A skier was navigating the precarious slopes of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington on Sunday when he accidentally triggered an avalanche, sweeping him and another skier who was hundreds of feet below into a cascade of snow and debris that left the second skier seriously injured.
The victim, a man who hasn’t been identified but was said to be about halfway up the mountain’s Tuckerman Ravine when he was caught in the human-triggered avalanche, was carried 450 feet down the slope and slammed into exposed rocks, the Mount Washington Avalanche Center said in a press release on Sunday. He was rescued by rangers and bystanders and taken via ambulance to a local hospital.
A spokeswoman for the White Mountain National forest could not immediately be reached to provide an update on the status of the victim.
The incident began after a week of snow on the mountain, each day bringing between 1 and 3 inches. Two men, who had climbed to the top of a gully on the ravine, were preparing to make a descent on skis.
“They found softer snow than expected but no obvious signs of instability,” the statement said. “Near the top where the constricting rock walls end and the gully opens up, they noted a shallow pillow of wind drifted snow (6″ deep maximum) to the right, continuing up and left to avoid the hazard.”
When the first skier began his descent, a “soft slab” of snow dislodged, pulling him down with it. As the avalanche picked up momentum, it triggered a bigger avalanche that “was large enough to bury, injure, or kill a person and encompassed a medium-sized portion of the whole slide path,” the statement said. “This skier was carried approximately 800 vertical feet by the avalanche, coming to a stop at the entrance of the gully near a rock buttress ... He was unhurt, and on top of the snow.”
The victim was in the process of changing from boots to skis for a descent down the ravine when he was swept up in the snow and debris.
“The solo skier had not yet removed his crampons when he was caught by the same avalanche and carried approximately 450 vertical feet, encountering rocks along the way, arriving at a point further downhill than the first skier,” the statement said. “He was on top of the snow with serious injuries requiring immediate medical attention.”
The second skier from atop the ravine who was not swept into the avalanche quickly descended and found his partner and the victim. A caretaker arrived on the scene shortly after the snow collapsed and called for rangers who responded quickly. Along with several bystanders, the responders spent four hours dragging the victim in a litter sled over rocks and snow to an ambulance waiting at the trailhead, arriving at approximately 5:30 p.m., the statement said.
The prior week’s snow and wind likely generated the unstable slab of snow, the statement said, as is often the case on Mount Washington. Excitement for the skiing season, along with limited terrain and visibility that day, likely contributed to the incident.
“It’s worth remembering that we have a long winter ahead with (hopefully) plenty of snow,” the statement said. “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.