A Dozen More Turns, An Avalanche On Mt. Nemesis
The story begins with five friends who rented a yurt in the Montana backcountry of the Centennial Mountain Range. Their plan was to spend New Year’s Eve and the first couple of days of the New Year skiing in this location.
As they woke up to a foot and half of new snow their first day, they were conservative with their choice of terrain, choosing to ski lower angle slopes in the trees. When they awoke the next day, there was again a foot and a half of new snow.
This same day the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center had issued a High danger warning for several areas due to the weak underlying snowpack layers, including the area these young men were located. The definition of a High warning forecast means that dangerous slabs exist on steep terrain on certain aspects, human triggered avalanches are probable and natural avalanches are possible. This is the fourth highest rating out of five, definitely a warning to heed.
While three out of the five members had avalanche training and discussed potential hazards and areas to avoid, their excitement got the better of them and one particular member ventured up higher on the slope to a more exposed area. As he began to ski down, he triggered an avalanche that was about 400 feet wide and 800 feet long. After the snow cloud settled from the avalanche, the two unaffected skiers realized they had three friends missing. One was quickly visually located and was okay, the second yelled to his friends he was injured but alive and the third was nowhere to be seen. They used their avalanche transceivers to locate their friend and after digging in the snow to unbury him, they found him deceased due to physical trauma.
Despite this tragic turn of events, the story does not end yet. The injured skier had broken bones in his leg protruding and was bleeding. The heroic effort of his friends to transport him to the yurt and to attempt to stabilize him could still not stop his blood loss. The next day another heroic effort with a military helicopter ended up saving his life, but not his leg.
There are several things to learn from this documentary and it was made with that purpose in mind. While it is important to have knowledge of avalanches through taking avalanche classes, reading books, and learning some snow study tools, it is also important to understand the avalanche forecasts in your area and to regularly check them. Yet regardless of all the aforementioned knowledge, one must also be aware of the human factor, basing human desires over key pieces of physical data. It is more often than not, emotion that plays a role in poor decision making choices in the backcountry. This documentary was meant to be a wakeup call for all of us in this regard. It is an excellent DVD and I highly recommend watching it. I found a copy at my local library.
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