Early-season excitement, limited terrain, and poor visibility were all contributing factors Sunday when a skier suffered serious injuries during an avalanche on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. This, according to the Mount Washington Avalanche Center.
According to MWAC officials, it was at approximately noon on Dec. 5 when a skier triggered a soft slab avalanche near the top of Left Gully. The skier was caught and carried a short distance before triggering a second, larger avalanche. The skier was carried 800 vertical feet and was unharmed.
At the same time, a solo skier was halfway up the gully, transitioning from climbing to skiing, when he or she was hit by the avalanche. The skier was carried 450 vertical feet, hitting exposed rocks along the way. The skier did have serious injuries, coming to a stop on top of the avalanche debris pile.
“If we have new snow and wind you are likely to find slabs of drifted snow with the potential to be unstable, resulting in an avalanche when additional load is added such as a skier or climber,” the MWAC wrote in its analysis of the rescue. “This can and does occur before the Mount Washington Avalanche Center issues a daily avalanche forecast with a hazard rating.”
The rescue effort involved nine people over five hours.
“The avalanche was large enough to bury, injure, or kill a person and encompassed a medium-sized portion of the whole slide path,” the MWAC wrote in its report.
Due to shallow snow cover, Tuckerman terrain options are limited. According to the MWAC, Left Gully has been a very popular destination for skiers over the last few weeks. “The gully is long, constricting with no options to escape until the bottom opens up,” MWAC wrote. “With poor visibility it may be impossible to see if anyone is above or below, adding an additional hazard beyond the snowpack alone.”
The MWAC encourages skiers in the White Mountains to heed caution to conditions, no matter what time of season.
“It’s worth remembering that we have a long winter ahead with (hopefully) plenty of snow. Slow down, think carefully about decisions you make, and consider that your actions may also impact others. An old saying goes something like this: Experience is a brutal teacher. The test comes first, then the lesson.”