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For the week of Jan. 19 through Jan. 25, 2000

Avalanche sweeps down Baldy; nobody injured

Slide nearly buries skier


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

j19cov5.jpg (23171 bytes)A major avalanche ripped loose from Bald Mountain on Friday morning, sweeping 1,000 feet down a vertical slope. The 150-foot- wide snow slab started at 9,000 feet in Lookout Bowl, above left. The avalanche occurred within ski area boundaries, narrowly missing a skier. (Express photos by Willy Cook)

At 11:12 a.m. Friday, a slab of windblown, heavy snow 150-feet wide and three feet thick broke loose from Bald Mountain’s pinnacle in Lookout Bowl and swept over 1,000 vertical feet down the mountain.

A woman, known to ski patrollers simply as "the woman in red" because of her red ski suit, was nearly caught in the slide. She was able to ski to a ridge on one of the bowl’s sides as the avalanche passed, according to reports from eyewitnesses who were riding the Mayday chairlift.

Had she or anyone else been caught by the slide, it could have meant their deaths.

Bald Mountain ski lifts were promptly closed as all available mountain personnel attended to the slide. Masses of skiers and snowboarders milled around the bases of the mountain waiting to receive lift ticket refunds, swilling cold ones or filling the grapevine with rumors of the avalanche.

The Warm Springs and River Run sides of the mountain reopened at 1:05 p.m., but Seattle Ridge and bowl areas remained closed.

At the time the avalanche released, Tom Boley, director of The Community School’s outdoor program, and Beau Mills, member of the Galena Backcountry Ski Patrol, were working with the Sun Valley Ski Patrol to teach a group of Community School 8th graders about avalanche safety.

Boley and Mills, both experienced in the backcountry, were impressed with how the Sun Valley Ski Patrol worked under pressure.

Mills called the ski patrol’s work "outstanding" and "textbook."

"They covered every angle possible. It was quick and efficient," she said.

Boley said several groups of ski patrollers were in the bowl within a minute after it slid.

"I’m just left with a lot of appreciation and respect for what they do up there," he said.

According to Sun Valley Co. spokesman Jack Sibbach, an avalanche transceiver search was performed over the entire slide area. Also, two avalanche search dogs combed the area twice, and two waves of avalanche probe lines meticulously searched the debris.

Nothing was found, which matches witness reports stating that no one was caught in the slide.

Several more skiers and snowboarders had a bird’s eye view of the slide from the Mayday and Lookout chairlifts.

Ketchum resident Jason Howell saw the slide from Mayday. He was about two thirds of the way up the lift when the slab broke loose, he said.

"It was kind of scary," he said. "It looked like it was going 60 miles an hour in a quarter mile. It was crazy. There was a snow cloud 80 to 100 feet in the air."

j19av2.jpg (8926 bytes)Clint Jones was also on the Mayday lift when the slide broke loose.

Jones reported that "the woman in red" had about 30 seconds to get out of the way, and everyone who could see what was going on yelled at her to keep skiing to the side of the bowl.

"It didn’t look like that much, but you could tell it had some power behind it. Once it started, it had some power," Jones said.

According to avalanche.org, an on-line look at avalanche conditions around the West, there have been nine avalanche-related fatalities in North America this year. Two of those occurred in Utah last Tuesday in similar snow conditions to what exist locally.

Over the weekend, local hills and mountainsides were reported to have very high avalanche danger. That danger is subsiding slightly at higher elevations as the snowpack settles, according to the Sun Valley Avalanche Center’s daily avalanche report. Lower elevations are still extremely dangerous.

Though cloudy, the weather is not expected to dump considerable amounts of snow on the Wood River Valley in the coming days. The snowpack should continue to settle and stabilize.

 

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