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Avalanche near Snowbird kills professional skier

By Pat Reavy | Posted - Nov. 13, 2011 at 8:26 p.m.



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LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON — Killed in the accident was professional skier Jamie Pierre, 38, of Big Sky, Montana.

Pierre, who has appeared in Warren Miller films, set a world record cliff-jump in 2006, since broken, jumping with skis 255 feet off a cliff into the snow below. He survived without injury despite landing on his head.

Officials say the incident is a tragic reminder of why back-country skiing, and skiing at resorts that are not yet open and properly groomed, is so dangerous right now.

"It's a very sad reminder to have to put out there to remind people that these are back-county conditions and people ultimately are not allowed on the mountain as a result of the resort being closed," said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal.

Jamie Pierre at Jackson Hole

Snowbird doesn't officially open until next weekend.

"There is no avalanche control being done," Hoyal said, noting that skiers and snowboarders could be cited for trespassing for being on the mountain.

The Utah Avalanche Forecast Center issued a warning all weekend of the dangerous conditions in the upper elevations due to the last storm. Brett Kobernik, an avalanche forecaster with the center, said he had received at least 10 reports of avalanches on Sunday alone, most of them triggered by snowboarders or skiers.

Because of the new batch of snow that fell from the past storm on top of snow that had been there since October, avalanche forecasters classified the avalanche danger on east facing slopes above 9500 feet as "considerable."

"Make no doubt that conditions are ripe for someone to get caught in an avalanche," forecasters said on their website Sunday. "The combination of higher density snow and gusty wind were the perfect combo for slab formation over our preexisting weak early season snow. Collapsing has been a consistent comment in back-country observations all week and continued yesterday."

Korbernik expected the dangerous conditions to last through the week until the next storm was predicted to hit the Wasatch Front. He urged skiers and snowboarders to stay out of ungroomed areas.

"The issue is we want to go to where the deepest snow is right now, and that's exactly where the most hazard is so it's a complete Cactch-22 and it's very hard to overcome the lust for the deep snow that we enjoy on a regular basis," he said.

In the latest incident, a 38-year-old snowboarder was killed in an avalanche just after 3 p.m. near Gad Valley. The man was not buried, Hoyal said. He was with another snowboarder when the accident happened.

"People are under the impression the snow's not that deep...that's not the case," Kobernik said.

Preliminary measurements were the slide that killed the snowboarder was 16 inches deep and about 200 feet wide.

Three more slides were reported Sunday near Alta Ski resort which is also not yet open for the season, and two others near Snowbird.

Two skiers were caught in a slide near Little Chute near Alta earlier on Sunday. Some skis were lost but no one was injured, according to the Utah Avalanche Center.

Another slide was triggered by a skier in the Gunsight region of Alta on Sunday. The Avalanche Center reported at least one skier was injured but did not have an immediate condition on the individual. The victim was reportedly a man in his 40s who suffered a hip injury.

Yet another slide was triggered by a skier in the Eagle's Nest area of Alta. Again, no injuries were reported.

Daily information about avalanche danger in Utah can be found at www.utahavalanchecenter .org or by calling 888- 999-4019.

Email:preavy@ksl.com

Pat Reavy

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