Monday, January 18, 2016

1-12-16 Lisa Falls Avalanche

All I saw was sunlight starting to hit the bottom of the crack.  Nothing else. I had no thoughts.  There was no swearing.  Nothing.  I dove uphill into the light trying to dig into the bed surface above me.  The next thing I knew, another slab washed over me and pulled me from the ground.  It went dark, then I choked on snow, then it was light again, and then I was still moving down hill.  As I kept moving I caught a glimpse of Andy skiing about 50' above me yelling to FIGHT!!!  I was.

The heart of Lisa Falls
Shortly after I was able to dig into the bed surface and everything stopped.  My butt hurt, my boot was broken but after a quick run through everything was fine.  I sat there strangely calm and tried to wrap my head around what just happened. My first thought that was immediate gratitude.  I had gone a couple hundred feet and was grateful/amazed I didn't go another hundred where the upper portion of Lisa Falls steepens and funnels into a tight rock lined chute.  The outcome would have been different.

Until that point, we were in the middle of an amazing day.  Lars, Andy and I had just skied a new (to us) line, East Fork of Lisa Falls.  The snow was amazing and the location even better. As we worked our way up Lisa we had continual conversations about snow safety.  We chose an appropriate line up making sure we avoided the wind loaded upper SE aspect of East Twin.  We knew it was a suspect slope.  We talked about it being suspect.  We knew all the reasons it was suspect. We took extra effort to avoid it.

Summit Ridge to Sunrise
Andy's first turn off Sunrise, Twins in the background, en route to East Fork of Lisa Falls
East Fork Lisa Falls
Between West and East Twin, staying on the ridge.
Once we ripped skins it seemed easier to ski the suspect slope then retrace our up track.  We justified doing it by saying if we stayed on the upper side of the slope we'd be fine.  I happened to rip skins first so was in the lead.  I stayed as close to the rocky ridge as possible.  I kept weighting my skis heavily and feeling myself push through a soft slab.  This continued to reinforce our lazy/bad decision.  All of a sudden the slab was not soft anymore, it had cracked above me, and I was getting churned.  

Lars, showing us his fashion sense in upper Lisa Falls
In hind sight the correct decision was easy.  I (we) didn't make the correct decision for various reasons, none of them valid, but I think it comes down to respect.  I don't think I respected the consequences of getting caught or even thought I would get caught.  I think we all get away with a lot in the mountains and the consequences of a slide are all theory until they're not.  One of my good friends was caught a few years ago and told me no one can truly respect avalanches and their power until they've actually felt it.  I don't think that's 100% correct but I do think there is some truth to it.  I certainly didn't really respect the 'lanche until I felt my ass getting scraped against rocks, my mouth filling with snow,  and my world turning dark then light.  How could I?  That experience brought all the words I've heard and read to life.  All the snow science education in the world does no good if you don't know there are consequences of a bad decision.

I suspect January 12th ended in the absolute best possible scenario.  We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the dragon without being required to pay too much.  Six days later my butt's still heavily bruised (now into my scrotum!) and I'm too sore to ski. My wife keeps telling me she's glad it hurts and hopes that I remember this.  I hope I do too.

Lower Lisa


  1. Glad you're ok bro. Would be interested in seeing a pic of where the slide happened or an overview shot w/ an X marks the spot. Also how deep did it break? Sun crust bed surface? Those south facing LCC lines always seem to be more stable than everything else, given a day or two. A bit deceptive I guess. Thanks for posting.

    1. I don't have a pic but it was just above the saddle between east and west twin. Crown was roughly 2' deep and 100' wide. Ran on the old sun crust.

  2. Did you submit info to the UAC? Glad to hear you came out okay.

  3. Dude! Glad you're okay. I hope your butt and scrotum make a full recovery real soon.

    Thanks for posting--It is something that all of us fear and is a constant reminder to stay vigilant and careful!

  4. What is it about avalanches and butts?

  5. Scary stuff. I got rolled on the Black Knob on Little Sup years back, similar size slide. Clawed my way to a stop before going over a bunch of rocks........Quite humbling, to say the least.

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