avalanche fatality at Jackson Hole

By Jim Stanford on December 27, 2008

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Updated 10:03 a.m. Dec. 28

The slide occurred between Paintbrush and Tower Three Chute, in an area known as Toilet Bowl.

The slide occurred between Paintbrush and Tower Three Chute, in an area known as Toilet Bowl. Click to enlarge.

A skier died in-bounds at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort today after being buried in a slide in Toilet Bowl.

The skier has been identified as David Nodine, 31, of Wilson, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

David Nodine

David Nodine, from his Facebook profile.

Ski patrollers located the body within 10 minutes but were unable to revive Nodine. He was one of two skiers who triggered the slide, possibly after one of them lost a ski following a jump; the other skier was unhurt.

The crown at the top of Toilet Bowl reportedly was about 8 feet high. It remains unclear whether the area was open at the time.

The slide came shortly after the resort finally opened all of its upper lifts, which had been closed for more than two days because of heavy snowfall and extreme avalanche danger.

The slope, located below Thunder chairlift to the skier’s right of Paintbrush, had been bombed by ski patrollers in the morning and had been skied by other people, according to the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center.

Following the slide, the resort again closed the upper mountain. A second substantial slide occurred in Alta Chute No. 2, also after the slope had been skied by other people.

Although the News&Guide reports that Nodine was wearing a transceiver, I heard it was a RECCO device, a lightweight reflector that can be embedded in clothing. I’m not sure it would have made a difference. Nodine was wearing a transceiver, as stated in the sheriff’s report.

The looks on the faces of some of the ski patrollers this afternoon told the story of the last few days: shellshocked. They have been risking their lives to try to control a vast swath of wild country — cliffs, funnel-shaped bowls, cascades of rocks — in some of the worst avalanche conditions seen in many years.

In summertime, Toilet Bowl is a series of rock faces where climbing guides sometimes practice rappels with their clients. It is hard to believe this terrain is commonly skied.

Nodine was a native of Greensboro, N.C., and worked as a financial trader. He leaves behind a wife, Christine. He was a fan of Bojangles and Jackson Hole Community Radio, and an avid skier.

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Posted under Ski Resorts, Sports, Weather

29 Comments so far

  1. kyle stansbury December 27, 2008 6:29 pm

    Being a avalanche burial survivor myself I truly recognize the sadness and misfortune about this death. The real sadness is peoples misunderstanding of the potential threats in snow packs like this despite the patrollers attempts to control it. Just because we have declared this area to be inbounds does not mean that it is all that different than the backcountry with storms like this. If anything it can be more dangerous due to peoples false since of security. I hope that this tragedy will not be in vein and can start to bring some humility and a greater desire for education to the skier and riders in Jackson. It will serve us all to remember to walk gently, and with humility in the mountains despite the season of the year, snow pack conditions, whether in bounds or in the backcountry.

  2. steve December 27, 2008 7:00 pm

    We were on the Thunder lift apparently just when the slide hit and were diverted off the upper mountain immediately when we got off the chair. We were told of multiple slides at that time and that there was a search going on for people potentially in the slide, but no confirmation at that time that a skier had been injured or killed.

    We were on Paintbrush earlier–a couple of hours or so earlier–and the patrollers were closing the Toilet Bowl area. They posted numerous signs and there was little doubt it was closed. However, Tower 3 was open both when we were on Paintbrush and a the time of the slide.

    Tragic day at the mountain.

  3. js December 27, 2008 7:28 pm

    From the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center evening forecast:

    “Two skiers triggered a slab avalanche on a slope that was previously skied and subject to avalanche hazard reduction efforts in the morning. Both were caught and carried. One was deeply buried, located with a transceiver and probe and recovered from a depth of seven feet in less than ten minutes by the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol. Unfortunately he did not survive. Our sincere regrets go out to his friends and family.

    “… Severe winter conditions can be expected into Monday and possible subside some by Tuesday. Avalanche conditions will continue to be dangerous.”

  4. randosteve December 27, 2008 7:37 pm

    I didn’t get a page for a SAR call-out.

  5. Rich December 27, 2008 8:08 pm

    News&Guide story by Angus Thuermer:

    http://www.jacksonholenews.com/article.php?art_id=4064

  6. Tim December 27, 2008 10:01 pm

    Why doesn’t the JHMR website post any news other that how great the snow is? Sad and lame. Hard to trust a website that won’t actually give you the news.

  7. OD December 27, 2008 11:01 pm

    According to the Jackson Hole website, Toilet Bowl was open. That being said, patrol may have closed it. If the skier went down a closed area, that is a tragic mistake. Either way, fault lies with ski patrol with an in-bounds avalanche during operating areas. That is the second time it’s happened this year (first at Snowbird), and the third time in two years (last year at the Canyons).

