First Tahoe area skier-caused avalanche reported near Kirkwood | SierraSun.com

First Tahoe area skier-caused avalanche reported near Kirkwood

Sebastian Foltz
sfoltz@tahoedailytribune.com

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — While risk is low, Sierra Avalanche Center forecasters are recommending backcountry users exercise caution following the first reported skier-caused avalanche of the season in the Lake Tahoe region.

The incident occurred on Wednesday, Nov. 11, near Elephants Back — a peak near Kirkwood Mountain Resort and State Route 88.

A report submitted to the avalanche center, by a member of the party involved, said the slide happened on the northeast face of the mountain late Wednesday morning.

One snowboarder and two skiers climbed a slope near where they saw three existing tracks. The report said the group noticed windloading on the slope.

The lead person also caused a crack in the snowpack prior to the slide, but the group proceeded with their plan. One of the members of the party was preparing to drop when the slope released, according to the written account.

That person was reportedly carried approximately 150-200 feet and partially buried. The incident write-up said there were no injuries and that the group acknowledged ignoring warning signs.

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The group estimated the crown where the slide broke to be around 12 inches deep.

Speaking to current conditions, Sierra Avalanche Center forecaster Brandon Schwartz said, "There's definitely a possibility for higher consequence avalanches out there."

With snow in the forecast, he said risk could increase heading into next week. The avalanche center will have an updated forecast sometime this weekend and will resume daily forecasting later in the season.

Both Schwartz and Lake Tahoe Community College avalanche safety instructor David Reichel said they have already seen a lot of evidence of backcountry travel so far this season.

"We're all Jonesing pretty hard," Reichel said of the early season enthusiasm among backcountry skiers and snowboarders after four down snow years. But he recommended caution — "Try to dial back the eagerness."

Schwartz agreed. "Keep the excitement in check," he said. "Make good decisions."

While slide danger remains relatively low, both experts also cautioned skiers and boarders about obstacles that may exist just beneath the shallow early season snowpack.

"That's a major hazard to be taken into account," Schwartz said.

As for avalanche conditions Reichel said, "I'm not massively concerned about it."

But he also reminded backcountry enthusiasts, "As soon as there's enough snow to ride, there's enough snow to slide."