I was heading down to the Thunder Chair at Jackson Hole, Wyo., when I saw the bodies tangle. A skier going way too fast, cutting across skiers left had turned his head for a split second to look back at his buddy who was yelling, “Look out!”
Just then the biggest wreck I can ever remember seeing happened. The skier smashed into a heelside snowboarder. Thankfully, though she was seeing birdies circle her head, she was fine. The skier had dislocated his shoulder, bent his pole and delaminated his ski. Ironically, they were the only two people in the bowl NOT wearing helmets.
In Utah this week, a New Jersey man without a helmet struck a tree and died while skiing with friends at Snowbasin. He wasn’t as lucky as those from Jackson. Frank Maddaloni is the fifth person killed among Utah’s mountains so far this season. While past seasons saw spikes in avalanche deaths, this season runs the gamut among heart attacks, tree trauma and slides.
January saw Utah’s first avi death of the season. Experienced backcountry guide and author Tyson Bradley triggered a slide on Gobblers Knob that carried away his client who apparently ignored directions and followed too closely.
The 600-foot-wide rip across Whitesnake sent Salt Lake resident Douglas Green over 2,500 feet of terrain and 1,400 feet of vertical at speeds near 60 to 70 mph. Green, 49, died at the scene.
A week later Summit County Search and Rescue uncovered the body of 50-year-old Stephen Jones. A 60-foot wide, 500-foot long avalanche in Lamb’s Canyon buried the Wanship, Utah, skier.
Accidents have happened inbounds as well with a 67-year-old Utah man collapsing from a medical condition at the base of Tombstone lift at Canyons earlier this month and a 60-year-old Utah man dying in a snowboarding accident on an intermediate slope at Park City Mountain.
This latest cycle of warm temps, rain, snow, warms temps again will lead to some seriously sketchy backcountry conditions in the Wasatch over the next few weeks so if you are heading out the gates make sure you know before you go, have the right gear, an experienced backcountry partner and wear a helmet (in bounds and out).
Think safe, be safe this spring.
Photo: Be safe out there (Utah Avalanche Forecast Center)