  8. Don't OD December 27, 2008 11:42 pm

    Do not lay blame on ski patrol if you do not understand the daily risks they take. It is called Avalanche Hazard REDUCTION…the danger is never fully gone so do not try to fault those that work so hard to protect in bounds skiers. Also, get your facts straight OD. Grim news but there was also an inbounds slide and fatality over the holidays at Squaw. Every skier must be responsible for themselves and understand there are inherent risks in the sport. Every time you buy a pass you sign a form that acknowledges this. Obey closed area signs and other warnings, they are there for your safety. This is a sad, unexpected event that resulted in the loss of life. Accusing the patrol of being negligent is dangerous, misleading and ignorant of the conditions that exist.

  9. CG December 27, 2008 11:48 pm

    Tragic day and I’m afraid it may only be the beginning. I do have to disagree with the above post, fault does not lie with the ski patrol. Those guys have been working insanely hard trying to open things up and keep stuff safe. If this happened in a closed area then its especially not patrols fault. Even if this area was open it still does not fall on ski patrol. We are dealing with extreme amounts of snow and mother nature and thats not something anyone can control.

  10. js December 28, 2008 12:42 am

    @ randosteve: I had heard SAR was involved; updated the story to reflect no callout.

  11. DD December 28, 2008 8:38 am

    I don’t get it. I was on Paintbrush a couple of hours earlier and the right hand turn into toilet bowl was clearly marked closed. You had to go straight through the trees and cut over to Amphitheater unless you wanted to duck the line. If the News is right, that the run had been open since 9:30, then it seemed like these guys ducked the line. I’m not faulting them in my comment, I’m just trying to understand where and why. Any help?

  12. HC December 28, 2008 9:34 am

    When I worked at Targhee years ago, there was an inbounds slide. The mountains are still the mountains. There we go, but by the grace of God. Our thoughts are with Dave’s friends and family.

  13. js December 28, 2008 9:48 am

    For those confused about the location of the slide:

    The JHMR trail map does not have “Toilet Bowl” on it. The resort seems to be using “Paintbrush” as the name of the whole area, and the newspaper is relying on the resort for information.

    That said, it seems pretty clear the slide occurred in what we all call Toilet Bowl, which is to the skier’s right of the bottom of Paintbrush and to the skier’s left of Tower Three Chute.

    Whether the upper part of Toilet Bowl was open at the time still isn’t clear, mainly because the resort says Paintbrush was open. Several people, including a resort employee I spoke with at the base, have said there were closed signs at the top of Toilet Bowl.

  14. bzig December 28, 2008 9:51 am

    Amen, HC … there we all go, which makes this one especially hard. about 10 years ago the skier’s far right of Laramie slid with a 7-foot crown while the resort was open for hours and days after the last significant snowfall with apparently no trigger. (no one hurt)

  15. RW December 28, 2008 9:58 am

    A sad day for us all in the valley. A black cloud over the holidays. It is so easy for some to search for blame. JHMR and the Ski Patrol have been working tirelessly for days risking thier lives to please everyone. This is a time to come together as a community to support those affected and so compassion

  16. Spanky December 28, 2008 10:23 am

    RW,
    Could not agree more. First and foremost, our hearts and sympathy go out to the families affected by this tragedy. Second, the Ski Patrol has been working double time to stem the tide against Mother Nature who has served us up an awesome amount of snow in the past week. I for one can not fault the ski patrol – that is a brutal job to maintain the inbounds territory of JHMR; these folks are heros in my view.

    Finally, I do have some issues with JHMR; regarding transparency. The website is a joke; sugar coated with no useful update info without any clue as to when the mountain will open, what the risks may be and the on mountain conditions. The resorts in the Western States are all having problems; Alta and Sqaw have had fatalities this week – JHMR is no different. Be upfront and let skiers and boarders make the decision to arrive early or late; no one likes to arrive for an early Tram and find out that they are looking at a 3 hour line.

  17. L December 28, 2008 2:42 pm

    What I saw: There are multiple entrances to Toilet Bowl. The less common, more burly entrance, is skiers right off the top part of Paintbrush which leads you over Toilet Bowl’s cliffs. The second, most common entrance, is a slight traverse skier’s right off the middle of Paintbrush, which avoids the steep cliffs above. The first entrance- which is very technical and dangerous- was distinctly marked closed. The second entrance was clearly open. The permanent Caution Cliffs signs, marking the cliffs down Paintbrush, were up and the entrance to Toilet Bowl was unmarked and had lots of ski tracks entering into it. I know this because we were about to enter Toilet Bowl when the first patrol on scene frantically called us off the transverse and had us monitor the entrance until more patrols arrived. The slope had slide minutes before. While I do not know if David and his buddy entered from above the cliffs or below- I know that the part of Toilet Bowl that slide was open at the time of the slide. The patrols were immediately on scene. They were efficient and organized. They located the body within 10 min. but the debris was so heavy it took awhile to dig out the body. The patrol did everything they could and they acted flawlessly.

