain that has one of the longer sustained steep pitches. These facts make South Chute one of the more avalanche prone areas at Snowbird. South Chute can be seen from the road right above the top of Big Emma.

Jamie was riding with a friend the day he was killed. His friend does not want to be identified and I will respect his wishes. Jamie’s partner/long time friend is likely devastated and not interested in recounting the story or explaining himself to the haters out there. He had to witness this terrible incident and then go get help,  a situation that I would never wish on anyone.  My thoughts are with him as well as with Jamie’s family in this very difficult time.

Jamie Pierre

There has been a lot of smack talk on our site and others about the decisions that were made that day. It is so easy to sit at home and talk about what you would have done differently. People that are saying nasty things about Jamie Pierre get zero respect in my book.  This is not the time to cast stones and defame a guy who was a leader in our sport.  It is true that Jamie and his partner were not wearing proper avalanche gear. That was a mistake, but it is not what killed Jamie. He was not buried and a beacon, shovel and probe would have done nothing to protect him from the rocks in South Chute that day. A helmet may have helped, but there is no way to know for sure. 


Utah Avalanche Center Report & Photos:

Accident & Rescue Summary:

Final Report  11/14/11   Thanks to the Snowbird Ski Patrol and Snow Safety for their assistance

Two men in their 30s left the closed Alta ski area with the intent to ride the well known terrain of Alta and Snowbird.  Neither ski areas are open yet and have yet to conduct any avalanche control within their boundaries.  We interviewed the victim’s ski partner.  To say he was shaken up is an understatement.

While neither had any rescue gear or formal avalanche training, they were both expert skiers and knew the terrain well.  They had not consulted the avalanche advisory that morning in which the danger was rated Considerable to High.  They continued to Snowbird via Baldy and accessed the Peruvian Cirque to gain the Gad Valley.  While ascending out of the Peruvian Cirque they remotely triggered a large avalanche that covered their tracks that they had just made.  It’s unclear whether they realized they had triggered this large avalanche.  They gained the ridge and prepared to drop into Gad Valley.

With the partner watching, the victim dropped into the slope, immediately triggering the slide.  He was carried approximately 800 feet through steep rocky terrain and reportedly went over a small cliff band and came to a stop only partially buried.  The partner went down to help the victim and called for a rescue, alerting both the Snowbird Ski Patrol and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, who subsequently accessed and evacuated the victim.

Terrain Summary:

The first two photos below are of the large avalanche that the party triggered in the Peruvian Gulch which did not catch them.  The last two are of the avalanche site of the fatality.

South Chute, Alta, Utah. photo: utah avalanche center

Where Jamie dropped in and the resulting avalanche crown.  photo:  utah avalanche center

Crown line from that day. photo: utah avalanche center

Weather & Avalanche History:

The weak snow structure has been well documented over the last few weeks.  Here is the time line.

Oct 5-6:  Significant storm produced 1 to 1 1/2′ feet of snow.  Warm weather melted much of this snow but some did linger on the more northerly aspects.  The melt-freeze process in early October produced a stout crust.  This crust varies in thickness depending on aspect.  It’s thicker on east and northeast slopes, thinner on the more due north.  Colder subsequent weather deteriorated this snow forming large grained facets below this crust, especially on the northerly aspects.

Oct 15 & Nov 1:  Oct 15 had a small storm with a two week colder clear period which faceted this snow above the melt freeze crust.  Nov 1 had another small storm whose snow also deteriorated rapidly to facets.  It is these two events that, combined, form the weak layer that is causing the collapsing and avalanches.

Nov 5:  Around a foot of low density snow fell.  This gave us the first hint on how the previous snow would behave.  On Oct 6 a skier triggered a small slab avalanche in Collins Gulch.  (Details)  The weak layer was the faceted snow from Oct 15 & Nov 1.  On Oct 7, another skier triggered avalanche was reported. (Details)  During Oct 8-11, numerous reports were coming in of backcountry travelers experiencing collapsing of the snowpack, including THIS one from the Peruvian Gulch which illustrates the poor structure.

Nov 12:  A storm rolled in producing 5-9″ of dense snow.  A ski touring party in Gad Valley was experiencing collapsing and remotely triggered to small avalanches. (Details)

Nov 13:  The second portion of the storm brought another 5 to 10″ of snow with wind.  With all the previous observations and the new storm snow, the Utah Avalanche Center rated the danger at Considerable and possibly High if snowfall kept up harder then expected. (Nov 13 Advisory)

The fatal avalanche had the same snowpack structure as that of all the collapsing and other avalanche activity over the week of Nov 6 through Nov 11.

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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