By Jim Stanford on November 15, 2011
The Utah Avalanche Center has released photos and a thorough report from the slide that killed pro skier Jamie Pierre on Sunday.
Pierre and a friend were riding in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon at the Alta and Snowbird resorts, which were closed at the time and had not yet done any avalanche control. They triggered one large avalanche that did not catch them, then proceeded to the South Chute area of Gad Valley, where another slide caught Pierre and carried him about 800 feet over cliffs.
The avalanche center’s report reads like a textbook on early-season instability, much like the assessment Jackson Hole forecaster Bob Comey gave Saturday regarding the Teton snowpack. The Utah center had been warning of the danger on north-facing slopes because of weak layers of snow that fell in October.
“This incident is difficult for many reasons,” the report states. “We heard of over 10 human triggered avalanches on the day of the fatality, primarily in the upper elevation terrain in the unopened Alta ski area.”
Pierre, who was snowboarding at the time, appeared in numerous ski movies and magazine spreads. A born-again Christian, he gained notoriety in 2006 for a 245-foot jump over a cliff at Grand Targhee, then a world record, a stunt he did to profess his faith in Christ, he said. He landed on his head and had to be rescued. Amid snickers in Jackson, the leap became known as the Jesus Jump.
Utah forecasters seemed frustrated with backcountry skiers accessing the resorts: “It was reported that other parties at Alta continued to ski and knock down avalanches into Greeley Bowl while the rescue was in progress. Creating another incident during this situation is unacceptable.”
To read the full report, click here.
Pierre’s death triggered introspection about the cavalier attitude many expert skiers and riders have toward avalanches. Blogger RandoSteve wrote on TetonAT:
… we will all be lucky to be alive in the next 5 years if our attitudes towards backcountry skiing and risk don’t change. time and time again, we escape injury and even death by mere seconds or inches, which makes us feel invincible. we watch movies of dudes slaying huge lines, hucking insane airs and surviving the most epic wrecks and avalanches, that we become numb to the risk and hazard.
(Photos by Utah Avalanche Center)