    The situation is tragic. It is nobody’s fault. We knew the avalanche danger but still felt safe skiing in-bound, open runs that we ski all the time. We were wrong. The resort gave us no reason to question the safety of what they opened. I saw 2 little kids skiing down the Alta chutes in the morning (2 of the 3 chutes slide that day). It could have been any of us buried in that slide.

    So what do we learn: after 3 in-bound deaths this year we learn there is a new criteria for our safety at resorts. The resort is patrolled but it is not all controlled. If our safety is not the patrol’s responsibility, it becomes our own.

    What I ask: It would be nice to know what the resort knows when we are skiing with our own safety in mind at the village. I would like detailed daily reports to read in the tram line that describe the slides the patrols have released this year. With transparent and detailed avalanche reports we can understand the snow pack and make informed choices. As of now, we stand dumb in line for hours, listening to the bombs go off, trusting the patrol has controlled the slopes. As of now, when we ski we hold the resort accountable for our safety. I take my hat off to ski patrol for all their efforts this past week. I question the intentions and decisions of the resort.

    I ask Jerry Blann to give us the means to ski wisely and safely in-bounds by providing us with the raw truth of the conditions at the resort. In-bound deaths are absolutely unacceptable. It is your responsibility that we have the information we need to ski safely. The patrols cannot control the snow this year. If our safety is in our hands, we need to know what you know, not what you want the tourist to see.

  18. mn December 28, 2008 4:13 pm

    Patrol can’t be blamed. No way to dominate mother nature. Ever. Must be a reader or two or several of JH Underground capable of starting their own website: realjhmr.com that relays the facts.

  19. diesel December 28, 2008 10:05 pm

    There is a skier responsibility code. Skiing wisely or conservatively is the choice of the skier. We risk every time we get in our CAR. It was a kamikaze morning on Teton Pass christmas AM but it didn’t necessarily intimidate travelers. We all take our own risks and hopefully we come out on the safe side.

    Heartfelt wishes to David’s friends and family.

  20. Kevin December 28, 2008 10:30 pm

    I’m sorry for the loss of David Novine…but, putting the blame on the JHSP, Jerry Blann, or the JHMR, for this tragic situation is TOTAL BULLSHIT! These 2 skiers skied past a closed sign, then knowingly hiked up into a closed area. They blatently hucked themselves off a cliff, onto an incredibly unstable slope of snow lying upon rock slabs covered with faceted snow crystals. Not only did they hurt themselves, but they endangered unknowing,innocent people skiing below them. It is totally unfair, and irresponsible of those of you that feel the resort needs to provide you with “detailed daily reports to read in the tram line that describe the slides the patrols have released this year”?! In case you don’t know, there is already a daily avalanche report posted at all the backcountry gates, and on the web at 6 a.m. Maybe instead of standing “dumb in line for hours, listening to the bombs go off, trusting the patrol has controlled the slopes”, you should take your head out of your ass, and go dig some snowpits, and assess the snowpack yourself? FYI, the avalanche hazard yesterday on the BTNF avalanche website was “Considerable: Dangerous unstable slabs exist on steep terrain on certain aspects. Human triggered avalanches probable. Natural avalanches possible.” Being a safe skier means making careful decisions in avalanche terrain related to slope stability, regardless if it is in a ski resort or in the backcountry. Are you for f—– real? And yes…”The resort is patrolled but it is not all controlled”. It is your responsibility to make safe decisions.

  21. Rich December 29, 2008 12:10 pm

    Hearing multiple reports by phone that the headwall slid and hit the resturant at the top of the gondola. Ambulances and other resuce efforts at the base. Information is slim beyond that but does not look good.

  22. April December 29, 2008 12:22 pm

    The headwall indeed slid, the walls of the Couloir are partially collapsed and some windows are shattered. No one was hurt and it looks like the mountain may be closed for the rest of the day. Expect a statement from JHMR any minute and another around 4pm.

  23. John December 29, 2008 12:31 pm

    I too heard that the restaurant at the top of the gondola was hit; heard that the ski patrol entrance is right in the slide path on that side of the building and there is no other way out. Keeping my fingers crossed.

    On another note, was at the resort last year at the end of January during the 72″ dump in 7 days…made the mistake of hiking from the top of Apres Vous above the Moran Face; skiing down back into the resort my wife fell into a tree well head first. Thankfully I was trailing the group and keeping an eye on her. Had I not been right behind her who knows what would have happened. The buddy system works; but you have to still use your head. If your’re both in an avalanche prone area; then you’re both risking your lives.

