Visit/Return To: Safety Highlights web page
Highlight – Backcountry Ski Self Rescue
Lessons from Mountaineer Incidents
Climbing and Seattle Safety committees are experimenting with raising awareness
of safety issues that can arise on climbs, scrambles, backcountry skiing, and
other Mountaineer activities. Previous Safety Highlights and other information
are available on the
Safety Committee’s web page.
Identifying information has been removed or disguised.
-- Dave Shema, Seattle Branch Safety Officer
Backcountry skiing accident leads to a very successful self-rescue. How they did it. What they might do differently next time.
March 3, 2012 - Former Yodelin Ski Area (Stevens Pass)
Injuries: Extensive Left Knee Injury
Cause of Incident: Skiing in heavy, dense
Our trip was scheduled for Lake Valhalla/M1 Route but moved to ridge above Yodelin due to avalanche concerns.
We elected not to take original route to Lake Valhalla during initial group discussion of avalanche and planned route conditions. Decision agreed upon by all participants for more moderate slope terrain touring directly east of Yodelin parking lot, with a potential ridge-line high point of 5273 ft or saddle just SSW of this high point.
Ridge achieved without difficulty, followed by short ski runs of various slope angles to the south of ridge in order to evaluate terrain and potential long runs. No snowpit evaluation was performed. After lunch just under south of ridge, group gained ridge again, then descended NNW slope from ridge.
AJ took a normal turn on his randonee skis in heavy, dense, wet snow at approximately 1 PM, when he heard a “popping” sound and injured his left knee. Group stopped travel to evaluate AJ’s condition and options (4595 feet elevation). AJ was unable to support his own weight on the injured leg.
Concerns about injury, weather, and time of day prompted group to prepare for self-evacuation upon assistant leader's (BJ) strong suggestion, quickly setting up a rescue sled carried by BJ. (More about sled below.)
AJ’s personal gear was distributed to other group members and he was strapped into the rescue sled with his helmet and waterproof clothing on. Multiple ropes were attached to rescue sled to ensure multiple persons were able to pull and check speed and direction of sled during descent.
As we initiated our sled’s descent, an unaffiliated, 3 person group was seen coming uphill towards our group. Upon meeting us, the 3 person group all graciously volunteered to assist the evacuation effort.
Progress grew more rapid, with one of us directing most of the sled travel. We had various combinations of ropes, front or rear rope attachment points to manage.
Individuals rotated between pulling of the sled or tending of the rear-attached ropes, keeping the sled moving at a reasonable speed downhill. It was also helpful to have one rope attached to the downhill facing, middle portion of the sled, and a middle person tending this middle rope to prevent unintended sled movement to the sides or a roll-over.
Some group members who tended sled ropes remained on skis during descent, while others removed their skis, post-holing besides the sled, all to ensure a safe and steady movement. AJ had to be removed from the sled at one point so that a necessary readjustment/tightening of the sled materials could be performed (sled structural integrity seemed to have diminished).
On later, steep sections, alternating seated belays using rope attached to the sled, helped ensure safe descent.
At 4:03 PM, group successfully arrived at Yodelin parking lot, without placing a 911 call or requesting a search and rescue (SAR).
One of the group drove personal vehicle to trailhead just next to sled location, and AJ was loaded into the truck on passenger side once out of the sled. AJ was evaluated at Overlake Hospital back in Bellevue where he was found to have a broken left tibia plateau.
Upon further medication evaluation during the subsequent week, AJ was found to have experienced the following injuries during the ski incident: ruptured ACL, torn MCL, torn LCL, and fracture of tibia, all on his left knee. Surgery was required to fix the damage.
AJ had a full recovery and has been cleared to climb. He expects to be skiing this February. Looking back, he wishes he had longer and fatter skis on the trip.
Heavy, dense, wet snow conditions made skiing difficult, especially the execution of turns, potentially contributing to injury risk with touring gear and backpack;
Consider emergency blanket bivy sack and wrapping tarps around patient immediately (for preventing shock);
Carry 35m randonee rope for belaying sled down steep terrain;
Pre-plan back-up routes; should initial route be abandoned due to conditions as did occur; it may be helpful to have a back-up route already established;
Rain and wet snow might have been sufficient justification for trip cancellation before starting;
‘Walkie-talkies’, quickly determined non-functional, may have operated with warmed batteries if stored next to skin/body;
Mountaineer snow trips or field trips leaders
should consider wider use and training covering use of this sled type, a
“Brooks-Randge Mountaineering Pro Rescue Sled” It might be
considered as a "group essential", in addition to the 10 essentials, for
back-country skiing, as it is an "Awesome safety sled" (Leader).
Injured Skier -
Stevens Pass Ski Area might have been contacted for assistance had it been necessary.
A slight enhancement to the sled - an addition of side tie-ins to help lift the downhill side, would help during side-hilling. (verbal communication)
Sled ride was comfortable! (verbal communication). Nice job, guys.
Incident coordinates supplied by trip leader.
(View looks towards the South)
Visit/Return To: Safety Highlights web page