A High Mountain Heli-Skiing client was buried in an avalanche Friday while skiing in Vacation Canyon just southeast of Upper Palisades Lake in Idaho.
The skier was completely buried at 2:30 p.m. for six minutes while guides dug him out, but he walked away with only a few bruises.
“He was breathing but unconscious,” said Jon Shick, owner and managing partner of High Mountain Heli-Skiing. “Their first probe strike located him, and they were excavating him within two minutes. By eight minutes he was talking.”
Shick said it was a scary event for his team, but he’s proud of the way his employees responded.
The skier who triggered the avalanche was in a third group, behind two other guided groups that had already skied the terrain.
“Everything was going smoothly. It was the fourth person in the third group that triggered the avalanche,” Shick said. “He took a ride that was pretty long, probably 1,000 feet.”
The skier, a male in his mid-30s, was buried 1.2 meters down.
Shick said their pilot immediately took two rescuers to the debris pile.
“He did it in a hover,” Shick said. “He didn’t even land.”
It’s the first time a High Mountain Heli-Skiing client has been buried in an avalanche, Shick said.
“My crew is really some of the most experienced people out there,” he said. “If it weren’t for their quick response the result would not have been as positive.”
As a precaution the company had an ambulance waiting for the man after the accident. Shick said his teams are constantly checking the snowpack.
“The snowpack is widely variable,” Shick said. “It’s an ongoing process. It includes digging snow pits daily. We all dig snow pits all over the mountains, and we do some explosive testing.”
In a debriefing the next day, Shick said his team was reminded how important it is to be prepared for the worst.
“It’s unheard of to uncover a burial in six minutes,” Shick said. “We are very happy it turned out the way it did. Our people are very focused and you can’t let emotions take over. It’s very scary until it’s under control.”
High Mountain Heli-Skiing employees reported the avalanche Friday evening to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center.
The soft-slab avalanche happened on a west-facing aspect at 9,593 feet, they reported. It failed on surface hoar and depth hoar.
“This was the best outcome,” avalanche center Director Bob Comey said. “It really speaks to the people who were involved. It could have been a very tragic accident.”
Comey said “it was a pretty big avalanche” and a good reminder that the “poor snow structure isn’t going away.”
“There are two possible scenarios,” Comey said. “Don’t trust it until it melts and it’s in the Snake River. Or if it snows and snows and snows it will be dangerous when that’s going on, but then there will be enough strength above it.”
Comey said now is a good time to take an avalanche class to learn about this type of snowpack.
There’s a free State of the Snowpack presentation at Headwall Sports at 6:30 p.m. tonight.