  24. jon December 29, 2008 12:41 pm

    Headwall slid about an hour ago, right after JHMR webcam on top of gondola showed about twenty patrollers probing debris pile. Splintered wood from trees or building could also be seen in photo. After about twenty minutes web cam was shut down and snowphone went unanswered until almost 11:30.
    Huge thanks to ski patrol for risking their lives so we can go ski. This snowpack is unlike any in recent memory. In-bounds has become the backcountry, any slope anywhere can slide and conditions are only getting worse with todays warm temps. Please lets all respect that and keep our selves and others safe!

  25. KIA December 29, 2008 1:02 pm

    “This snowpack is unlike any in recent memory.”

    This is only true if you moved here relatively recently. Hundreds of us recall snowpacks this bad or worse – as in the season when Paul Driscol and Tom Raymer died and many others.

  26. Bob Culver December 29, 2008 1:46 pm

    I was skiing the week before the slide got Tommy Raymer. My wife, Cathy, and I were chasing snow squalls and blizzards of Gropple snow, mixed with sun shine and rain at the lower elevations. We had lunch in the Casper tent until conditions got too bad, when loads of folks came in and then we went out to ski. Several times we skied down a slope and looked around a tree line to the inviting slope beyond, but decided that it was just a bit too risky, there were spontaneous releases above the Casper chair. We spent our last evening with Larry Reiser who drove us to the airport the next morning. On his way back to the village the sirens went off and he joined the search in the avalanche field.

    Then there was the time of the really big headwall slide a few days later. The resort stayed closed after Tommy Raymer was killed but the snow did not stop. When the storm cleared a rifle shot from thunder into the headwall brought the whole thing down, and down and down; to the race course, to the thunder tent and deck and down tram line. There are buildings now about where the slide stopped.

    The mountains and Mother Nature will bring you everything if you wait long enough. Even years with NO SNOW, and our ski trip patrons made up about 70% of the skiers at Targhee and about 20% at Teton Village. Mother Nature will bring us all down (or up) to the level we can cope with, and if we can not cope she will kill us.

    Bob and Cathy Culver, formerly of WEST Ski Tours – Jackson part time resident (soon to be full time).

  27. JD December 29, 2008 3:06 pm

    Tourists at Christmas are rarely thinking of putting tranceivers on their tots or themselves, while skiing at a world class resort. They don’t listen to avalanche reports. They trust that the area is safe to ski while on their expensive vacations. They are naive. It is the duty of JHMR, to use appropriate judgement in opening areas of the resort when the snow pack is so very questionable.

    Tourists and locals alike, trust the patrol to have the skill to at least make an honest attempt to save them. This is whether they ducked a rope, or not. People cause life threatening injuries to themselves while drunk driving, para gliding, mountain biking, etc–because of stupid moves or questionable conditions. It is horrifying to hear the above commentary, defending JHMR and the ski patrol, basically saying someone who ducks a rope deserves what they get. Now THAT is truly bullshit. The ski patrol is obligated to maintain a level of skill and professionalism and provide life saving interventions within their scope, swiftly and in an organized fashion, to any injured person on that mountain. The ski patrol, under the direction and supervision of the resort management, is obligated to make every effort to ensure optimal avalanche control is completed prior to the mountain being open to the public. On the topic of “blaming”, let’s not blame the guy who died after being slid on in an open area. I don’t care where he came in from. And let’s not blame the public for having their “heads up their asses” because they are naive tourists on vacation. The ski resort simply needs to do their job. And when something like this happens, there needs to be a clear explanation. As well, when a victim without trauma, wearing a tranceiver is located and not successfully recusitated after being buried for 6 minutes, the ski patrol needs to debrief and carefully review what might have been done better.

  28. margaret December 29, 2008 3:29 pm

    Who do you think you are? The JH ski patrol are highly trained and dedicated individuals who did absolutely everything that they could have done to save David Nodine. I was not there, you were not there. Don’t go second guessing the people who were there.

  29. diesel December 31, 2008 9:33 pm

    Excuse me JD – calling bullshit on you. Don’t be afraid to think. These skiers were not new to the area and the dangers that exist. Most tourists I’ve encountered are wise enough to know their limitations. It wasn’t a visitor from Missouri who entered a closed area to access fat chutes. Tempting to all of us locals! Let’s own our choices and again, be grateful for the numerous face shots we have enjoyed unharmed on behalf of JHMR.

    It’s easy to blame corporate america. To personify JHMR as an uncaring and unresponsive entity is BULLSHIT. There is probably no one who cares more.

    This is an amazingly connected community and we are blessed every day we live here. If you don’t know this, I expect you may move along. Good luck finding your happiness.

    Happy New Year!

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